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Wao! So Nigeria has 37 registered political parties? And just in a little while from now, we will be having 37 presidential candidates...
Wao! So Nigeria has 37 registered political parties? And just in a little while from now, we will be having 37 presidential candidates, and 37 governorship candidates. Then in just my senatorial zone for instance, there will be 37 persons aspiring to represent me at the National Assembly. Of course there will be another 37 aspirants for the House of Representatives.
If nothing is wrong with all of this, then something must be wrong when it comes to choosing the man who will represent my ward at the local government council. My ward, if you must know, is not more than 20 villages, some of the villages as small as a private primary school. And I will be left with the choice of looking at 37 candidates and making a choice from that. What an arduous task.
I thought it is always said that two is a company and three a crowd. William R. Alger also noted that a crowd never takes on its reasoning capacity. Rather, it thinks with sympathy. For 37 political parties, I think this is more than a crowd.
Permit my ignorance. May be it is this ignorance that has relapsed me into a spasm of defeatism and despondency. If you ask me to name Nigeria’s 37 political parties, I do not think I will do justice to the question. I know of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), I know of the Alliance for Democracy(AD), I know of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); I do know of All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA), and I know of National Democratic Party(NDP), because it is a party that has chosen former military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida as its presidential candidate, when the man is a card-carrying member of the PDP. Of course I know of Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), pronounced Aksid, the party that the other day forced President Olusegun Obasanjo to offer prayers for Nigeria, when he said, "I hear that there is another party they call ACD; God will not allow them to pour acid on Nigerians," to which I chorused, Amen!
Well I am not alone in this dilemma. Recently at the just concluded Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria(MBGN) beauty pageant organised by Silverbird Productions, the beautiful girl representing Oyo State, who many thought would win the competition, was asked who the governor of her state was. The girl looking confused and bemused, said she doesn’t know because of the frequency governors are changed these days. Some weeks earlier, a young man who wanted to become a millionaire and who had entered for the competition, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, was asked to name the capital of Jigawa State. He took a long breathe and said the way and rate our leaders create states and local governments these days, does not give anybody any room to know the capital of the states. That same week, on the Aspirin Show on television, one contestant was asked which of the states in South-East was won by APGA. The young man apparently not knowing what APGA meant, said: "Igbo State." Everybody was sent reeking in laughter. Of course he went home with a prize, after all, Anambra State is "Igbo State."
In May at a world press conference in Abuja addressed by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, a journalist asked the chairman if the commission had registered more political parties. There were only 35 political parties then. Prof. Iwu answered in the affirmative that INEC had registered two more parties bringing the total to 37. The first one he said, was Democratic Peoples Party(DPP). He paused for a while. He had forgotten the name of the 37th party. He turned to some of his lieutenants, probably asking them the name. Then he said , "the other one has something like P-P-D, but I will tell you the full meaning later." Before the end of the conference, he gave the name of the party.
But the import of that momentary break in transmission did register something in me, which is that the duty of INEC is to register political parties who have their offices located in all the states of the federation. Whether they have any proof of presence in the grassroots is not the issue. This of course explains why the litany of political parties in the country. Political parties that show no presence beyond having money to rent offices in state capitals. This is so because they know that it is now a business. Remember, INEC funds political parties. And because there is no stringent guidelines as to the registration of political parties rather than that of having offices spread in the state capitals, any Tochukwu, Okon, Musa or Bayo can register a political party knowing that in about a year, it is going to recoup its money when INEC doles out the funds to political parties.
But in 2007, they are going to create a lot of problems to the electoral body and to the voters. While some of us have stood against the candidature of IBB again, there is no denying the fact that his administration’s introduction of two political parties, the Social Democratic Party(SDP) and the National Republican Convention(NRC), led to the success of the elections in 1993. Here voters were left with the option of either voting for M.K.O. Abiola of the SDP or Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the NRC. Voters did not have to look far before choosing the rightful candidate.
But in a multi-party system as we have it today, the voters are going to face the problem of picking the rightful candidate, more so when a majority of the voters are illiterates and may not even differentiate between the acronyms and logos of the parties. If you carefully peruse their logos and acronyms, you will notice some similitudes. Although the broadening of the choice of candidates for voters is good, as voters may vote for candidates that tend to be closer to them, in its long term effects, it alienates voters the more, because they may end up voting for candidates with broader structures and more financial muscle than candidates with sound vision and programmes.
This loophole is absent in a situation where there are not many candidates. With fewer candidates, there is the likelihood that the system would produce candidates that represent the most acceptable compromise of the conflicting opinions of the voters, since the premise of choice has been delineated. This was what exactly happened in the American presidential elections of November 2000 and 2004. Conflicts and litigations arising from the elections are also easily settled. But in a multi-party system as ours, the spectrum is large, loose and gives room for manipulation and mediocrity. Let us say that since a simple majority is needed by a candidate to win the 2007 presidential election, if four presidential candidates score like 35 per cent, which of course is the popular vote, and the other three score 25 per cent each, it goes to say that the minority candidate who scored 35 per cent would have won an election, where 65 per cent voters rejected his candidature. Such is the scenario that may play out in 2007, where an unpopular candidate may assume leadership even when he has been roundly rejected at the polls.
Again, with as many as 37 political parties, a vibrant and veritable opposition is non existent. That explains the recent decamping of some of the big wigs of parties like ANPP, AD etc to the ruling PDP. Simply, other political parties have gone into comatose. Some are simply not existing. Any examiner who wants a massive failure in his exams needs only to ask the candidates to name Nigeria’s 37 political parties. One keeps asking. Where are they? Who are their candidates and where are their offices? Or are they merely existing by collecting the millions from INEC and going home to share such money?
It seems to me that INEC should begin the process of de-registering political parties, otherwise, we will have a situation where billions of naira would be spent on printing voters register for candidates that may just be existing on the pages of newspapers. Strong political parties ensure enduring democratic structures. But we cannot, in the true sense of democracy and party politics, say what we have today are strong political parties. They are mere associations that even some village and town union meetings are stronger than in structure and organisation. This is the time to start de-registering them.
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