By Festus Owete
May 14, 2010 09:13PM
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The national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
and some state governors are responsible for the inability of the House of
Representatives to decide on the number of political parties to be registered
for the 2011 general elections and future elections in the country.
The PDP leadership and the governors were said to be lobbying
the lawmakers to retain a multi-party system, limited to just five parties.
While the party reached out to the leadership of the House to guide debate in
the matter, the governors met with members representing their states in the
lower legislative chamber, urging them to speak and vote in favour of five
The House had tried to amend Section 80 of the Electoral Act,
which says, “The decision of the Commission not to register any association as
a political party may be challenged in a court of law, provided that any legal
action challenging the decision of the commission shall be commenced within 30
days from the date of receipt of the letter of notification of non-registration
from the Commission.”
But for two days last week, the 360-member House could not vote
on the number of parties while considering the report on the amendment of the
Electoral Act 2006. The report was prepared by its 44-member ad-hoc committee
on the review of the 1999 Constitution, which did not however recommend any
number of parties to be registered.
The plenary sessions, on both days, became rowdy prompting the
Speaker, Dimeji Bankole to defer debate on the issue till Tuesday this week. Mr
Bankole announced that the electronic voting machine, was faulty and told
members that the break would afford them the opportunity to consult among
themselves as well as with their constituents.
Perhaps, except the agitation by some lawmakers last February to
install Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, no issue has generated such
heated debate in the lower house in the last one year.
It was gathered that the PDP, which has the majority in the
House, told the leadership of the lower chamber, that it wanted five parties
with a view to sanitizing the polity.
This reportedly prompted the lower house leadership, which had
previously supported the two-party system to switch its support to multi-party
system, which will be limited to only five parties.
It was further gathered that the party indicated that five
parties will not only sanitize the polity, but also allow for easier conduct of
As a result of this interference, the deputy speaker, Usman
Nafada, who, incidentally chaired the ad-hoc committee, spearheaded the lobby
in the House, winning many members to his side. He could not, however, convinced
the opposition parties, which have consistently favoured a two-party system.
Opposition want two
However, some PDP governors were also said to have contacted
their representatives in the lower house to kick against two-party system.
As a result of the party’s position, two weeks ago while playing
host to seven ex-governors led by former Akwa Ibom State governor, Victor Attah
in Abuja, Mr Bankole said that the House would prune the number of political
parties in the country, which is now between 57 and 61.
Chairman of the House committee on rules and business, Ita Enang
denied that the House is being used by the PDP leadership. He said the party
never sought audience with the Speaker or committee members to influence the
choice of five parties.
Mr Enang, a member of the PDP from Akwa Ibom, faulted the move
by the House to amend Section 80 of the Electoral Act to include the number of
parties to be registered without first amending Section 40 of the 1999
Constitution, which provides for freedom of association.
He added that the amendment would also contravene the provisions
of the international treaties to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Also speaking, Action Congress (AC, Lagos) Leader, Femi
Gbajabiamila said he learnt about the lobby embarked upon by the PDP
leadership, but does not have the facts. Mr Gbajabiamila explained that the
national leadership of AC did not ask its members in the House to opt for two
party system, for which they spoke in support during the debate.
The lawmaker, during a telephone interview on Friday, said the
AC and All Nigeria People Party members supported two-party system in the
interest of the country. He added that those calling for five parties would
soon realize it is not the best option.
“Yes, all of us spoke in support of two-party system though we
have no specific instruction from our leadership to do so. We are doing it in
the interest of the nation and based on historical fact. Two Party system will
reduce ethnicity, religion and other vices in party formation and enable us to
conduct credible elections as we had in 1993,” he said. “Most of the PDP
members are asking for five parties. This is like maintaining the status quo.
It is unfortunate for members to allow themselves to be lobbied. Some of them
will soon realize that it is not good for them. The two-party system we are
asking for is for their own good.”
A peep into the past
The country operated a two-party system during the botched Third
Republic. The Political Bureau set up by the administration of former military
president, Ibrahim Babangida opted for a two-party system, with the aim of
nipping in the bud issues of ethnic cleavages in party formation that
characterized the first and second republics, and also to ensure popular
participation and citizens control of parties.
In 2002, the Supreme Court, while interpreting the relevant
provisions of the constitution, as sought for by the late Gani Fawehinmi,
nullified the policy of regulating number of parties. The judgement led to the
registration of 24 more parties, bringing the number of parties that vied for
elective offices in 2003 to 30.
In 2004, an 8-member Committee on Political Reforms chaired by
the then Kaduna State Governor, Ahmed Makarfi, which was constituted by former
President Olusegun Obasanjo, observed that party formation was not in the hands
of the people. It noted that “the issue of complete regulation of the process
of establishing political parties had led to the near absence of strong,
credible and virile opposition, which is a necessary component of a viable
It therefore called for the establishment of a National Body on
Political Reform to advise government on the formation of “highly principled,
sharply focused, well-organised, effectively managed, value-oriented and
disciplined political parties.” In 2005, the Joseph Wayas-led Committee on
Political Parties and Electoral Process Reforms of the National Political
Reform Conference (NPRC) recommended a multi-party system.
It said that people should be allowed to form parties but that any party
that failed to secure 10% of total votes cast should be deregistered. The
committee, however, said that “legislation relating to formation and
organization of parties is required to encourage the development of parties
that unite people around specific public issues.”http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/News/National/5568457-146/party_governors_plot_against_two-party_system.csp