IDEAS Radio 7 February 2020

INEC deregisters 74 political parties

Aghogho Oboh: Oh, welcome to the Public Square; it is quarter past four, a hot humid day in Lagos.   And the traffic is snarling through the major roads. I am Aghogho Oboh with Rotimi Sankore and Ayo Obe, host of the IDEAS segment on Public Square.  And today we will be looking at the deregistration of political parties in the country. 74 in all, that’s the biggest story in town, and Public Square is seated nicely.  Good evening Ayo and Rotimi.

Ayo Obe: Good evening Aghogho.

Rotimi Sankore: Good evening.  And I’m not sure whether the trailer or lorry burning on the bridge inward towards VI has anything to do with why our political party guests have not arrived, but we will start with IDEAS and hope that they are here by 4.30.  We’ll also be joining the INEC Chief Press Secretary and Commissioner for Legal on the phone in Abuja after the IDEAS segment, but first, let’s go to Ayo.

AO: Yeah, I mean I think Rotimi, the first thing that we need to, when we’re talking about IDEAS, this is not … people have been talking about this as though it is a political decision by INEC, or as though it is a subjective matter within the discretion of INEC.  And so I think that if we are trying to see: Is INEC behaving … with … in an Ethical manner, behaving with Integrity and so on, we need to emphasise that actually, at this point in the proceedings, the … those issues don’t really come into it because INEC is applying a formula that had been put into the issue of registration, or of deregistration, by the Fourth Alteration to the Nigerian Constitution, which was the amendment to section 225A of the Constitution.  So what has been done is not that INEC has woken up and decided: We have too many parties, we’re going to remove some of them. INEC has actually done what it should, what is expected of it, and …

RS: Under existing law?

AO:  Under the … because you remember the Constitution was amended, and one of the amendments that was passed, was that parties which failed to reach a certain threshold in the votes at any election would be de-registered, ok?  So the … the … I’m looking at the “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 Fourth Alteration (No. 9) Act”, because you will remember that the Constitution was altered. There were so many alterations: there was the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ aspect and so on.  This particular alteration as it says: “to provide … sufficient time to conduct bye-elections and provide grounds for de-registration of political parties; and related matters”. And so the criteria are very clear: failure to win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in one State of the Federation in a Presidential election; or one local government of the state in a Governorship election, or failure to win at least one ward in the Chairmanship election, one seat in the National, or State House of Assembly election, or one seat in a Councillorship election.  And so it’s not a … it’s not a matter of: Well, you know, you didn’t do it … and that actually, is why INEC had to wait until all the election petitions had been disposed of before it could say whether parties met these criteria.

RS: But there is one, as they say, comma.  Some of the political parties have said that there are States where no local government elections were held, and therefore, it’s … INEC can not determine that they would not have won … something.

AO: Oh well.  I mean, it will be interesting to see what the interpretation of that is in the courts, but as I said, at the moment, that is the situation, the elections that have been held, they have not scaled it.

RS: In other words what they are saying is that … 

AO: No, I understand, that they haven’t had a chance …

RS: … INEC should have waited until all the local government elections are held.

AO: Or all states had held at least one set of Local Government Elections.

RS: Eh hen, because, I mean given that some of the Governors …

AO: Have refused to conduct…

RS: … have refused to, those parties can then … if all of them come together and say that they have been disenfranchised.

AO: I mean, I think what’s interesting Rotimi, and in a way, I see it in the same way that people have reacted to –  it may seem a bit of a far-fetched analogy – but they’ve reacted to the Kẹkẹ Marwa and Okada ban. In other words, there are people who feel that: Oh, these people are a nuisance!  … Many people would say: All these parties are a nuisance, we should remove, we should get rid of them! And so, if you are sitting pretty in your car you will say: These people are a nuisance, they shouldn’t be here.  And the same thing you will say if you are in a … party that has scaled these hurdles, you’ll say: Yeah, it’s true, there are too many of them! And so there’s a very subjective reaction to the matter. But I do think that some of the reaction, I think it was important to emphasize, because some of the reaction has discussed the matter as though INEC is doing it because it thinks there are too many parties, or it’s  a discretion that INEC is exercising, and I think it’s …

RS: Whereas it’s more a feeling that people that think there are too many parties are ascribing?

AO: Yes, because INEC, according to it, is applying the …

RS: … law as it exists.

AO: … the law as it exists.  Now, what is not all that clear, because section 225 talks about how parties can be deregistered, but at the same time, the Constitution still gives the criteria which would allow a party, a political party, would allow a political party to be registered, and that criterion is … still remains the same 220 … let me see … 220 … from section 222 unto, up to – those are the criteria, you have to register your name and office, it has to be open to all Nigerians, and so on and so forth.  And … 

RS: Yeah, but …

AO: … once you meet those criteria in the Constitution, then you are entitled to be registered.

RS: Eh henh, so my question then, is: I mean, is this a merry-go-round?  If they are deregistered and they just turn round and say well, we’ve met the criteria to be registered for the next election.

AO: That’s the question.

RS: Do they say that if you have been deregistered once, you can never be registered again?

AO: I’m not clear that the amendment, or the Fourth Alteration actually takes clear, takes care of that, it says that it shall have power to de-register.  And particularly I think, considering that INEC said that it is doing this ahead of the 200 … 2023 elections, that’s more than enough time to register …

RS: To register new parties.  And in fact another 100 can be registered.

AO: Well, I mean, they will still have to meet the necessary criteria.  The point is …

RS: Yeah, but if they meet the criteria?  Since the law says that once you meet the criteria, INEC has to register you?

AO: No, I’m not denying that  What I’m saying is that whether this really assists in reducing the numbers, and whether INEC needs to find a way of being able to cope with a lot of political parties at any election, is really the issue.  At the same time … when we talk about Democracy and Integrity, the impression that some have, is that: Oh, these parties … they talk about ‘briefcase parties’ which consist of … just a very few people who don’t … who really are just using it as a vehicle for self-promotion, and …

RS: And negotiation.

AO: Well, and negotiation.  But I do remember during the run up to the elections in 2019, we did have interviews with several people who were candidates for presidential parties and so on.  And if you remember, I remember one of them in particular said that: Look, he has come … he has put himself forward as a Presidential candidate, because that is his best way of getting his ideas, not himself, but the ideas that he wants to see implemented in government into the national consciousness.  So I think that it would also be wrong to say that because somebody sets up a party and becomes a presidential candidate, that they then don’t meet the … they don’t meet any … the criteria for … or that they don’t meet the Integrity test, let me put it like that.  I think that we should be able to say that they are still … they are not acting in … they are still acting in an Ethical Matter, let me put it like that.

RS: But there is something else I want to flag, we won’t have enough time to go in to before the break

AO: Well this is IDEAS.

RS: Enh yes, but we have to go on an break soon, we’ll continue afterwards.  It’s an ad break. But there’s an important point, which is that: On the issue of whether there are too many political parties or not, some people seem to be confusing a lot of political parties, with a lot of political parties on the ballot.  Is that a point that deserves clarification?

AO: There’s a difference between a registered political party and a political party.   The Constitution guarantees freedom of association, so people are always free to associate, and indeed, until you have started associating, it may be difficult for you to become a political party.  But if you want to canvass for votes, then you have to be registered as a political party.

RS: So there are three levels: You can form a political party without it being registered.  It has to be registered for the purpose of conducting …

AO: Contesting elections

RS: … for contesting elections, but there are countries where … 

AO: Well the thing is Rotimi …

RS: … not all political parties go on the national ballot because they don’t meet certain criteria.

AO: Well, the thing is, that in our own case (and as I said, I’m trying to look at this from an IDEAS perspective) definitely the Democracy in IDEAS is what the D stands for in IDEAS  but I think that we also try to tie it to the issues of Integrity and Ethics, and that’s why I was talking like that, rather than just Democracy at large.

RS: Ok.

AgO: Alright, so let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back to IDEAS with Ayo Obe right after this, please don’t go anywhere.

[Break]

AgO: Well, welcome back, and we are closing in on the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, and this for the wrap.

AO: Yeah.  So Rotimi, you had an issue that you wanted to …

RS: Yes, and it’s regarding the way and manner of the announcement.  So while INEC has announced this according to the law as it stands, we’ve seen a lot of political parties on the news, saying: This came as a rude shock to them, how can INEC do this without informing them or consulting them.  Should INEC have consulted them to say: Look, we are about to apply the law as it stands, so, be ready to be dissolved, or be deregistered, or INEC doesn’t owe them any explanation or apology, INEC could have just announced this anyway, and let them be rudely shocked?

AO: Well, I … the reason why I’m smiling Rotimi, is because I would love to blame the political parties for not knowing the law of the country, and the Constitution under which they were hoping to contest for office.  I would have loved to do so. But as it happens, even within INEC, there was … there seems to have been some confusion, and that was why the immediate past Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, had to actually respond to the INEC Commissioner in charge of Nasarawa, Kogi and Kwara States, Mohammed Haruna, who had said that: “INEC doesn’t have power to deregister political parties without further Constitutional amendment.”  Ekweremadu had to put out a statement saying: But ah ah! The last Senate, we (because he chaired the Committee on … the Senate’s Committee on Constitutional Review) he said that all INEC has to do is to was to look at the provisions of the Constitution Fourth Alteration (No. 9) Act, and he gave the Gazette number and so on. And he said that we inserted section 225A, so he had already said, and he was sort of reminding them: Don’t say that.  And in fact last year, INEC had said in March, very shortly after the elections, that it was going to review the parties, but that it could not do that immediately, because any party stood a chance of victory in the reruns or in the … at the tribunal. So that was in March last year. Then in June, “Uproar over moves by INEC to de-register mushroom unquote, quote and unquote, political parties. INEC should have been saying more and more about it  But the fact is that political parties that did not know that this was an issue, because it was an issue when … as they were going into the elections, and they should have known that: We need to cross at least this hurdle if we want to remain registered as political parties. It wasn’t secretly passed legislation.

RS: Under the law as

AO: Under the Constitution with … under which we went into the 2019 elections they knew that they had to meet this hurdle and to cross it in order to remain registered.

RS: Ok.  So you don’t think INEC should have called a mini-conference to say: You’re about to be de-registered?

AO: The point is that at that stage, subject to this point that you’ve raised about Local Governments, at that stage, INEC had … there was nothing INEC … the figures  were already in, the results of the election were already in, so going back and saying … in fact INEC risks being challenged for failing to apply the law to the political parties which did not meet the threshold.

RS: Ok. So.

AO: So I want to thank you for helping me to look at this from an IDEAS point of view.  I think that Democracy is always a work in progress in every country, not just Nigeria, but in ours in particular.  And … I’m somebody who had discerned a kind of move towards a two-party system and … but that doesn’t mean to say that there shouldn’t be room for others, and of course, with the  independent party candidature, not being registered as a political party is not necessarily the death knell to anybody’s political hopes in our Democracy.

RS: Alright, thank you so much Ayo.  Very grateful.

AO: You’re welcome.