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Opposition Groups in Nigeria Contest Party Registration Guidelines - 2002-05-15

In Nigeria, over 30 associations are protesting the rules required for legally registering as political parties. The requirements are part of the guidelines established by the national body empowered to register parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission. A recent meeting between the groups and the commission ended in a deadlock. Meanwhile, one of the groups -- the National Conscience party, or NCP -- is seeking a court ruling declaring the guidelines illegal. The associations say the new rules are too strict - and not in accordance with the constitution. In particular they complain about a requirement that party members must have their names on the existing voters’ register. They say many people missed the last registration in 1998 – and a new list is yet to be created.

Some of the groups are publicly expressing their displeasure. Chairman of the Lagos branch of the unregistered NCP -- Barrister Segun Aderemi – told a recent rally of supporters in the city that "It's a shame. I really feel ashamed to be a Nigerian after hearing the guidelines put forward by the so-called INEC of a so-called democratic dispensation. [It's] the most barbaric and undemocratic thing you can think [of]. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, membership of a political party is now tied down to having voters’ register card. Meanwhile, millions of youths have come of age between 1998 and year 2002 when the voters’ register was last revised. Again most members if not all, of the National Conscience Party consciously boycotted the 1999 transition program because of its undemocratic features- all of us are not on the so-called voters’ register card."

Barrister Aderemi says the NCP faces a potentially embarrassing situation whereby neither it nor its Chairman and likely presidential candidate, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, may be registered to compete in the upcoming elections.

But the new associations have other objections – made known during a consultative forum or meeting called by INEC early this month to resolve the differences. The three registered parties – Alliance for Democracy, Peoples Democratic Party and All Peoples Party – also attended. INEC Chairman Abel Goubadia says the forum will take inputs towards improving the guidelines. But the associations say there is little to improve in them.

They reject the requirement that they provide bank statements of their income and expenditure, that they submit list of staff and equipment in offices in at least 24 of the 36 states – and that they pay a registration fee of N100, 000 about $1000. They also reject the demand that they win 10 percent of votes in local elections before contesting national and state elections. The government supports these rules in part because it says they ensure that any party that wins will have a large enough proportion of votes from across the country to form a stable and geographically broad-based government.

But the associations say INEC should simply follow the constitution. It requires new parties to be registered once it submits its symbol and program and has national officers spread across the country.

The influential This Day newspaper reports that a motion to reject the guidelines was proposed -- and adopted -- at the meeting by two representatives of the new associations – Chief Fawehinmi for NCP and Dr. Arthur Nwankwo for the Eastern Mandate Union. The newspaper also quotes the representatives of the three already registered parties as saying that they do not support INEC’s guidelines either.

According to the newspaper, INEC Chairman Dr. Goubadia says the commission will review the requirement that association members have identification cards issued from the registration drive four years ago. But he has not ruled on their other objections.

Meanwhile, fearing that INEC may not compromise on the guidelines, national officers of the unregistered NCP have filed an action in a court in the Federal capital, Abuja. They want a declaration that the guidelines are unconstitutional and should be dropped.

Constitutional experts say unless INEC and the associations can reach a compromise, the courts will have the final word on which groups are registered – and when.