Friday Olokor, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission has expressed concern over the growing number of political parties in Nigeria saying it had made the conduct of elections cumbersome.
The commission which said it “Can deregister parties that fail to meet the constitutional threshold embedded in the 4th alteration to the constitution”, however, called on Nigerians to hold a national conversation on the number of political parties and the requirements for their registration.
The meeting, it said, should also determine whether over a 100 political parties could be accommodated in the nation’s electoral process.
INEC National Commissioner and chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, stated these in his speech delivered during the presentation of Certificates to Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, his Deputy and members of the State House of Assembly in Makurdi.
Okoye in the speech which was obtained by journalists in Abuja on Monday also defended the use of supplementary elections in Nigeria.
According to him, Nigerians must not as a people and as a nation retreat or surrender their sovereign constitutional right of having good elections on the basis of contrived roadblocks deliberately erected to disenfranchise the Nigerian people and create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and instability.
He said, “INEC believes that the Nigerian people need a national conversation on the regime of political parties and their administration. The Nigerian people must on their own, through elected representatives determine whether we need, and can accommodate over a hundred political parties in our electoral process.
“We must decide whether the constitutional conditions for the registration of political parties are adequate to make for the registration of political parties that genuinely sponsor candidates and have something new to offer to the Nigerian people.
“The ballot papers are getting more complicated for the Nigerian people. Sorting, counting and entering the scores of candidates in Form EC8A series is becoming more cumbersome. Polls are closing late on account of the number of parties and ad hoc staff of the commission in remote areas and difficult terrains are exposed to danger.
“It is also becoming difficult husbanding and protecting result sheets from the polling units to the collation centres as armed gangs are getting more vicious when targeting result sheets of the commission. It is therefore imperative that Nigerians hold a national conversation on the number of political parties and the requirements for their registration.
“While the commission can deregister parties that fail to meet the constitutional threshold embedded in the 4th Alteration to the constitution, it takes deregistered parties 30 days to make a comeback as a registered political party can reapply and get registered on the liberal conditions in the constitution. It is also imperative for the commission to proceed and implement the duality of manual and electronic collation and transmission.”
More importantly, Okoye challenged the media to focus attention on the political parties in Nigeria and the various means and tactics they use in undermining the electoral process.
“Political parties have constantly shifted the blame for their electoral malfeasance to INEC. The commission does not train, hire or deploy armed gangs to the polling units. The commission does not snatch ballot boxes and ballot papers. The commission does not harass, main and kill ad hoc staff. The commission does not overwhelm the people and prevent them from exercising their democratic mandate.
“Political Parties must play by the rules of the game and reengage the Nigerian people with the electoral process. Our people have accepted democracy wholeheartedly while the political class keeps experimenting on shortcuts to power outside the constitutional and electoral framework. All the stakeholders in Nigeria must develop the democratic spirit and restore the requisite credibility to the party-political process”, he stated.
According to him, while INEC has completed its own part, it was left to the government and people of Benue State to complete their four-year journey of governance.
Okoye also explained that supplementary elections were important to ensure that a large chunk of people were not disenfranchised.
He said, “We must not as a people and as a nation retreat or surrender our sovereign constitutional right of having good elections on the basis of contrived roadblocks deliberately erected to disenfranchise the Nigerian people and create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and instability.
“The concept of supplementary elections and the application of the margin of lead principle in our electoral process are not insidious or alien to our electoral process. It is a constitutional provision that gives life and meaning to the vote and the sovereign right of the people to decide who governs them.
The commission is of the firm opinion that it is unconstitutional and illegal to disenfranchise a whole community based on its inability to deploy materials and personnel on account of logistic challenges. It will be unjust and inequitable to disenfranchise a people based on a vicious determination by political opponent to reduce the votes from targeted communities through contrived mayhem and insecurity.
“The voices and votes of the people will be meaningless if the commission is forced to retreat from conducting elections in certain communities. It will be inequitable to deprive the people of the power of the vote despite natural disasters or other emergencies that prevented them from exercising their mandate.
“It is against the law to reward people who deliberately undermine the use of the Smart Card Reader in the electoral process. The concept of margin of lead and the organization of supplementary elections are constitutional and electoral safeguards deliberately inserted in our laws and constitution to give meaningful meaning to the concept of the vote and prevent serial electoral violators from undermining the electoral process.
“What the Nigerian people need is a robust, honest, professional and ethical security architecture that secures the electoral environment and gives the vote the requisite voice. While constitutional and electoral reforms are inevitable, we must not become addicted to electoral and constitutional reforms at the slightest sight of contrived challenges and roadblock.”