INEC’s Fast Lane To Utopia – By Dr. Owen Ozue



It came like a phantom. Indeed it was because not even those who came with the concept could prove it or even offer an explanation. The ‘Independent’ National Electoral Commission (INEC), which at the time and up till now is negotiating its independence with the Nigerian National Assembly, sacked 28 political parties by fiat, without explanation. As if that was not enough, they struck the names of three other parties out of their list before the dust could settle.

So the expected hue and cry aggravated. In literature; in wraps of emotion; in law and in media blitz. It is not as if this is not a familiar path. Salihu Abubakar’s Nigeria had in 1998 allowed the registration of only three political parties Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Those in the inner circles had insisted that they had, just like their grand predecessor Babangida, and driven by the same philosophy of creating only ‘national parties’ decided to register two parties. However, the AD challenge which unfortunately housed many street fighters in the battle to regain democracy stuck out like a sore thumb, so the goal post was literally shifted and Nigeria had a total of three political parties.

But Chief Gani Fawehinmi and the National Conscience Party who had formed their political party five years before would have none of that. They led other interests to the court of law in and the judgment which came in 2002 vindicated them, opening up Nigeria’s political space. From that year, the number of political parties in the country exploded to 64, before INEC suddenly de-registered the first batch of seven (7) parties on August 18, 2011.

However, the fact least discussed is the basis for INEC decision on the affected political parties, the basis of the law and the fact of an existing litigation on the connection of the law to the Nigerian ground norm. Perhaps this is owing to the fact that INEC initially fought shy of openly stating the reasons for their action in the first and second ‘de-registration’ exercises. They only tried to correct their omission or commission through newspaper advertisements, after Fresh Democratic Party had filed an action in court challenging the electoral/certifying body for de-registering their party.

The National Assembly had in 2010 made some limited amendments to the constitution have argued that the suit challenging that law based on consistency with the 1999 Constitution as amended is in the federal High Court and both the NASS and INEC are parties in the suit, which pre-supposes that INEC has every reason to await the decision of the court in respect of that matter, but did not.

It is trite law and common sense that should the action of the 51 political parties succeed, the law on which INEC solely relies for its actions would have become extinct and therefore the decision of INEC would be unenforceable. If on the other hands it succeeds, INEC would be justified. But the mere fact of not waiting the judgment has prejudiced the action of INEC, the parties argue with some merit.

In my view, it is either INEC was acting out a script that could not afford to wait on the court, or has a vested interest in the matter. Either perspective portrays the electoral umpire as an interested party in both actions which is not good for our democracy.

Yet having dealt with the legal side of it, it still leaves the political side. The outstanding issues are: Does it make sense for us as a nation to insist that all political parties, must be national parties. If so, what constitutes a national party? Is it membership of parties by a specific proportion of nationalities in Nigeria or merely having secretariats in all parts of Nigeria like business offices can do? Does it not make sense to allow political parties to exist and expand either through growth, alliances, coalition or whatever at their pace? Does a party formed In Bayelsa State to protect the fishing rights of Ijaw fishermen, need a branch in Bauchi State? The changes in the electoral law which replaced Electoral Act 2006 with Electoral Act 2010 introduced a minimum attainment for political parties to stay alive.

In the face if this new law it would have been easy to sum up that INEC’s decision with respect to the parties is justified, but the parties In the wake of the enactment of the new law challenged it as a bloc in court for being a bad law running against the grain of the constitution. INEC incidentally is a party in the lawsuit, which is still running, just like the National Assembly. The litigants claim without that the electoral body, as well as NASS have been served the processes of the court in the matter. Yet neither INEC nor NASS would wait for the outcome of the matter before snuffing the life out of 31 political parties in a space-time of two weeks. NASS has given blanket support and the logic is not far-fetched.

But beyond legalities, is it fair for parties to exist in name alone in elongated ballot papers during elections and no more? This is the moral question hanging over the legitimate attempt for the parties to regain life. INEC cites, even though belatedly that any of them were registered for having expired executives and inactive offices. This situation does not hold any prospects for the development of party politics in Nigeria and needs to be discouraged by all available means.

However the issue remains whether an outright ban of existing political parties remains the credible way to arrive at the desired end of activating the existing parties and enriching party politics in the country, or if the latest policy action of INEC amounts to appropriating more powers than the constitution has allowed the political umpire. Hence whether the subsisting INEC action can stand. That remains to be seen from the interpretation of the law courts.

One can only advise at this stage that the political parties should see an end to the legal pursuit of this matter, just like the Gani Fawehinmi-led National Conscience Party (NCP) did in 2002, because it is favorable to our political jurisprudence.

In the meantime, the nation should be mindful that if INEC did not step out to ban the political parties, it had alternative ways of achieving a descent electoral process, by evoking its own internal powers and the mechanism of collective bargaining to set benchmarks for inclusion of a political party on the ballot papers, which its development partner in this matter, NASS should have no problem reflecting as a further amendment of the Electoral Act.

While we need strong institutions, for our democratic development, we need to be careful not to concentrate too many powers in the hands of INEC, because experience has shown that such could backfire and leave the nation’s political machine facing where it has been backing for a while.

In the best of INEC’s calculations, it desires a sanitized political space where two or a little stronger, national political parties engage in a strong contest for power, alternating same among themselves. Indeed there are nations with this scenario, and one would not be foolhardy to say that it is not working for America,UK and the likes. Yet one would also like to admit that the history of America does not showcase cases of dissolution of parties by fiat. In fact if anything it shows a labyrinth of fragmentations, mergers, and cu—and-joins right from the coming of the days of the republicans and the federalists I n the seventeenth century.

So why does INEC and its advisers want to drive Nigeria so fast, and so inorganically to the Western Utopia that matured in hundreds of active faltering?

Dr Owen Owue writes from Nnewi, Anambra State



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