Since February 16, 2019, Nigerians, almost on a weekly basis, have been saddled with one election or the other across the country with the attendant socio-economic costs.
By the time the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, concludes the governorship and other supplementary polls in Rivers State on April 15, it will be exactly two months of conducting the 2019 general elections.
This is taking into account February 16 when the Presidential and National Assembly polls would have been held but postponed by one week few hours to the takeoff of the polls.
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu addresses the audience on February 25, 2019 in Abuja during the presidential elections announcement.
– Muhammadu Buhari got off to a winning start in his bid for re-election as Nigeria’s president, as the first result was announced today from weekend polls.
The 76-year-old former military ruler won 219,231 votes in the southwestern state of Ekiti, while his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar, got 154,032, the electoral commission announced.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic, the only time the General Election lasted more than one month was the 1999 polls that ushered the Olusegun Obasanjo civilian regime to power.
The election started on December 5, 1998 with local council polls and ended on February 27, 1999 with presidential election. However the 1999 polls were held as scheduled.
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After much delay and in spite of the initial postponement, the 2019 elections have left a sour taste in the mouths of many including some of the parties, election observers and other stakeholders.
The polls were characterized by violence, killing and maiming of many people including security agents, snatching and destruction of balloting materials and low voters’ turnout among others.
There was also the problem of rejected or voided votes, which rose sharply. These problems accounted for the various elections being declared inconclusive in 18 states and the Federal Capital Territory,
Abuja. State level elections were suspended outright in Rivers where some security agents were among those killed in the orgy of violence that hallmarked the exercises.
Election observers, in their various reports, decried the violence and other forms of rigging that greeted the polls.
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, have insisted that the presidential poll was manipulated in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP are at the tribunal to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory.
The party is also kicking in most of the states it lost the governorship election such as Kano, Kaduna, and Plateau among others.
Conversely, the APC is also challenging the outcome of the election in states that it lost such as Sokoto, Cross River, Delta, Taraba, etc.
High number of voided ballots
Apart from violence and allegations of manipulation, one major drawback of the 2019 elections is the number of voided or rejected ballots.
From 844,519 voided votes recorded in the 2015 presidential election, the figure jumped to 1.289 million, this year, apparently rubbishing the gains that were made in 2015 over the 2011 election when out of 39,469,083 votes cast, 1,259,506 votes were rejected.
Why rejected ballots are high
The number of parties -91 and long ballot papers have been fingered as being partly responsible for the difficulty in voting experienced by voters and consequently the high number of voided ballots in the last election.
The Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, and Samson Itodo, the Director of YIAGA Africa, reportedly attributed the high incidence of voided or invalid votes to inadequate voter education in Nigeria.
They urged government, the electoral commission and political parties to do more enlightenment campaigns for voters on the voting process.
They also want the size of the ballot papers increased to enable voters thumbprint properly in their preferred party’s box.
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To increase the size of the ballot papers, Mr. Itodo suggested a review of the number of parties that can get on the ballot paper.
“For the fact that anyone can be a candidate doesn’t mean all the parties should get to the ballot paper. Parties that are weak in terms of institutions and don’t even comply with the rules of their own party should be excluded,” he said.
The clog of 91 political parties and how we got here
The number of parties and length of the ballot papers did not constitute a problem in other years as was witnessed in 2011 and 2019, which incidentally were the years the country had more parties on the ballot (see table). In 1979, only five parties took part in the elections.
The number marginally increased to six in 1983. And in the other years, the figures were 1999 (three), 2003 (28), 2007 (50), 2011 (63), 2015 (27) and 2019 (91).
Why and how three parties contested national polls in 1999
To ensure that only parties with national appeal and spread took part in the transition elections of 1999, the INEC said only parties that made impact in the December 5, 1998 local council elections would be allowed to contest presidential, governorship, federal and state assembly polls.
Indeed, to avoid cluttering the political space with redundant parties, participation by any of these parties in the subsequent rounds of election was made dependent on its winning at least 10 per cent of the total votes in the council elections of 1998 in at least two thirds of the states in the federation.
Consequently, INEC invited interested political associations to submit their applications for registration as political parties.
About 26 associations submitted their applications with only nine receiving provisional approval to participate in the December 1998 council elections.
These were the Alliance for Democracy, AD, All Peoples Party, APP, Democratic Advance Movement, DAM, Movement for Democracy and Justice, MDJ, National Solidarity Movement, NSM, and the PDP.
The rest were the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, United Democratic Party, UDP, and United Progressive Party, UPP.
At the end of the 1998 council election, the AD won 100 local councils, APP had 182, and PDP secured 389 of the 774 local councils in the federation. The PDP and APP met the requirement in more than 24 states while the AD did in about 18 states.
The INEC granted PDP and APP automatic permanent approval and included the AD as a ‘’third force.’’ The AD was very strong in the South-West, where the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election hailed from. South-West leaders led by late Senator Abraham Adesanya played crucial roles through the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which fought the military to a standstill asking for restoration of the June 12 mandate and at worse a return to civil rule.
A prominent member of NADECO said then that they ‘’arm-twisted’’ INEC to register AD by saying: ‘’If you don’t register us, we will tell the whole world that you did not register us because we are NADECO.’’
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The other six parties divided the remaining 103 councils with none of them getting the stipulated percentage.
Thus, with more than 70 per cent of the local councils divided among AD, APP, and PDP, the electoral umpire granted them approval to participate in the state assembly, governorship, National Assembly, and presidential elections.
Ahead of the 2003 elections, more political associations applied and met the amended requirements for registration, which did not include electoral performance but stressed national spread.
The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, fought and ensured registration for his National Conscience Party, NCP and his victory opened the flood gates for other political associations to be listed.
Thus, 28 parties took part in the 2003 polls, 50 in 2007, and 63 in 2011. Then, the parties were funded by INEC.
Later, the regime of Professor Attahiru Jega stopped paying grants to the parties and went further to proscribe redundant ones.
The proscription led to another round of legal fisticuffs that returned a host of them to the ballot.
Experience in other lands
Nigeria is not the only country with many parties. However, in some countries, parties get on the ballot based on performance.
How it works in India
India, for instance, is a country of 1.3 billion people.
It practices Parliamentary system of government and has three types of political parties, namely: national, state recognized and unrecognized parties. There are seven national parties, 49 state-recognized parties, and a host of unrecognized parties.
Based on performance in elections a party can move through the ranks to become a national party.
To become a national party in India, a state recognized party must have two per cent of seats from at least three states in the 543-seat Lok Sabha (parliament).
To become a state recognised party in India, a political party must win at least three per cent of the total number of seats in the legislative assembly.
An unrecognized party cannot contest an election on its symbol. This party has to choose from the list of ‘free symbols’ issued by the poll panel.
The USA example
In US, whose pattern of democracy Nigeria is practicing there are dozens of political parties but, only certain parties qualify to have the names of their candidates for office printed on election ballots.
To qualify for ballot placement, a party must meet certain requirements that vary from state to state.
For example, in some states, a party may have to file a petition in order to qualify for ballot placement. In other states, a party must organize around a candidate for a specific office; that candidate must, in turn, win a percentage of the vote in order for the party to be granted ballot status. In still other states, an aspiring political party must register a certain number of voters.
As of May 2018, there were at least 32 distinct ballot-qualified political parties in the United States. There were 230 state-level parties Some parties are recognized in multiple states.
For example, both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are recognized in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. These two parties account for 102 of the 230 total state-level parties. Three minor parties were recognized in more than 10 states as of May 2018:They are Libertarian Party (39 states), Green Party (27 states) and Constitution Party (15 states).