Some Quick Thoughts on Multi-Partyism & Electoral Reform in Nigeria

INTRODUCTION

Should there be re-imposed a two-party system a la Babangida of the SDP/NRC "a little to the left, a little to the right" fame - as recently being canvassed again by the man himself (see attached) -  rather than the present apparently unwieldy 50-party system a la Obasanjo/Iwu?

Absolutely not!

Rather, what we need is room for a multi-party system where as many parties as possible flourish - with room for both national and sub-national (state) spread, but with strict provisions for grass-root membership and vote attainment as prerequisites for federal and state financial support and display on future election ballots.  We also need some electoral reform about INEC and the conduct of elections.

Let me explain.

PARTY MEMBERSHIP & STATE FUNDING

A political party without grassroot membership that financially supports it is an opportunistic political club of moneybags.  This is what we currently have in Nigeria, where no party can boast of 100,000 dues-paying members, not to talk of 1 million such members.  Thus you have one, two or no more than twenty people putting down hundreds of millions or even billions  of naira each - and canvassing money from some non-political businessmen with an eye for contracts in the future - money that is then used to fund all the activities of the party.

That is a recipe for godfatherism and the ignoring of the citizenry when the political party gets into power.

To avoid such anti-democratic tendencies, an electoral reform process must encourage grass-root membership of parties by mandating political parties to demonstrate SUBSTANTIAL support by such members, and DISCOURAGE an inordinate amount of party funding by any small-size set of individuals.

For example, suppose there are 60 million Nigerians in our voting population, and we start out by assuming that there will be six strong political parties, each on average with 10 million party members.  Then each member paying no more than N1,000 each as annual membership fee would give each party N10 billion to run its affairs every year. 

That is a lot of money.

But let us be more realistic and assume that no party will be able to garner 10 million paying members.  However, the law can state that:

1.  each party shall stipulate a membership fee of no more than N1,000 each (or whatever is consistent with average wage or economic conditions in Nigeria);

2.  the total non-dues DONATIONS to the party shall not exceed what is received from the membership fee stipulated.  The number of persons who make such donations shall be no less than 1% of the registered membership of the party.

3.  law shall require federal (and/or state) matching of 10 times of whatever each party has collected as membership fees and donations by March of each year.

I shall refer to the above as  RULES SET A.

Thus, if a party has only 500,000 paying members (at N1,000 each), and somehow manage to get internal matching donations of N500,000,00 by no less than 5,000 of its members, then the federal (or state) matches 10 times what is total collected sum, that is the party will have N11 billion in its kitty.

PARTY SUCCESS AT THE POLLS: FUNDING AND APPEARING ON THE BALLOT

Political parties primarily exist to offer alternative visions and then attract voters to themselves in order to capture power either  nationally or locally.  The capture of such power cannot be expected to be quick or immediate for all parties.  However, one expects that from election to election, political parties with favorable platforms will capture increasingly the imagination of more of the voters, and hence increasingly their votes.

Such parties should be rewarded with state financial support, which should not however be automatic.

Hence let us suggest some stipulations with respect to FINANCIAL SUPPORT and APPEARING ON THE BALLOT.

1.    Rules Set A above kicks in for ALL POLITICAL PARTIES at the very start of the new rules.

2.    We must assume and INSIST on free and fair elections thereafter; this is crucial.

3.    Only EXISTING political parties which participated at all in the previous election would be eligible for support based on Rules Set A and be featured on the ballot in the new election. There should be NO ROOM for political parties to receive state funding and yet stay completely on the sidelines of canvassing for votes.

4..  For those parties that participated to be eligible for funding based on Rules Set A above AND to be featured on the ballot in the new elections, they must have won some seats in state and national elections in the immediate previous general elections.  We may have to specify the minimum number of seats required - say 1% of seats contested for. 

and/or

5.  For those parties that participated to be eligible for funding based on Rules Set A above AND to be featured on the ballot in the new elections, they must have won a certain percentage of votes in a general election such as the Presidential or Gubernatorial elections in their state. We may have to specify the minimum number of votes required - say 1% of those cast.

6.  Only those parties should be given state financial support, and be shown on the ballot in the next round of general elections, but voters will be allowed to WRITE-IN whatever party they want, obviously including those NOT shown on the ballot.  That way, new or existing parties might still win enough seats and qualify in the next set of elections.

If these rules had been applied in the 2007 elections based on the 2003 elections, we would have had only about 7 political parties, which are not too many for a country with 140 million people.

The rules should certainly be applied in 2011.

 

NATIONAL SPREAD OF PARTIES SHOULD NOT BE REQUIRED

There should be NO requirement for parties to have NATIONAL SPREAD - that is in terms of membership and offices.  Free association promotes democracy.  However, obviously, based on the rules above, regional or locally-restricted political parties will NOT get FEDERAL financial support, but may actually get STATE financial support based on their membership contributions and voter strength in the state.

INDEPENDENT CANDIDACY SHOULD BE ALLOWED

Independent candidacy should be allowed, but an authenticated list of (say) 1% of the registered voters in 2/3rd of the electorate districts - which are states for the presidential, local governments for the gubernatorial and relevant number of wards for other positions -  must be required before such independent candidates are listed.  It should not just be ANYBODY who gets up and wants to be an Independent candidate that should be listed on a ballot paper.

(INDEPENDENT) NATIONAL & STATE (INDEPENDENT) ELECTIONS COMMISSIONS

For INEC and SIECs to be truly independent:

1.  they should be placed under the Judiciary and certainly not under the Executive;

2.  their chairpersons should be sitting or retired Judges, who should have tenure for ten years unless removed for cause;

3.  their funding must be first charge line-item

4.  their membership must have nominations from the Executive, the Legislature, from some of the Political Parties and from Civil Society.

5.  INEC should run ONLY national elections (Presidency, Senate and House of Representatives) while the SIECs should run all state-level elections (Gubernatorial, State Assemblies, Local Government).

Otherwise, we should drop the pretense of independence.

 

TERMS OF OFFICE & STAGGERING OF ELECTIONS

The set of offices that we refer to here are Presidential, Gubernatorial, Legislative (National and State), and Local Government.

1.  Presidential term should be one five-year term, with possibility of succession only once, but without possibility of self-succession. Thus a president must leave after one term, but can come back only once more, but not immediately.

2.  Gubernatorial should be four-year term, with possibility of succession only once, including self-succession.

3.  Senate should be four year term; House; State Assembly and Local Government should be three year terms without term limits, except for Local Government Chairman, which shall have possibility of succession only once, including self-succession.

4.  Related to the different terms - and somewhat as an outcome - elections should be deliberately STAGGERED,  both WITHIN each set of positions and ACROSS time so that there is no more than half of ALL members of a legislative house can be changed all at once, and no more than half of the states are having gubernatorial elections at any given time.

The above should start in 2011.

 

THE ELECTION PROCESS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE - 12 MONTHS AND THAT IS IT!

I am pressed to identify the key steps in any set of elections:

    - Identify issues/positions to vote on

    - Identify Voters/Eligibility

    - Identify Candidates/Eligibility

    - Register Voters

    - Specify When to Register

    - Specify How to Register

    - Specify Where to Register

    - Register Candidates

    - Specify When to Vote

    - Specify How to Vote

    - Specify Where to vote

    - Vote on Election Day

    - Count on Election Day

    - Announce Results Preliminarily on Election

    - Announce Results Conclusively As Soon As Possible after Election Day

    - Specify When to Complain about Elections

    - Specify How to Complain about Elections

    - Specify Where to Complain about Elections

    - Dispose of Election Complaints As Soon As Possible (Petitions + Appeals)

    - Install Winners after all Complaints are Exhausted

The above election process should NEVER be greater than twelve months: nine months from whistle-blow to announcing the results conclusively, and three months to attend to complaints before installing winners. If the steps above are rigorously adhered to without a "mago-mago" INEC (as we saw in April 2007), twelve months will be ample.

EPILOGUE

I rest my case.  Your comments are welcome.

Babangida in a recent The Sun interview:

Back to two-party system   

If you ask my honest opinion, 50 political parties appear too unwieldy to manage if we are really talking about national integration. Given our experience and history, what we desire to see is a combination of factors that bring us closer as a united country. That was what informed our two-party system of the 90s. When we took that decision, some Nigerians gave a different interpretation to our patriotic intention, but as it appears today, we can't run away from such option.   

We can streamline the present political parties to five, among which two will be stronger than the remaining three, and perhaps introduce independent candidacy from the local government level through the states to Federal elections. In order to prevent abuse of such option, we can set stringent rules for any independent candidate to meet, just like the registration of political parties. Many people who are genuinely interested in becoming local government chairmen for example, would have opportunity to participate once they meet the criteria set out for them. And the process will run through to the state and the Federal levels.

Of course we will need Constitutional amendment to accommodate such proposition but talking seriously, I think we are ripe for independent candidacy to complement the two-party option. Nigerians should be preaching tolerance and peaceful co-existence because of our multiplicities.

 If we have two party system for example, this culture of cross-carpeting will reduce and no matter where you come from, you will be compelled to find accommodation in X or Y party. That way, robust debate and issue-based dialogue will prevail over and above an individual's selfish desire. We will then use that process to learn new ways of living together and solving our problems. Nigeria is a peculiar country; hence we need to improvise peculiar ways and methods to address our peculiar problems