Less than two years after the Independent National Electoral Commission deregistered 74 political parties due to their poor performance in the 2019 general elections, the commission says no fewer than 107 groups have approached it for registration as political parties.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request sent by Sunday PUNCH, the Deputy Director, SERVICOM at INEC, Olayide Okuonghae, said between 2019 and December 14, 2021, about 101 political associations had applied for registration.
The letter read in part, “In reference to your letter dated December 9, 2021, the commission wishes to inform you that from 2019 to December 14, 2021, a total of 101 political associations have forwarded their letters of intent to be registered as political parties.”
Also confirming the development, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said in an interview with one of our correspondents that INEC could not reveal the names of the associations because they had not been approved as political parties.
He said, “So far, a total of 101 associations have submitted their letters of intent to be registered as political parties. However, a letter of intent does not amount to an application for registration. An association can only be said to have applied when such application is in the prescribed form.
“The INEC designed application form is only issued after an association has received clearance on its proposed name, logo, acronym and address in Abuja and has also paid the required fee of N1m to obtain the form.”
The number of political parties in the country dropped to 18 when INEC deregistered the political parties.
Currently, there are 18 political parties in the country.
INEC had on February 6, 2020 deregistered 74 political parties due to their poor performance in the 2019 general elections and the re-run elections that followed.
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said in addition to the extant provision for the registration of political parties, the Fourth Alteration to the Section 225(a) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, empowers the commission to deregister political parties.
During the 2019 general elections, 91 political parties participated in the exercise, while an additional party, Boot Party, was registered based on the order of a court after the election.
Analysts and lawyers were divided over the number of parties on the ballot. Some argued that people had the freedom to register political parties, others believed that having many political parties on the ballot could confuse voters and increase the cost of elections.
“Accordingly, 74 political parties are hereby deregistered. With this development, Nigeria now has 18 registered political parties,” Yakubu had said.
He recalled that between 2011 and 2013, INEC deregistered a total of 39 political parties based on the same provision.
He added, “However, several of the parties challenged the power of INEC to deregister them, particularly on the grounds that the Electoral Act is inferior to the constitution and that deregistration infringed their fundamental rights under the same constitution.
“Subsequently, the courts ordered the commission to reinstate the parties. It was for this reason that the National Assembly amended the constitution to empower the commission to deregister political parties on the following grounds: Breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party; failure to win at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25 per cent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election; failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the national or state Assembly election or one seat in a councillorship election.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on May 7 upheld an earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal which okayed the deregistration of National Unity Party and 73 others.
The appeal was filed by the NUP and others.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Adamu Jauro, the Supreme Court said the deregistration of the parties was done in line with the laws and in compliance with the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The judgment, delivered by a five-man panel led by Justice Mary Odili, said INEC was empowered by Section 225 (a) of the constitution to de-register any political party that fails to meet the relevant requirements. The apex court then dismissed the parties’ appeal.
…new parties may increase cost of elections
Meanwhile, there are concerns that the cost of the 2023 elections may increase if the new groups are registered before the general elections.
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, a former INEC Director of Voter Education, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said a large number of political parties would increase the cost of elections. The cost is expected to arise from the printing of ballot papers and the logistics of monitoring party congresses.
Osaze-Uzzi said the criteria for registering a political party are very simple hence the large number of applications.
The former INEC official said, “All those that meet the requirement will be registered. Registering a political party is too easy. All you need is an office in the FCT and have 24 people from 24 states that can form a committee and pay the required sum of N1m and INEC will be duty-bound to register you.”
On the cost implication, he said, “INEC would have to monitor all the congresses of the parties. So, if over 100 parties are taking part in the 2023 elections as opposed to the current 18, you know it will have cost implications. It will require more resources. Printing a ballot paper that has just 18 columns and one that has 100 columns has cost implications. Even for voters that are not literate, there will be implications.
“So, there will be financial and administrative consequences not just for INEC but also for security agents that will monitor congresses, rallies and campaigns. Even as a journalist, there is a difference between covering one party and covering many parties.”
The commission recently submitted a budget proposal of N305bn to the National Assembly for the 2023 elections. Meanwhile, the security component of the budget which will come from the police, the Department of State Services, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps would be submitted separately.
The security budget was about N62bn in 2019 and is expected to be higher in 2023 due to the rising insecurity, inflation, increase in the number of polling units and increase in registered voters.
Ex-INEC commissioner advocates voter register overhaul, few parties on ballot
In an interview with one of our correspondents, a former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof Lai Olurode, said having too many political parties was not good for the nation’s democracy.
He stated that the logos of various parties on the ballot papers could confuse voters.
Olurode argued that the Electoral Act needed to be amended such that parties that have not won any local government election would not be allowed to contest the presidential election.
He said, “Having many political parties will confuse voters, although it is true that registering as a political party is not the same as contesting an election. Also, once a group meets the requirement for registration, INEC cannot decline.
“What we need to do is to set a separate qualification for a party to be on the ballot. For example, you can say – and that has to be by legislation – that for a party to be on the ballot, it should have at least shown evidence of capacity at the local government level.
“It doesn’t make any sense having so many political parties on the ballot, some of which cannot win a single election. And you now confuse the electorate by making the ballot paper busy. Some people thumbprint inappropriately because the logos of parties appear similar.”
Olurode, who is a professor of sociology, also said INEC’s database for voters was not accurate and needed to be overhauled. He said a voter register that is not authentic could mislead the commission in terms of planning and could also make it waste funds as it might end up printing ballot papers for voters that don’t exist.
He added, “There are all kinds of things wrong with the register. Like the database on voter register, which is very weak. We don’t have any accurate register of voters. What we have is an approximation. Those that have died were not removed from the register and there is a lot of underage voters. Those people have to be eliminated.
“That is why when you look at the expenditure on voting, it’s also exaggerated, because you are planning for the number of people that are not there. I’m not sure we have up to 84 million voters. We all know what happens in this country; competition for statistics to outdo the people from the other side.
“People are invited for the registration exercise and there is no documentation that is shown to demonstrate that you have reached the minimum age (18). I said in a previous interview sometime ago that I almost lost my life somewhere when we were insisting that underage should not be registered.”
Similarly, the Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Mr Clement Nwankwo, said the current number of registered voters might not be the true reflection of the reality because double registration and underage registration had inflated the register.
PDP, APC react
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party has said there is nothing wrong in the registration of more political parties. It however said INEC must ensure the proponents of the new political parties meet the requirements before being registered.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Debo Ologunagba, told one of our correspondents that his party would not oppose the registration of new political parties “if they meet the constitutional requirements.”
He said, “There are constitutional requirements needed for political parties to be registered. There is a regulatory body saddled with such responsibility and the body knows the rules. We will not say we are against it. What we want is for the rules to be applied.”
Asked if the registration of new political parties in 2022 would not affect the preparation and conduct of the 2023 general elections, Ologunagba said, “These are the challenges we would face, but the laws guiding the registration of new political parties would expressly state the period within which a new party could be registered.”
However, the National Secretary of All Progressives Congress Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, John Akpanudoedehe, said he would not be able to react until he reads the story.
“I cannot react to the issue now until I read about it because I am in my village for the Christmas holidays,” he said.