Professor Mahmud Yakubu’s Gift To The PDP

The action of the commission to actually deregister 74 parties could be the most consequential political event in Nigeria since the merger of the Congress for Progressive Change, Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Nigeria People’s Party back in 2013.

Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmud Yakubu.
Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmud Yakubu.

After contesting four presidential elections and losing all four, there are widespread speculations that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is running out of money.

In last year’s presidential election, there was no absence of drama with security agencies reported raiding his private jet and seizing cash the former vice president allegedly imported into the country to execute the election.

Apparently, he travelled across the world in search of financial support.

Whether or not Atiku has spent himself broke chasing a dream and may no longer be able to afford another presidential run, what is certain is that the last four runs have taken a toll on his finances.

And he has gotten no reward for his consistency in showing up to contests.

For losers of an election in a presidential system of government, there is no consolation.

The winner takes all.

World over, it has been argued that in a winner-takes-all election, it is inevitable for every electoral contest to end with only two parties competing.

The irony is that Nigeria is not a two-party democracy.

It has or until recently had close to 100 political parties.

In most multiparty democracies, representation in parliament is proportional with every party getting a near equal number of seats proportional to votes earned in an election.

World over, it has been argued that in a winner-takes-all election, it is inevitable for every electoral contest to end with only two parties competing

That way, even political parties that represent small communities can survive.

So while the constitution allows for multiple registration of political parties, during elections; the winner takes all the spoils.

That guarantees dominance by only one or two political parties while all the rest are parties just in name.

The People’s Democratic Party had good reason to believe it would rule for 60 years.

As long as opposition political parties remained divided and fragmented, the PDP knew it would remain undefeated in presidential elections.

In July 2013, when the Independent National Electoral Commission approved the merger of the three main opposition parties to form the APC, the then ruling party panicked and went as far as attacking the electoral commission.

The proliferation of political parties was to PDP’s advantage.

But once INEC approved the merger of the main opposition parties, it was a turning point in Nigeria’s democracy.

The newly formed party would go ahead to win the 2015 presidential election with more than 15 million votes to end PDP’s 16-year rule.

In that election, the PDP got close to 13 million votes.

But even with the merger and the coalition of opposition parties coming together, 12 other parties still contested the 2015 presidential elections.

But all the 12 parties got only one per cent of the total valid votes and less votes than the quarter of a million that were declared invalid.

While an argument can be made that the presence of the 12 parties in the election broadened political participation, the results however showed there was only room for two parties in the electoral system.

Political parties are meant to represent divisions and aspirations in society.

They are supposed to offer different sections of the electorate a path to achieving their political and economic goals.

But that also depends on how the electorate is classified. Parties are also meant to give structure to politics from the local government all the way to the national level.

Even though Nigerians are quick to admit there is nothing to distinguish one political party from the other in terms of ideology and approach to governance, the parties to some extent represent the level of inclusiveness of major tribes in governance.

2019 was supposed to be the year a third force capable of dislodging the two main political parties in Nigeria’s presidential election would emerge.

Its main promoter, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was on his own, supposed to be the strongest individual political actor in the country, capable of moving mountains.

But his year-long effort to build the much anticipated third force fell flat.

He failed to pay attention to the pattern of results in past presidential elections in Nigeria.

It was never going to be possible for an individual to change that.

And if he was influenced by the ease CPC broke away and replace ANPP as the leading opposition party, then the former president took away the wrong lessons from those events.

First, the PDP was stronger and more entrenched in the grassroots in 2019 than ANPP ever was in its entire history.

Even though Nigerians are quick to admit there is nothing to distinguish one political party from the other in terms of ideology and approach to governance, the parties to some extent represent the level of inclusiveness of major tribes in governance

Second, the PDP as at 2019 was still the only party in Nigeria to have won four consecutive presidential elections.

It is a history that mattered. Obasanjo’s ultimate goal was to defeat the APC in the 2019 presidential elections.

And he had to put his weight behind one of other 90 other parties that participated in the election.

Unsurprisingly, he stuck with the PDP, the main opposition party.

Had Obasanjo succeeded in building a third force, it is more likely the party would have split the 11 million votes PDP got in the presidential election rather than take away any significant votes from the 15 million APC got.

That was what happened when the Alliance for Democracy (later ACN) and ANPP individually took on PDP in 1999 and 2003.

They both basically split the votes PDP couldn’t get between them.

The 2019 presidential election, like all the ones before it was always going to be a contest of two parties.

The reality is that while the constitution supports the he existence of multiple parties, the electoral law makes most the parties unsustainable.

And that consistently shows in election results.

73 political parties fielded candidates in the 2019 presidential election.

Apart from the two leading parties, all the remaining 71 could only earn 869, 000 votes, just over 3 percent of the total valid votes.

The large number of the parties did not only complicate the ballot paper for the average voter, most of were unknown to the electorate.

There were enough of the parties to confuse voters rather than offer them viable choices. They also succeeded in creating an appearance of incoherence from opposition parties on what was actually going wrong with the APC in power.

Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission deregistered 74 political parties.

Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, in a televised address basically labeled all the parties political failures.

The reality is that while the constitution supports the he existence of multiple parties, the electoral law makes most the parties unsustainable

In a sense, they are. Of what good is a party that cannot win elections, not even a single seat at the local government level?

It wasn’t the first time the commission would be doing that.

The first time it tried, the commission was stopped by the courts as the move was ruled to have been inconsistent with the constitution.

That led the National Assembly to amend the constitution in 2017 by inserting a section empowering INEC to deregister political parties that fail in reaching a minimum threshold.

When the constitution was amended, nobody protested.

So in a way, there was broad consensus that the commission needed to trim down the number of parties clogging the political space and were creating voting choices for the electorate that were unmanageable.
Section 225A of the constitution which was inserted states: “The Independent National Electoral Commission shall have power to de-register a party for – (a) breach of any of the requirements for registration; (b) failure to win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in – (i) one State of the Federation in a Presidential election or (ii) one Local Government of the State in a Governorship election. (c) failure to win at least (i) one Ward in the Chairmanship election; (ii) one seat in National or State House of Assembly election; or (iii) one seat in the Councilorship election.”

No one can deny that all the deregistered parties are unlikely to win even LG elections in any state where the governor is a member of one of the two main parties or even in Anambra where APGA runs the state government.

Many of the parties that were deregistered are headed by an individual who ends up being its presidential candidate with the hope of raising his or her national profile.

It is not just Obasanjo that is predicting the APC will implode in the post-Buhari era, many others are saying the same.

Even if that comes to past, the party can survive the implosion if opposition parties remain fractured.

Today, one step has been taken towards giving better structure to politics in Nigeria.

The action of the commission to actually deregister 74 parties could be the most consequential political event in Nigeria since the merger of the Congress for Progressive Change, Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Nigeria People’s Party back in 2013.

It can only strengthen party politics, at least in the winner-takes-all election system.

And it favours the leading opposition party, if only it can see the opportunity it has been presented with.

The curious thing is why the party is singing Prof. Mahmud Yakubu’s praises for his political foresight.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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