By the time the 2019 general elections rolled by, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had registered 91 political parties. More than 70 fielded presidential candidates and were on the ballot even though many backed out at the later stages.
Dozens of those candidates were unknown to Nigerians, and too many did not even bother campaigning at all which raises the question: Do we need so many political parties in Nigeria?
Registering a party: The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the constitutional responsibility to, among other things, register political parties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and Act of the National Assembly. The laws allow any legal citizen or group of persons to form a political party irrespective of whatever is their personal (or group) ambition or interest.
Registration Fee is one million naira after a few conditions are met. So it comes as no surprise that we have 91 political parties, with a long list of prospective parties waiting on the wings for registration. If this farce continues, we may have 100, maybe 200 parties, by 2023.
What it takes to be a national party: A political party worth its name and willing to compete at the highest levels of national government ought to have electoral strength sufficient to “win control of a government usually with comparative regularity and when defeated to constitute the principal opposition to the party in power.”
In the United States, only the Democratic Party (founded 1828) and Republican Party (founded 1854) meet the above definition, and they are the two parties mainly represented at the Federal level. There are a few smaller parties, but to compete at the presidential level, there must meet some stringent ballot access conditions.
Here, our laws have made it an all-comers affair, diluting requirements to the extent that our ballot papers in the last polls were so large, they looked unseemly and confusing.
Electoral strength has to be the deciding factor for parties hoping to be on the ballot. For me, in the Nigerian political context, electoral strength for a political party will be its ability to:
1. Have representation in every state of the federation and FCT. The party must not just be represented in all states but all local governments in the states and with excos as well.
2.To have won one or more political post(s) in an election conducted in every state of the federation
3. If they have not won any political post, they should have at least contested in previous elections where they had substantial votes compared to the winner.
Going by these analysis of what electoral strength is and should be, we can conveniently size down the parties with electoral strength at the federal level to APC and PDP. In the last presidential election, the APC candidate won in 19 states while the PDP won in 17 states and the FCT. Despite coming in third, fourth and fifth positions respectively, the PCP, APGA and ADP candidates did not win the majority of votes in any state.
We basically have a two-party system in everything but name. The cumulative votes gained by all the parties (exclusive of the Big Two) put together was less than three percent of the total votes in the last general election. Of what use is having such a large ballot if their cumulative numbers are so negligible. As things stand, the PDP can constitute a reasonable and formidable opposition to the ruling APC government.
A two party system would afford us with –
- Stability, ruling out unnecessary third party coalitions and new opposition alliances that have nothing to offer, and just end up rabble-rousing and heating up the polity.
- Ease of voting: You are either voting for party A or B on a ballot. If voters are given two choices, they would decide better and easier. A side note from the last elections was how everyone was obviously waiting for the figures from the PDP and APC but the collation officers had to read all the figures of all other parties. It was a time wasting process.
Next steps: INEC has said that it would move to deregister some of the parties at the conclusion of supplementary polls and election petitions at the tribunals. That’s welcome news. But it needs to be taken even further. Let us enshrine a two-party political system in our constitution once and for all. And do away with this joke.