Olurode: Our electoral system needs continuous fumigation
Prof. Lai Olurode, a former National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, examined the implications of deregistration of political parties by INEC.
INEC has just deregistered some political parties, 74 in number. What is your take on the development?
Under Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended (sections 221 -227), the regulations of political parties and their activities come under INEC as a regulatory body. It has wide powers to restrict and scrutinise their activities. If there is any of INEC’s mandate that has received marginal attention, it is this function to regulate political parties. As a matter of fact, most of our political parties are more on the pages of newspapers and on radio airwaves than being on ground. Their followership is doubtful except rented crowds to fill up rallies.
For me INEC hasn’t hit hard enough. It is still a motley crowd. Some of these parties constitute a nuisance and made up of rabble-rousers, a group of jesters and noise makers. Even, the so-called major parties behave without much regard for laws setting them up. Their own constitutions are breached without remorse. Once political parties aren’t disciplined or lawless, it is difficult to give birth to a government that will be law bound.
Party primaries are a bazaar of some sort and comparable to a ‘slaughter’s slab’, very violent and without procedure. Indeed INEC has done the right thing, though late but it’s better late than never. Our political party regime and electoral democratisation need to be continuously fumigated to rid it of ‘political coronavirus’.
On what ground(s) should INEC deregister any political party?
INEC has wide powers to deregister political parties, which of course, can be challenged in court. Political parties that failed to submit annual reports or which had closed down offices at the FCT or in other state of the federation and had fallen short of the required number can be hammered. Failure to grant INEC access to books and accounts of political parties can make a political party to receive the big stick. A political party can be sanctioned for keeping a foreign account or for not remitting such fund to INEC within the stipulated period of 21 days; failure to register change of address with INEC can lead to dis-recognition. There are other reasons.
Under Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended, particularly with the 2017 amendments and the addition of section 225A and the old 225, INEC enjoys wide leverage in disciplining recalcitrant political parties. For example, failure to win 25 per cent of votes in a Presidential election or one local government in a Governorship election is some of the grounds for disqualification. I will be surprised if any of the existing parties would escape a strict application of the relevant sections and grounds for disqualification. A non-discriminatory holistic application of the relevant law will portray INEC in good light and not a toothless bulldog. But INEC should be commended for taking bold steps. It’s A good start that shouldn’t stop. There cannot be a better wake up call for those wishing to provide political leadership. Politics means hard business in Nigeria.
What are the implications of this deregistration on our electoral system and processes?
Deregistration should help in having a more manageable number of political parties and probably lead to ideologically defined political parties in place of Ghana-must-go parties. Electoral and voting should become less bogus and expenditure of time during voting should reduce. The average length of ballot paper should reduce.
How does large number of political parties affect the process of voting and cost of conducting elections?
Cost of election will go down as INEC would have less primaries to monitor; party agents will reduce and length of ballot will go down; electoral personnel will go down. Voter education should improve. There should be less temptation to compete for support of mushroom and fringe political parties to adopt any of the major parties. The cost of party administration will also go down. There probably should be a threshold below which the number of political parties must not be allowed to fall so as leave room for political asylum seekers who may wish to search for solace upon being faced with death threat and fiasco in their former political associations.
What options are there for the affected (deregistered) parties?
Deregistered political parties can seek redress in court and the court is at liberty to breathe life into them again once they meet the requirements and of course, INEC can wield the big hammer as often as it wishes. A lasting solution will be for INEC to approach the court so as to stipulate conditions that a political party must meet to be on the ballot. The case of Balarabe Musa V. INEC has liberalised conditions for party formation. Being permitted to form a political party isn’t the same as being on the ballot. INEC should seek legal leverage in imposing qualifications for parties to be on the ballot – winning local government councillor seats or some seats in a state House of Assembly is one of such conditions.