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Nigeria -- Parties and Politics Ahead of Local Elections - 2002-06-26

The three new parties are the National Democratic Party, the All-Progressive Grand Alliance, and the United Nigeria Peoples Party. THey were presented certificates of registration from the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, on Monday in the Federal Capital Abuja. The move brings to six the number of parties in Nigeria. Three parties have existed since 1999 -- the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, the All Peoples Party and the Alliance for Democracy.

INEC Chairman Dr. Abel Gourbadia says both the new and the old parties will now contest all elections, including the forthcoming local polls in August and next year’s state and national elections.

The three new parties were among twenty-four political associations who had applied for registration. Mr. Gourbadia says the three parties were approved because they fulfill INEC guidelines including having a presence in at least 24 of Nigeria’s thirty-six states.

National Publicity Secretary of the National Democratic Party, Mr. Kenny Martins, expressed delight that his party is among the three registered but says the journey was tough. "Honestly it was a hard road to travel, we had a lot of hectic time to surmount so many obstacles and as you rightly know but for the fact that we had a membership and leadership of our party that was insistence and that was determined and for the fact that Nigerians were in their millions yearning and demanding for the liberalization of the democratic space and insisting that the government has no other way than to register new parties, we would have lost this game. So we have to thank the generality of Nigerians for making this possible. "

The twenty-one groups that fail to get INEC’s nod to contest elections have condemned the registration process. The National Conscience Party led by human rights activist Chief Gani Fawehinmi is spearheading their objection. At a media briefing Monday, Chief Fawehinmi expressed his disappointment with INEC. He also displayed some documents including members’ registers in different states to show that his party fulfills most of INEC’s requirements. "We have members in all states of the Federation of Nigeria – in all the 36 states of the Federation of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. We have evidence to show to you, we have offices in all the 36 states of the Federation. But the constitution does not provide that you should show offices in states 36 or 24 states. The constitution merely provides that you must have a headquarters in Abuja. And your leadership must reflect the Federal character of Nigeria. But we have gone beyond that. We over qualified. We want to tell Gourbadia that he must restrict himself to constitutionality and legality. "

Chief Fawehinmi says his party has no choice but to embark on another round of legal and political actions to get INEC to reverse its decision. He says it will follow the electoral guideline that requires any group that has objections to INEC’s decision to respond in court within two-weeks.

While the unregistered groups brace for legal and political actions the three new parties are also making new requests. They want the date for the local polls shifted from August 10 to sometime in December. They say this will give them enough time to prepare and compete with the well-established parties. Besides, they say INEC is yet to compile a fresh voter register, which will allow most of their members to register and vote.

The Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions which will conduct the local polls is supporting the new parties. According to the Punch newspaper, a spokesman for the forum, Alhaji Jaafaru Zagga, says the non-availability of a revised voter register less than 50 days before the August elections could jeopardize the arrangement. The Paper also quotes him as saying that the review of voters’ registration now remains the only hurdle in efforts to deliver successful, free, fair and acceptable local government elections.