Nigerians debate fate of minor political parties

On February 23, millions of Nigerians trooped to the polls across the country to elect their president and members of the National Assembly for the next four years.

The elections, in many ways, were like every other since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999. But they were also peculiar in the number of political parties that appeared on the ballot papers.

Before the elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it had registered 91 political parties in the country. Out of this number, 73 fielded candidates for the presidency.

This was a remarkable difference from the numbers in previous elections. In the 2015 elections, there were 14 presidential candidates. There were 20 in 2011; 18 in 2007; 20 in 2003; and only two in 1999 when the military conducted the general elections that gave birth to the Fourt Republic.

The peculiarity also reflected in the ballot papers which had three columns instead of the two Nigerians were used to.

At the end of the 2019 presidential poll, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was reelected with 15,191,847 votes. His closest challenger and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), polled 11,262,978 votes.

Apart from these two, most of the other contenders struggled to earn four figure votes.

For instance, FRESH, a party founded by Chris Okotie, a Chritian church founder, and of which he was also the presidential candidate in 2003, polled about 4,500 votes nationwide in the presidential election.

Since its formation, the party has not won any position or legislative seat in Nigeria.

Also, the National Conscience Party (NCP) was formed before the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1994 by the late human rights activist and lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi. But it was prevented from standing in elections until 2003, when it won a legal battle to be able to do so.

Its registration threw the gate wide open for many other parties and led to the proliferation of parties in the 2003 general elections and since.

In the presidential election of that year, the NCP candidate, Mr Fawehinmi, came fifth, polling 161,333 votes or 0.41% of the popular vote. However, in the 2019 election, the party had a little over 3,000 votes.

Some of these parties do not have functional addresses or even websites so it is difficult to monitor and evaluate their activities, if any.

A PREMIUM TIMES’ check revealed that 43 out of the 91 political parties scored below 5, 000 votes.

The worst of all the parties is We The People of Nigeria (WTPN), which recorded only 732 votes.

A sum of the 43 parties’ scores also showed that they did not receive up to 0.02 per cent of the total votes of the winning candidate.

Fate of these political parties

Last week,The Punch newspaper reported that the electoral commission said it would review the parties that participated in the general elections.

The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, added that the commission would commence the process of delisting weak parties at the conclusion of the supplementary elections and petitions filed at various electoral tribunals.

The INEC chief said while the paramount interest of the commission was the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, the conduct of such elections was a multi-stakeholder venture.

“A review of the performances of the parties can not be done immediately because any party stood a chance of victory in the reruns or at the tribunals,” Mr Okoye said.

But the Director of Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, disagreed with INEC on the plan. She advised INEC to instead enforce guidelines for access to ballot.

She said this while speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in a phone interview on Thursday.

“These political parties cannot be scrapped because the court has ruled severally that they cannot be denied freedom of association,” she said.

“All we need is rules on access to the ballot as a political party. How you can exist and the criteria,” she said.

Ms Hassan said for a political party to have less than 5000 votes in a country, its visibility is questionable. But it cannot be deregistered,” she insisted.

She said these political parties can be built but as optional parties that will be strong at local level.

The director noted that some candidates of these political parties had no intention of winning but rather for the sake of appreciation as a former presidential candidate.

“Some of them did not campaign. Did you see any posters of some candidates of these parties? They were more or less on the paper,” she said.

“We did not have more than 10 candidates who put up any form of thing they can bring up apart from the two dominant political parties,” Ms Hassan said.

Also, a research associate at Selonnes Consult, Chima Christian, said the National Assembly should review the constitution on requirements for candidates for elective positions.

Speaking in a phone interview, he said the requirements of being a political party should be met before having candidates for presidential position.

“This is way of setting an agenda for the incoming National Assembly to look at the law that talks about political parties in Nigeria,” he said.

“These political parties cannot have candidates for this particular position, we don’t have cause to waste our ballot,” he said.

“There is requirements for registering them, so there should be requirements for fielding candidates so that we don’t have people who are not prepared on the ballot,” Mr Christian said.

Mr Christian said every political party should be recognised in the 774 local government areas in the country.

“Every political party must have presence in all the LGAs, you must have offices across the wards as well, ” he said.

Below are political parties who scored below 5, 000 in the last presidential election.

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