By Okechukwu Onuegbu
Nigeria like every other multiparty system state is battling with growing numbers of registered political parties. The country at present has 91 recognised political parties but only two, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC) currently dominate the national polity, with All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and few others struggling to be noticed.
At the 2019 Presidential election contested by 72 candidates, APC won in 19 states, PDP got 17 state and FCT Abuja, making it 36 states and capital. The ruling party further won 15 governorship seats, while PDP garnered 14 of 29 governorship elections held on March 9. APGA is still occupying one seat, APC (five) and PDP one seat, whose elections were to hold later. The APC and PDP also gathered 65 and 43 seats at the Senate, and 217 and 116 at the Federal House of Representatives respectively.
To political observers, the development shows that Nigeria was simultaneously diverting to a two-party system. That was despite the facts that outcome of the 2019 National Assembly poll show that few political parties managed to gain entrance to the 9thNational Assembly. They are Young Progressive Party (YPP), one senate seat; with green chamber having 11 APGA faithful, two People’s Redemption Party (PRP) members, two African Democratic Party (ADC) members, two Action Alliance (AA) members, with Action Democratic Party (ADP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Labour Party (LP) and Allied People’s Movement (APM) gathering one seat each.
The country had in 1979, adopted multi-party system with five political parties participating in the election won by Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria as President and Commander-in-Chief of Armed forces. All the five parties won representation in the National Assembly, as well as in 1983 poll except that NPN control 12 state before the military took over. However, in 1993, Nigeria resolved to two-party system, which gave rise to National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). Both parties won seats across the country and legislative chambers before it’s Presidential poll was annulled, followed by military seizure of power.
Similarly, at the beginning of fourth republic (in 1999 general election), the four political parties formed, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and Alliance for Democracy (AD) won at least a state at Presidential, Governorship, National and State Assembly polls. The story, however, changed since formation of APC in 2013 during which political parties like Labour Party (LP), ANPP, AD and ANPP controlled states were taken over by APC and PDP following defections of their respective governors and lawmakers to the two dominant political parties.
Perhaps, this entail why Mr Festus Okoye, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Information and Voters Education Committee, while presenting certificates of return to Benue State governor-elect and state House of Assembly members, urged Nigerians to hold a national conversation on the number of political parties and the requirements for their registration, pointing out that the present number of political parties made the conduct of elections cumbersome.
The Commission’s National Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, had prior to the poll, posited that the growing number of political parties in the country might pose challenges for them.
Mahmood through his Chief Technical Adviser, Prof. Bolade Eyinla, while delivering a keynote address at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, argued that with over 100 political associations seeking registration, the number might increase before the elections which could cause logistical problems, including the production of ballot papers.
According to the INEC official, if 68 parties participated in the elections, it could also mean that a total of 68 party agents would be at each polling unit, which could cause the elections to be rowdy, aside the fact that they might not be able to monitor the congresses, conventions and primaries of all parties contesting over 1,000 elective positions each across the nation.
He added, “We are also going to be challenged if these 68 political parties and counting continue this way. We are just a commission. I cannot begin to imagine even as the technical adviser, how we will divide ourselves to monitor party conventions and primaries of 68 political parties across the length and breadth of this country. Again, if any registered political party is mistakenly omitted from the ballot paper, it could lead to the total cancellation of the exercise.
“I think perhaps one of the largest ballots that I have seen is that of Afghanistan where the ballot paper is nearly the size of a prayer mat. Given our level of literacy, I think that is going to be a major challenge and as we know, the question of exclusion is a major issue in the electoral process.”
But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who was represented at the occasion by Senator Abdullahi Sabi, said the multiplicity of political parties was good for democracy.
Like Mahmood pointed out, 72 political parties participated on the Presidential election, while over about 100 struggled it out at the National, Governorship and States Assembly elections, yet PDP and APC ended up dominating various state legislative chambers with exception of Anambra state where APGA has 24, PDP 6.
Speaking on whether Nigeria should go for a two-party system, the immediate past Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Committee (I-PAC), Anambra State chapter, Chief Bartho Igwedibia, agued that Nigeria has passed the system.
Igwedibia, who is also, the state chairman of Accord party, however, added that having 91 political parties were not good to the country’s electoral system, advising that INEC should rather find ways of reducing its numbers of registered political parties in a way that parties like APGA, Accord, ADP and others holding sway at some states would not be affected.
But a political scientist, Prof. Frank-Collins Okafor, posited that multiparty system is chaotic and confusing, while two party system engenders good leadership and dividends of democracy.
According to Okafor, “If you look at what happened at 2019 poll, some complained that they were confused when handed over with ballot papers because they were too long. Two party system is a problem solving. Remember what happened when we had NRP and SDP. You saw the level of political harmony, true nationalism, and conviviality. That was why MKO Abiola won the election even in the north and south. The NRC candidate also won in most states. It brought Nigeria together. It curbs the issues of ethnicity and others.”
On his part, the Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Anambra State Council, Comrade Emmanuel Ifesinachi, said that two party system was undemocratic, and asked INEC to come up with guidelines of establishing and registering a political party.
Ifesinachi, said that having over 70 political parties were confusing, but registering about 12 political parties would enable voters most of whom were illiterate to vote and be voted for without having issues.