There is no better time to discuss the above question than now .This is so because some political parties are still licking their wounds sustained after losing out or performing woefully in the last Presidential and National Assembly Elections held on the 23rd February 2019.The election results are now in the public domain. I do not see how majority of these political parties can perform miracle in Gubernatorial and Houses of Assembly elections scheduled for 9th March 2019. In one of my previous articles on this platform titled ELECTORAL DEFEAT: CHOOSING BETWEEN THE LAW AND LAWLESSNESS, I said:
“…This brings us to the formation and number of the political parties in Nigeria. While one does not have anything against the desire of the Nigerian citizens to form and belong to any political parties of their choice as fought for by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) in the case of INEC Vs. Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt.806) 72 .The reality on the ground today is that the number of the political parties in Nigeria has gone out of proportion…The beauty of democracy is that it allows every one interested in a political office to come out to test his popularity and acceptance. Whether our politicians may have a rethink on the proliferation of political parties may be an issue for another day…”
If at the conclusion of this year General Elections, the performances of all the registered political parties become apparent like the day light and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in its wisdom decides to send many of these political parties packing for poor performance or non performance, the outcry will surely be overwhelming. You know Nigerian politicians whether their cases have merit or not will like to go to court to file cases to argue that their fundamental rights to freedom of association as guaranteed by the Constitution have been violated by the INEC . There is no doubt that Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides 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.Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.”
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there are 91 registered political parties as at today while there are still about 140 pending applications seeking to be registered as political parties. Although the case of MUSA Vs INEC (supra) might seem to have tied the hands of Commission as to the restriction of the registration of the political parties, I am still strongly of the view that looking critically at the Sections 40 and 45 of the Constitution coupled with the third schedule that stipulates the power of the Commission, it can restrict the registration of the political parties. With the present experiment in which about 91 political parties have taken part in the 2019 elections with majority of them performing woefully has shown that Nigeria as a nation is not in need of such outrageous number of political parties. In that election only the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the major opposition People Democratic Party (PDP) made meaningful impact. To restrict the formation of the political parties does not in anyway amount to the breach of the Constitution. If the political parties are very few in number the choice will now be for every citizen to join any of the available political parties to exercise their political rights.
The proliferation of political parties without any restriction is nothing but waste of time and resources as recently seen in the 2019 General elections. During the Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1979, only five political parties took part in that General election conducted under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. General Ibrahim Babangida during his tenure after a belonged transition to civil rule put in place two political parties structure of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) that contested in the 1993 presidential election considered to be the most free and fair election in the history of the nation. It was won by the late Chief M.KO. Abiola of SDP but was annulled by Babangida himself. Perhaps if that political structure had been allowed to stay then, we may not have been where we are today. General Abacha with his zeal for self succession brought about another set of five political parties metaphorically described by late Chief Bola Ige as five fingers of leprous hand. The political parties structure that eventually led to the return of democracy in 1999 under the regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar was the triplet of PDP, APP (later ANPP) and AD (late AC and ACN) and since then the history of formation of political parties in Nigeria as never be the same again.
The case of MUSA Vs INEC opened the floodgate for the formation of more political parties. On the last count, 91 are presently standing struggling to be voted into power.With the performance of the majority of them in this 2019 General elections, should they still be allowed to take part in the future elections? The drama that many of these parties have thrown up was that you have a situation where some politicians who could hardly win Councellorship positions in their localities coming out to say they wanted to contest for the position of the President. Now that the chip is down, they have known their level. The lesson many politicians have refused to learn in African politics is that winning elections is not about proliferation of political parties but rather by parties coming together to form a strong political party with great ideologies. This was the strategy employed by some political parties that came together to form All Progressive Congress (APC) prior to the 2015 General election to dethroned the People Democratic Party (PDP) after 16 years in power.
There is this argument that in United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK) there are hundreds of political parties.It is true that as at 2015, electoral commission in UK was said to have registered about 492 political parties including the popular partie such as the Conservation and Labour Parties whose founding were dated as far back 16th and 17th Centuries. So also in the USA where you equally have countless number of political parties including the Democratic Party founded in 1828 and the Republican Party founded in 1854.In the same USA there used to be some other parties like Federalist Party and Anti-administration Party founded as far back as 1789 as well as Democratic-Republican Party founded in 1792 but are no longer in existence in America today.
I do not to subscribe to the notion that because there are hundreds of political parties in the USA and UK, we must also go their ways. To borrow from the words of our great Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, JSC, in the case of Caribbean Trading & Fidelity Corporation Vs. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (2002) 5 SC (Pt. I) “we cannot continue to pay loyalty to our colonial past with such servility or servitude. After all, we are no more in slavery”. Even in those countries how many of those mushroom political parties have made it to the top apart from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in USA or Conservative Party and Labour Party in the UK? How many political parties in Nigeria have stood the test of time as in those part of the world where democracy is being practised ? Rather than politicians continue to insist on forming political parties indiscriminately, will it not be advisable for them to embrace merging among the existing ones to form at least about five formidable political parties?
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will do well to give red cards to those political parties that have performed woefully in the 2019 General election. If they feel that their constitutional rights as guaranteed by the Constitution have been violated let them go to court to ventilate their grievances where they should be asked to show their score sheet and performance in the 2019 elections. We must do away with the political system that allows politicians to create political parties that do not add value to our democratic system. The irony of political system being operated in this country is that we have so many politicians who are political prostitutes that in the morning they belong to a particular political party and before the night falls they have cross carpeted to another political party.The law must be made strict this time around that the moment a politician elected on the platform of a particular political party cross carpets to another political party,he automatically loses the position regardless of the political position he or she occupies. This will surely go a long away to check mate the growth of opportunists rather than principled politicians in our political system.
Some people may still continue to argue that restricting the number of the political parties in this country will amount to denying the people the right to associate freely and form political parties of their choice.The recent experience has shown that it is not the number of the political parties that we have that matter but the meaningful impact they can make and the value they can add to the democratic system.It is better to have very few formidable political parties on the ground than having close to hundred political parties where majority of them performed woefully in a General election.There was a time in this country when the banks were being proliferated and when that was having negative impact on the economy,Central Bank introduced the minimum capital base that must be met by each bank or got its license revoked. Nobody taught them before they began to merge and became consolidated and those that could not meet the deadline went underground and died naturally. Why can’t the similar acid test be applied to the present 91 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? We must prefer quality of the political parties to the quantity of political parties. With this last exercise and experiment .I think we all need to have a serious rethink on the indiscriminate proliferation of the political parties and decide whether it is appropriate” for our political system or not.
REMARKABLE PRONOUNCEMENT ON FORMATION AND MONITORING OF POLITICAL PARTIES
“Political parties are essential organs of democratic system. They are organs of political discussion and of formulation of ideas, policies and programmes. Plurality of parties widens the channel of political discussions and discourse, engenders plurality of the political issues, promotes the formulation of competing ideas, policies and programmes and generally provide the citizen with a choice of forum for participation in governance, whether as a member of the party in government or of a party in opposition, thereby ensuring the reality of government by discussion which democracy is all about in the final analysis. Unduly to restrict the formation of political parties or stifle their growth, ultimately weakens the democratic culture. However, to leave political parties completely unregulated and unmonitored may eventually make the democratic system so unmanageable as to become a hindrance to progress, national unity, good government and the growth of a healthy democratic culture. Between the two apparent extremes, over-regulation and complete absence of regulation, is the need for balanced regulation. In interpreting the provision of the constitution and enactment relating to the formation, regulation and monitoring of political parties, the recognition of the need for balanced regulation is essential.”
Per AYOOLA, JSC in INEC Vs. Musa (2003) 1 SC (Pt. 1) Pgs. 117-118 Lines 30-40
THE SETTLED PRINCIPLE OF LAW
On pre-election matter instituted before the conduct of an election
It is settled law that a pre-election matter instituted prior to the conduct of an election subsists and the High Court in which it was instituted continues to have jurisdiction to hear and determine same even after the conduct of the election. This principle is founded on the principle of lis pendens which prevents any transfer of right or the taking of any step capable of foisting a state of complete helplessness/hopelessness on the parties or court during the pendency of an action in a court of law.
See Amaechi Vs. INEC (2008) ALL FWLR (Pt. 407) ; Odedo Vs. INEC (2008) 17 NWLR (1117) 554 at 622-623;Dan-Jumbo Vs. Dan-Jumbo (1999) 11 NWLR (Pt.622) 445; GWEDE Vs. INEC & ORS (2014) Vol. 10-11 MJSC Pg.43 Paras A-C
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10th March 2019