By Our Correspondent
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has said that the increase in the number of political parties may cause challenges for the commission in the 2019 general elections.
There are 68 political parties registered and over 100 political associations seeking registration, according to INEC; which means the number might increase before the elections.
Representing INEC, made this statement in Abuja on Monday at a retreat organised by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, in Abuja, Chief Technical Adviser to the INEC Chairman, Bolade Eyinla said INEC might not be able to monitor the congresses, conventions and primaries of all parties contesting over 1,000 elective positions each across the nation.
This development, according to him, could cause logistical problems, including the production of ballot papers.
He also said if 68 parties participated in the elections, it could also mean that a total of 68 party agents would be at each polling unit, which could cause the elections to be rowdy.
Mr. Eyinla noted that this issue had to be addressed and solutions provided urgently.
He added that if any registered political party is ‘mistakenly’ omitted from the ballot paper, it could lead to the total cancellation of the exercise.
“Currently there are 68 registered political parties in Nigeria. As of today, there are more than100 associations that have applied to INEC to register as political parties. This raises a number of questions which we want this retreat to address.
“We are also going to be challenged if these 68 political parties and counting continue this way. We are just a commission. I cannot begin to imagine even as the technical adviser, how we will divide ourselves to monitor party conventions and primaries of 68 political parties across the length and breadth of this country.
“Already, we have envisaged some of these challenges and we are coming up with strategies to deal with them in our election project plan.
“Ancillary to this is the fact that political party agents will also increase. I can’t imagine 68 political party agents in a polling unit. I think these are issues that we have to manage; but most importantly, how do we manage the ballot for 68 political parties?”
“I think perhaps one of the largest ballots that I have seen is that of Afghanistan where the ballot paper is nearly the size of a prayer mat.
“Given our level of literacy, I think that is going to be a major challenge and as we know, the question of exclusion is a major issue in the electoral process.
“The chairman was literally sleeping and waking with the ballot for Anambra State election to ensure that no party was excluded; to ensure that the names and logo of the parties were correct because any slip could nullify the election. So, I think there is a challenge with managing the ballot that will come with the increasing number of political parties.”
The INEC official called on the National Assembly to review and make necessary changes to the electoral legal framework before July, as doing so less than six months to the elections would be “violating ECOWAS protocol on democracy.”
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, represented by Abdullahi Sabi said that multiple political parties was good for democracy.
He called on political parties to ensure that groups, like the women and persons living with disabilities be integrated into party structures.
Also Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in his remarks said there was a need for parties to have ideologies as this would strengthen democracy and good governance.
Meanwhile, on Monday, members of the House of Representatives during a 2018 budget defence session with the Chairman of the commission, Yakubu Mahmood, at the National Assembly directed INEC to submit the estimates for the 2019 general elections to the National Assembly within 30 days.
The lawmakers said it seemed INEC was foot-dragging on preparations towards the general elecrion despite having released its timetable.
INEC chairman had appeared before the House Committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters, chaired by an All Progressives Congress member from Gombe State, Aisha Dukku.
Mr. Mahmood in his defence of INEC’s regular budget of N45.5 billion for 2018, excluded the budget for the 2019 polls saying the commission would come up with the 2019 budget as soon as all possible expenditure heads had been factored into the plans for the polls.
Members of the house however warned that a lot might go wrong if INEC keeps delaying aspects of its preparations.
A member from Rivers State, Betty Apiafi, told the chairman that time was of essence.
“The elections are almost here. There should be a budget. The commission should come up with the budget within 30 days.
“It is better to come up with a budget to work with and if there are other issues later, INEC can still forward a supplementary budget to the National Assembly.
“If we leave everything the way it is, I am afraid there will be problems that INEC may find difficult to address. This is not the time to take chances.”
Despite the misgivings, Mr. Mahmood assured the lawmakers that the commission will comply with their directive before the expiration date.