Still on INEC and two-party system for Nigeria

                          

Nigeria, like every other multi-party system state, is battling with a growing number of registered political parties. The country at present has 91 recognised political parties but only two: The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) currently dominate the national polity, with the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and few others struggling to be noticed. In many instances, they are regionalised.

At the 2019 presidential election contested by 72 candidates, APC won in 19 states, PDP got 17 states and FCT Abuja, making it 36 states altogether. The ruling party further won 15 governorship seats while PDP garnered 14 of 29 governorship elections held on March 9. APGA is still occupying one seat, APC has five and PDP one seat, whose elections are yet to hold until later this year and parts of next year. The APC and PDP also gathered 65 and 43 seats at the Senate, and 217 and 116 at the Federal House of Representatives, respectively.

To political observers, the development shows that Nigeria is gradually sliding into a two-party system. This is despite the facts that the outcome of the 2019 National Assembly poll shows that few political parties managed to gain entrance into the 9th assembly. Some of these include, Young Progressive Party (YPP) with one Senate seat; the House of Representatives has 11 APGA faithful; two People’s Redemption Party (PRP) members; two African Democratic Party (ADC) members; two Action Alliance (AA) members with Action Democratic Party (ADP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Labour Party (LP) and Allied People’s Movement (APM) gathering one seat each.

It was the same during the Second Republic

The country had in 1979, adopted multi-party system with five political parties participating in the election won by Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria as president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. All the five parties won representation in the National Assembly as well as in 1983 poll except that NPN controlled 12 states before the military took over. However, in 1993, Nigeria adopted the two-party system which gave rise to the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Both parties won seats across the country and legislative chambers before its presidential poll was annulled followed by military seizure of power.

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Similarly, at the beginning of fourth republic (in 1999 general election), the political parties then: People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) won, at least, the presidential, governorship, national and state assembly polls. The story, however, changed since the formation of APC in 2013 during which political parties like Labour Party (LP), ANPP, AD and ANPP controlled-states were taken over by APC and PDP following defections of their respective governors and lawmakers to the two dominant political parties.

INEC saw it coming

Perhaps, this entails why Mr Festus Okoye, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s national commissioner in charge of Information and Voters Education, while presenting certificates of return to Benue state governor-elect and state House of Assembly members, urged Nigerians to hold a national conversation on the number of political parties and the requirements for their registration, pointing out that the present number of political parties made the conduct of elections cumbersome.

The commission’s chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had prior to the poll, posited that the growing number of political parties in the country might pose challenges for them.

Mahmood through his chief technical adviser, Professor Bolade Eyinla, while delivering a keynote address at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, argued that with over 100 political associations seeking registration, the number might increase before the elections which could cause logistical problems, including the production of ballot papers.

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According to the INEC boss, if 68 parties participated in the elections, it could also mean that a total of 68 party agents would be at each polling unit, which could cause the elections to be rowdy, aside the fact that they might not be able to monitor the congresses, conventions and primaries of all parties contesting over 1,000 elective positions each across the nation.

He added, “We are also going to be challenged if these 68 political parties and counting continue this way. We are just a commission. I cannot begin to imagine even as the technical adviser, how we will divide ourselves to monitor party conventions and primaries of 68 political parties across the length and breadth of this country. Again, if any registered political party is mistakenly omitted from the ballot paper, it could lead to the total cancellation of the exercise.

“I think perhaps one of the largest ballots that I have seen is that of Afghanistan where the ballot paper is nearly the size of a prayer mat. Given our level of literacy, I think that is going to be a major challenge and as we know, the question of exclusion is a major issue in the electoral process.”

Different views

But the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, who was represented at the occasion by Senator Abdullahi Sabi, said the multiplicity of political parties was good for democracy.

Like Mahmood pointed out, 72 political parties participated on the Presidential election, while over about 100 struggled it out at the presidential, overnorship and states assembly elections, yet PDP and APC ended up dominating various state legislative chambers with exception of Anambra state where APGA has 24, PDP 6.

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Speaking on whether Nigeria should go for a two-party system, the immediate past chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Committee (I-PAC), Anambra state chapter, Chief Bartho Igwedibia, agued that Nigeria has passed the system.

Igwedibia, who is also, the state chairman of Accord Party, however, added that having 91 political parties is not good for the country’s electoral system, advising that INEC should rather find ways of reducing its numbers of registered political parties such that parties like APGA, Accord Party, ADP and others holding sway at some states would not be affected.

But a political scientist, Professor Frank-Collins Okafor, posited that multiparty system is chaotic and confusing, while two- party system engenders good leadership and dividends of democracy.

According to Okafor, “If you look at what happened at 2019 poll, some complained that they were confused when handed over with ballot papers because they were too long. Two-party system is a problem solving. Remember what happened when we had NRC and SDP. You saw the level of political harmony, true nationalism, and conviviality. That was why MKO Abiola won the election even in the north and south. The NRC candidate also won in most states. It brought Nigeria together. It curbed the issues of ethnicity and others.”

On his part, however, the chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Anambra State Council, Comrade Emmanuel Ifesinachi, said two-party system is undemocratic. He therefore urged INEC to come up with guidelines regarding the establishment and registering of a political party.

Ifesinachi, noted that having over 70 political parties is confusing, but registering about 12 political parties would enable voters most of whom are illiterates to vote and be voted for without having issues.

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