There is no denying the obvious; the rising number of political parties in Nigeria is raising earnest concerns about the future of democratic governance in the country. Worries are mounting over their proliferation, making a big fuss that the country cannot cope with the logistic demands of such unwieldy quantity of parties vying for political positions.
With scores of political groups or associations anticipating to secure official status as political parties, the 2019 general election might be characterized by a concourse of parties with no positive gains. The way things are going, every tribe, every clan or every family might end up establishing their own political parties.
Realising the danger inherent in the ginormous growth of parties in the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has requested Nigerians to brace themselves with the possibility of contending with an inundation of parties in the 2019 election.
The electoral body confirmed that 21 new parties were registered recently while 80 associations are standing by to join the fray. This brings the total multitude of parties to a staggering 67. Justapose this with the number of political parties at the inception of constitutional rule in 1999.
Only five parties blazed the trail. They were the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Peoples Party (APP), National Conscience Party (NCP) and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). Following internal wrangling and lack of ideology, some of them fizzled out.
Ordinarily, the number of political parties in the country shouldn’t be a pain in the neck for anyone because freedom of association is firmly entrenched in the 1999 Constitution. Section 40 of the Constitution (as amended) which predicates the provision, declares thus:
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
Unfortunately, this section of the Constitution has been taken for granted as every Tom, Dick and Harry demonstrates interest to own a party. It is quite discernible that this liberal disposition to party registration will constitute a source of utter bemusement to voters.
The development raises a very pertinent question and that is, whose interest does the permissive or broad-minded registration of parties serve? Is it the interest of the people or that of the power wielders who are bent on circumventing the emergence of credible and formidable opposition in the contest of political power?
Indeed, it is disconcerting that political parties are now viewed as veritable business ventures set up in contemplation of financial offers in return for dubious and clandestine endorsements of wealthy candidates running for election.
Some of these parties often have nothing on the ground in terms of membership, influence or geographical spread and may not have more than a couple of offices in a few cities. All they desire is to be registered and recognised by INEC.
Has anyone wondered why we are in this predicament? I think it has much to do with our skewed understanding and definition of what a political party is. In other words, the flabby definition we have given to political party constitutes the core of the intractable mess.
Whereas in saner countries a political party is defined as an organisation subscribing to a special ideology formed around momentous issues, lamentably, that is not the case in Nigeria. That is why political parties over there can stick to their philosophies or ideologies.
Sadly, after every general election, some of these parties dissipate as quickly as they come into existence. These plots raise very significant and fundamental questions such as, what should be the expected roles of political parties? Can parties be accountable to the voting public, especially when they are disconnected from their electorate?
This is why I think it over as insanity of sorts if we continue in this trend. It shouldn’t be lost on us that this dance of the political class has grave effects and these consequences are wide ranging and devastating to political stability, a fundamental factor necessary for economic growth and development.
First, party accretion can lead to lack of party institutionalisation because such political parties are usually owned and registered by urban-based politicians who are irately disconnected from rural dwellers. Second, undue party multiplication has impact on the legislature in the sense that it fosters party indiscipline which can contribute to instability.
Since we have this big trouble at hand, the way out is for the National Assembly to amend the applicable sections of the Electoral Act and the Constitution that make the formation of political parties in Nigeria an all-comers’ affair.