The Independent National Electoral Commission has received 45 applications from associations seeking to be registered as political parties.

According to the commission, associations are free to enjoy the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, who said this in an interview with one of our correspondents, on Friday, however, warned that the associations “must be ready to canvass for votes and sponsor candidates for elections the moment they are registered as political parties.”

Okoye was responding to questions on the number of political parties that had applied for registration ahead of the 2023 general elections.

He said, “Presently, the commission is processing 45 applications received from various associations. It is a constitutional and legal obligation and mandate, and the commission will register any of them that satisfies the constitutional threshold.

“Associations are free to enjoy the constitutionally entrenched and guaranteed freedom of association but they must be ready to canvass for votes and sponsor candidates for elections the moment they are registered as political parties.

“A newly registered political party has the same incidents of registration as existing parties. Associations must, therefore, put their structures in place and be properly grounded before applying to transmute to political parties.

“INEC is constitutionally and legally empowered to register political parties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, the Electoral Act, and the commission’s Regulations and Guidelines for the Registration and Dissolution of Political Parties, 2018.

“Any association intending to transmute to a political party must satisfy and conform to the provisions of sections 221 to 229 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”

Okoye said such associations must have their headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. He said the names and addresses of their national officers must be registered with the commission, and that the membership of the associations must be open to all Nigerians.

INEC had on February 6, 2020 deregistered 74 political parties for failing to satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitutional Electoral Act 2020 (as amended).

The INEC National Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, while announcing the commission’s decision, said, “The commission was able to determine the performance of political parties in the elections.

“In addition, they were also assessed on the basis of their performance at the area council elections in the Federal Capital Territory, which coincided with the 2019 general elections.”

However, while responding to questions about the fresh 45 political associations seeking registration, a former National Chairman of the defunct United Peoples Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, expressed doubts about INEC’s possibility of registering any of them.

Okorie said, “I doubt whether the INEC will register any new party because at the time we were deregistered in February 2020, over 100 applications from political associations were before INEC which the INEC announced publicly.

“Between 2020 and now, they have not registered any of these 100 applications. I do not see how any party applying now will have priority attention over and above these applications.”

Okorie, who is now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, advised politicians who wish to seek alternative platforms to realise their political ambitions to team up with existing political parties

Also, the National Consultative Front, a political movement being championed by Prof Pat Utomi and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’abba, said it had yet to reach a decision on whether or not to apply for registration as a political party.

The Head of the Media and Publicity Directorate of NCF, Dr Yinusa Tanko, in an interview , said, “We have not gotten to the stage of seeking registration yet.

“Our merger committee is still meeting and we expect them to submit a report by June 3. We will study their recommendations and chart the next course of action. I don’t want to preempt their report.”

When contacted, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “Our laws recognise the freedom of association among Nigerians. Our advice to Nigerians is for all to come and support the PDP because we have what it takes to make this country great again.”

On his part, a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, said, “While one cannot write off a move towards having a new political movement, I think it is rather unlikely that we can see the kind of move that ended PDP’s 16-year rule in 2015. I think Nigerians are weary of failed promises and are likely to look beyond rhetoric in choosing their leaders in 2023.”

Meanwhile, some lawyers have said the existence of many political parties is not good for democracy.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, in an interview, said a situation where political parties exist only on paper was not good enough for democracy.

Ozekhome said the solution was for the country to amend its law to allow independent candidature and allow those who are not identified with existing political parties to contest elections.

He said, “The Electoral Act gives INEC powers to regulate elections. A situation where you have political parties that exist only in name and on paper without any genuine efforts to cultivate voters and win elections does not augur well for our democracy.

“They simply clog up the ballot papers and overtask INEC and voters who want clear choices. That is why some of them score five to 12 votes while the real parties score millions.

“The answer is in constitutionalising independent candidature to enable persons who are not able to identify with any of the existing papers to run as independent candidates.”

Also, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja branch, Hauwa Shekarau, agreed with Ozekhome that Nigeria does not need many political parties.

She said, “I don’t think we need so many political parties because if you check, what is the ideology of all these political parties? Do they have any different ideologies from the ones that are currently registered? I am sure there is nothing different.

“In fact, when you ask people, they will tell you that the PDP, APC, and others are all the same. And clearly in this country, in our political system, it doesn’t look like ideology counts.

“People are just looking for platforms where they can just get themselves into power, not with clearcut ideals or ideas that will bring about a transformation of the society.”

Mr Kunle Adegoke (SAN), also in an interview,  said although democracy allowed for multi-party system, that did not mean that the process should not be checked.