Abuja – No fewer than 124 political groups that applied for registration as political parties have been technically excluded from participating in the 2023 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Sunday PUNCH can confirm.
This, by implication, means that only the 18 parties that survived the commission’s last deregistration in 2020 will participate in the forthcoming elections.
It was reported on December 26, 2021, that 101 political associations had applied to the commission for registration. The Deputy Director, SERVICOM at INEC, Olayide Okuonghae, in his response to a Freedom of Information request sent by Sunday PUNCH, said the 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.”
Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, confirmed the development to one of our correspondents in December, but 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.
An INEC interim report sighted by one of our correspondents showed that as of March 25, 2022, no fewer than 124 applications were received by the commission. However, none of the associations has 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.”
Asked whether INEC would still register new political parties before the 2023 elections, 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 said, “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.”
The 2023 General Elections Project Plan launched by INEC last month also projects 18 political parties for next year’s elections.
With June 3, 2022, as INEC’s deadline for political parties to conclude their primaries, it seems clear that no new party will be able to participate in the general elections.
Several calls, SMS and WhatsApp messages sent to the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, for response were not picked or replied to.
However, a National Commissioner in INEC, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH on condition of anonymity, affirmed that 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.”
Another source in the commission dismissed any insinuation that INEC delayed in registering the parties to avoid complications in its guidelines and preparations for the 2023 elections.
Prior to 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 in 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, who did not want his name mentioned, 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.
Asked for the solution, he said, “People should join the political parties and not go and form theirs. In the last Osun State governorship election in 2018, there were 25 political parties, whereas 18 participated. If you check, you will find out that the two major parties led the others despite the way people criticised them.”
It’s risky for parties to change congress, primaries’ dates – INEC
Meanwhile, less than four weeks to the deadline for political parties to hold their primaries, INEC has said it is now risky for any party to change the dates of its congresses, conventions and primaries.
Okoye had in a statement a few days ago said that in compliance with Section 82 (1) of the Electoral Act (2022), all the 18 political parties had served the required notices indicating the dates for their conventions, congresses, and primaries for the purpose of nominating candidates for various elective offices as specified in the constitution and the Electoral Act.
Asked if political parties could still change the dates for those exercises, Oyekanmi said on Friday, “It’s not advisable for any political party to change the date of its convention, congress, or primary election at this time. The deadline for the conduct of party primaries for the 2023 general elections is June 3, 2022.
“The Electoral Act, 2022 states that parties must give the commission at least 21 days’ notice. What this means is that political parties have until May 13, 2022 to give the commission a notice. In my opinion, waiting till the last moment to do the needful is always risky.”
‘INEC not required to attend all NEC meetings’
Following conflicting views over whether or not the commission is required to attend the National Executive Committee meeting of political parties, Oyekanmi said it would depend on the agenda of such gatherings.
The Peoples Democratic Party has fixed its NEC meeting for Wednesday, May 11, to deliberate on the report of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led zoning committee.
In March, INEC rejected the letter inviting it to the NEC meeting of the ruling All Progressives Congress, because the letter was not signed by the chairman known to it. The letter was signed by Governor Sani Bello of Niger State instead of the Chairman of the then Caretaker Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State.
INEC’s letter triggered debates over whether or not it should attend parties’ NEC meetings.
When asked to clarify the issue, Oyekanmi said, “It depends on what the agenda is. If the NEC meeting is being convened for the purpose of a merger or electing members of the party’s executive committees, other governing bodies, or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under the Electoral Act, 2022, then the party must give INEC a 21-day notice.
“However, if it is just a normal NEC meeting, where any of the activities mentioned above will not take place, the commission does not need to attend.”(Punch).