The Independent National Electoral Commission has excluded no fewer than 124 political groups from participating in the 2023 general elections.
According to a report by Punch, this resulted from the commission’s registration exercise which was carried out in 2020. By implication, only the 18 parties survived it.
In reaction to a Freedom of Information request, the Deputy Director, SERVICOM at INEC, Olayide Okuonghae said 101 associations applied between 2019 and December 14, 2021.
His response read in part, “In reference to your letter dated December 9, 2021, the commission wishes to inform you that from 2019 to December 14, 2021, a total of 101 political associations forwarded their letters of intent to be registered as political parties.”
This was also confirmed by Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu. He, however, noted that the commission could not reveal the names of the associations because they had not been approved as political parties.
It was, however, learnt that 23 more political associations applied for registration between December 14, 2021, and March 25, 2022, totalling 124. However, none of the associations had been registered.
The report read in part, “As of March 2022, the commission had on record a total of 124 letters of intent from various political associations seeking to apply for registration as political parties.
“The summary of the status of the associations is that 97 associations out of 116 have been advised that their proposed names, acronyms or logos were not suitable or available for registration.
“Eleven of the associations that received letters of non-suitability of their proposed names/acronyms/logos resubmitted letters of intent with amended names/acronyms/logos. Sixteen associations submitted fresh letters of intent.”
Oyekanmi said on Friday that the final decision on whether or not to register a new political party before the elections rested exclusively with the commission, a system he said he would not pre-empt.
He was quoted as saying, “The submission of an application by an association or group for registration as a political party is the starting point of an elaborate and rigorous process. It, therefore, takes time and a lot of effort from when an application is submitted to the day the certificate of registration is given.
“Section 75 of the Electoral Act, 2022 says any political association that complies with the provisions of the constitution and the Act for the purposes of registration shall be registered as a political party provided, however, that such an application for registration shall be duly submitted to the commission not later than 12 months before a general election.”
A National Commissioner in INEC, who spoke with the newspaper said only 18 political parties would partake in the elections.
He said, “Any party that registers now can never be for the 2023 elections because the timetable for the primaries is running already; the primaries must end on June 3, that’s less than a month. So, I don’t see how a party that is registered now will be able to meet up with all of these requirements.
“Don’t forget that they also have to bring the register of their members. So, if they are registered now, when are they going to do all of these?”
Asked to confirm if only 18 political parties would participate in the 2023 elections, he said, “Absolutely, that’s what is going to happen, because the timetable can no longer accommodate them (new members).”
A Resident Electoral Commissioner, who also did not want his name mentioned, said the commission would not reject any valid application for registration, but that its timetable could exclude any new party from participating in certain elections.
He said, “I don’t think INEC is in the position to turn them down. The only thing is whether or not they will be on the ballot. Maybe by the time they finish the process, it will be too late. If party primaries are over before they register as political parties, automatically they are out. Party primaries are to end on June 3, so automatically any political party that is set up after the primaries have been concluded cannot take part in the elections.”
Before the fresh applications, INEC had on February 6, 2020, deregistered 74 political parties due to their poor performance in the 2019 general elections and the re-run elections that followed.
Yakubu said in addition to the extant provision for the registration of political parties, the Fourth Alteration to Section 225(a) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, empowered the commission to deregister political parties.
Ninety-one political parties participated in the 2019 general elections, while an additional one, the Boot Party, was registered based on the order of a court after the polls.
“Accordingly, 74 political parties are hereby deregistered. With this development, Nigeria now has 18 registered political parties,” Yakubu had said.
He recalled that between 2011 and 2013, INEC deregistered a total of 39 political parties based on the same provision. The Supreme Court, on May 7 upheld an earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal, which okayed the deregistration of the National Unity Party and 73 others. The appeal was filed by the NUP and others.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Adamu Jauro, the Supreme Court said the deregistration of the parties was done in line with the laws and compliance with the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The judgment, delivered by a five-man panel led by Justice Mary Odili, said INEC was empowered by Section 225 (a) of the constitution to de-register any political party that failed to meet the relevant requirements. The apex court then dismissed the parties’ appeal.
However, a staff member of the commission, said INEC had the responsibility of registering political parties but that people should also consider joining existing parties.
“Studies show clearly that in any democracy where you have one to three dominant political parties, the moment the elite begin to form more political parties, you are only increasing the chances of those dominant parties, even though they may not be liked by the people,” he stated.