INEC should be allowed to provide verdicts on party candidacy, leadership – Electoral Forum

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POLITICAL PARTIES AND THE QUALITY OF ELECTIONS

The 11TH Technical Session of The Electoral Forum was held online on Friday, 14 July 2023. The meeting focused on understanding the impact of political parties on the quality of elections in Nigeria.

The Chair of the Forum, Professor Adebayo Olukoshi noted that the role of political parties in the democratic process, and the credibility/quality of elections has been a recurrent issue of concern for The Forum. As such, the meeting was convened to focus the minds of the members of the Forum on the role and place of political parties in the quest for strengthening democratic governance in Nigeria, and the securing and deepening of electoral integrity in the country.

As a concrete point of entry, it was decided to examine the ways in which, over time, political parties have impacted the quality Nigerian elections. Out of the deliberation of the members of the Forum, ideas would be proposed for the consideration of stakeholders to help raise the standard of political part on the quality of elections in Nigeria and propose solutions to stakeholders in order to raise the standard of elections and the performance of political parties. 

The Chair noted that strong, programme based and ideologically inclined political parties are very vital for credible elections and democratic consolidation.

The Chairman thereafter outlined the objectives of the Technical Session as follows:

To examine the role, significance and performance of political parties in Nigeria as critical institutions for electoral credibility and democratic advancement.

To review the engagement between the Independent National Electoral Commission and political parties.

To identify strategies and mechanisms for addressing the challenges impeding political parties’ functionality as agents for quality elections.
During the technical session, Forum members explored theoretical, historical and practical issues arising relating to and arising from the functionality of political parties in Nigeria and their effectiveness in shaping election outcomes.

The first presentation was by Professor Adele Jinadu on the topic “Political Parties as Institution of Democracy: Theory and Ideals.” The presenter noted that the struggle for democracy is a perpetual attempt to expand the political space, inclusion, participation and accountability.

This expansion has resulted in the emphasis placed on election as the preferred modality for choosing leaders. And with elections being the preferred approach for choosing leaders, political parties become very key to the process.

According to him, political parties and the party system in Nigeria have been shaped by a complex intersection of colonial-rule-induced fusion of ethno-regionalism coupled with long term experience with military rule.

He further asserted that political parties have general tendency to develop internal oligarchies of the rich and powerful who are in full control of these parties, which raises concerns about internal democracy.

Professor Jinadu provided further insight into historical efforts at recalibrating the character of Nigerian political parties and the challenges encountered in the process. Amongst the challenges he identified were the proclivity for political parties and candidates to rely on ethno-regional and religious appeals and the issue of contradictory judicial verdicts. These challenges, he observed, have subsisted to present times as evident in the rush for ethnic voting blocs during the 2023 general elections. Consequently,the country today has neither a national party nor national leader.

Having laid out the theoretical and historical overview of the problems inhibiting and impeding political parties’ functionality as democratic institutions, a second presentation was made by Hajia Amina Zakari, former INEC National Commissioner.

In her analysis, she laid out a litany of efforts exerted by INEC at engaging and strengthening political parties and the challenges encountered. These efforts include monitoring party finance, convention and primaries, capacity-building programmes, and enforcement of requirements of national spread and presence in the FCT, amongst others. The success of these efforts is however limited by trust gaps between parties and INEC, disregard for electoral rules by political parties, malfeasance by some staff of the commission, etc.

Following extensive deliberations and inputs by Forum members on the issues raised, the Forum proposed far-reaching recommendations for improving political parties and ensuring that they contribute to credible elections. These recommendations include:

That parties should be strengthened to ensure their survival after elections. Presently, we have nine parties with elected representatives at the National and State Assemblies, a diversity which might be lost if parties are not strengthened.

The INEC department on Election and Party Monitoring should be reorganise and reinforced to focus strictly on political parties’matters – registration, regulations, monitoring etc. also, campaign finance monitoring should be given more visibility.

The INEC political party deparment should be strengthened including professional training for staff.

There should be much greater attention to ways of growing party membership, programme vision, and internal party democracy in Nigeria 

INEC should collaborate with CSO, and former INEC non-partisan staff in monitoring political party elections, congresses and conventions, particularly, their primaries.

Capacity building programmes should be organized for political parties, including the full time staff who run the day to day operations of the parties. Also, elected officials of political parties should undertake induction sessions organised by them as well as by INEC.

If the trend of party violation of electoral guidelines and ideals of electoral conduct persists, there would be a need to set up a political party monitoring agency.

The powers of the Electoral Commission should be strengthened and exercised to allow it to decide on, and provide verdicts, on party candidacy and leadership as stipulated in the Electoral Act 2022.

On the imperative of strengthening INEC’s impartiality in monitoring political parties, efforts should be exerted at depoliticising the appointment of members of the Commission, including the Chairperson and National Commissioners, and Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). In the same vein, continuous investments should be made in engancing the professionalism of the staff of INEC at all levels.

There will be much benefits in revisiting the Uwaise report in order, inter alia, to rid INEC of the extra baggage so that it does not become overburdened

Various outputs from the technical meeting will shortly be released on The Electoral Forum’s webpage: https://electoralhub.org/electoralforum. Stakeholders in the electoral process are urged to join the Forum in the advocacy for better electoral governance in Nigeria.

Signed
Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, Chairman of The Electoral Forum