2019 and the Political Parties - Islanders Magazine

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Thursday, 20 September 2018

2019 and the Political Parties


Given the penchant for brinksmanship that has almost become a national ideology, I am almost certain that a solution will be found on the issue of funding the 2019 general election, especially since this directly touches the interest of our politicians. Therefore, I entertain no fear that the indefinite adjournment of the National Assembly will cause any problem in that direction.

My main concern today is that at a period when we need a serious and structured conversation about the future of our country, we have a proliferation of political parties that essentially represent the personal interests of their founders or more appropriately, owners. Invariably, what should serve as platforms for constructive engagement on what ails us as a nation are no more than mere vehicles for trading positions.

As at last Friday, 80 of the 91 registered political parties had notified the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of their preparedness to conduct primaries to select their candidates for elections into various political offices at the 2019 general election. If all the 91 political parties decide to field candidates for all the offices, there will be 141,778 contenders nationwide; that is after hundreds of thousands of others must have dropped out from the primaries.

What is particularly absurd is that in other countries with multiplicity of parties, what most strive for are local elections but in our own case, the targets of all of them, including those with no structure or appreciable support base, are usually the highest executive offices: president and governor.

That has made it difficult for any serious assessment of the parties and what they stand for. Yet, political parties are more than mere platforms for winning elections, they are also there to educate and sensitise the citizens on important national issues for which they seek solutions.

Incidentally, one of the issues dominating discussions at the moment is that contenders for public offices must debate. But how do you organise a debate if about 50 individuals are contesting one position?

Meanwhile, our challenges keep mounting. According to the latest projections credited to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, more than 40 percent of the world’s extremely poor people will be living in Nigeria and DR Congo by 2050. Less than three months ago, the Brookings Institution reported that our country had overtaken India as the nation with the highest number of poor people, with no fewer than 87 million Nigerians in extreme poverty.

This is a problem associated not only with dwindling resources but also growing population, an issue hardly ever discussed in Nigeria. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are producing a largely unproductive population in an increasingly competitive world and this is an issue we need to talk about.

 For instance, between 1911 and 1952, our population grew from 18.7 million to 30.3 million, an increase of 62 percent. But between 1952 and 2010, the same population grew from 30.3 million to 148 million, an increase of 388 percent!” This is a serious issue that should be top on the agenda of discourse in our country.

Unfortunately, the political parties are not playing their roles assuming many of them even understand what those roles are but the real challenge is that they are too many. If we interrogate results from our elections from 1999 to date at all levels, it is very obvious that we don’t need more than five political parties in Nigeria.

For instance, in June this year in Ekiti State, 35 candidates contested the gubernatorial election. While the victorious APC candidate, Dr Kayode Fayemi secured 197,459 votes to defeat his closest challenger, Prof Olusola Eleka of PDP who scored 178,121 votes, the remaining 33 candidates got about 9,500 votes which accounted for less than two percent of the total votes cast.

What was most revealing about the result is that 15 of these gubernatorial candidates could individually not muster up to a hundred votes. I will shield the candidates and just highlight their parties and the scores: AA (41 votes); AGAP (31 votes); APGA (70 votes); BNPP (14 votes); DA (14 votes); FJP (42 votes); GNP (20 votes); KOWA (23 votes); MMN (35 votes); NDLP (84 votes); MMN (35 votes); NDLP (84 votes); PANDEL (74 votes); UDP (29 votes); UPN (33 votes); YDP (31 votes) and YFP (49 votes).

The situation was similar to that of Anambra State where 37 candidates contested the November 2017 gubernatorial election. Three of the candidates, representing the victorious APGA as well as PDP and APC, secured about 97 percent of the total votes leaving the 34 others scrambling for the remaining three percent.

While readers can Google the names of these candidates if they are interested, the following are their parties and what each scored: AA (66 votes); BNPP (70 votes); DA (97 votes); GNP (41 votes); HDP (31 votes); ID (37 votes); KOWA (49 votes); MMN (79 votes); MPPP (39 votes); NCP (74 votes); NDLP (33 votes); NEPP (84 votes); NNPP (68 votes); NNP (69 votes); PPN (55 votes); PPP (87 votes); PRP (59 votes); SDP (20 votes); YDP (72 votes) and YDP (65 votes).

What the foregoing says very clearly is that we need only a few political parties that the people can identify with and engage. Here, we are not even talking about the waste of scarce resources, the logistical nightmare and the legal implications of administering elections with the current number of parties which should also compel a rethink.

For instance, in recent years, INEC has been burdened with repeat elections instigated by defeated candidates who deploy technicalities like “unlawful exclusion” (which could mean something as minor as wrong spelling of name) to nullify elections which they ordinarily had no fighting chance of winning.

I am aware that there is a tension between the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association and needless cost to the larger society of a multiplicity of political parties. Some societies have handled this by setting a threshold for putting names on ballot and even for participation in debates.

Actually, in some countries where there are many parties like we have in Nigeria, majority of them exist only to canvass ideas in the public arena. Yes, people should be free to form and join associations but exercising such freedoms cannot be to the detriment of the larger society.

I know when we talk about multiplicity of parties, many would cite the example of India but not only are we talking about a parliamentary democracy that has evolved over decades, it is also one where popular participation is tempered by ideas.

Even at that, it is not a perfect system. In his 2016 research paper titled, “Politics as Business: An Analysis of the Political Parties in Contemporary India”, Prakash Sarangi, a professor of political science, stated that “forming or sustaining a party seems to be a survival strategy for political activists” in which they “calculate the returns on the political and economic investments made…Parties look like business firms in a political market.”

Given that transparency and accountability are already a huge challenge in Nigeria, such cannot be a model for our country. If our democracy must survive and thrive, we need a manageable number of political parties whose members can interrogate our problems and proffer solutions.

 A 2013 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) capacity assessment report on political parties in Nigeria written by Jeremy Liebrowitz and Jibrin Ibrahim (oga Jibo) underscored how political parties can advance democracy and good governance as “a vital channel by which citizens can aggregate their interests, make policies, and hold government accountable”. But can we in all honesty say that any of the 91 political parties in the country today is playing that role?

NOTE: This conversation shall continue.

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