As an umpire of Nigeria’s electoral system, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is expected to be neutral, objective and fair in all its dealings. Every now and then, this revered body is caught pants down, displaying inexcusable lapses. The most recent case is that of the registration of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) as a political party. There can be no doubt that, when fully revealed, the circumstances surrounding what may rightly be described as the emergency registration of PDM are not only curious, but also puzzling, to say the least.
The first reaction of INEC, when on August 15, 2013, its officials were confronted with speculations that the PDM had been registered as a political party, betrayed an obvious feeling of guilt and embarrassment. The Chief Press Secretary to INEC’s Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, vehemently denied that the Commission had registered the Movement. But soon after that official denial, the same INEC announced, on 17th August, the registration of two new political parties: (1) the Independent Democrats and (2) the Peoples Democratic Movement, in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act of 2010. According to INEC, “the Constitution, Logo/Flag and list of National Executive Officers of each of the parties have also been approved by the Commission.’’
Anybody familiar with the personalities involved in the drama of recent political combats, especially within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), does not need to be told that no one else other than Alhaji Atiku Abubakar could have been involved in the mischief and manipulations that led to the sudden transmutation of the PDM into a political party, without the knowledge of the bulk of the members and leaders of the Movement. Although INEC claims that PDM submitted its application in April, 2013, the process was purportedly executed with alacrity, surreptitiously and in utmost secrecy. The question as to why Atiku should be involved in such a game is simply answered by the fact that it is the man’s peculiar politics and quest for presidential power that has remained elusive to him since 2007. But what is INEC’s interest in aiding and abetting an obvious act of mischief?
For the benefit of doubt by those who may not know the political history of the PDM, the Movement, founded by the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, was a major fulcrum in the formation of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and later one of the influential groups that came together to form the PDP in 1998. The abiding principle of the PDM, in line with the vision of its founder, is the promotion of democracy. It is, therefore, a betrayer of its original ideals for the Movement to be transformed into a political party behind a majority of its leaders and members without subjecting the move to the test of democracy, wide consultation and consensus of critical stakeholders.
Alhaji Atiku and other politicians who, for their own self-interests, have manipulated the registration of PDM as a full fledged political party, know very well that the Movement was intended to operate as a political pressure group, as demonstrated by its role in the formation of the defunct SDP and the PDP; and that it still remains a political pressure group within the PDP. It is therefore in apple-pie order to posit that many PDP members constitute the soul of the PDM. INEC cannot claim ignorance of the history and political structure of the Movement, as that would raise suspicion about the motivation of the Commission in the rush to register it as a political party.
Not only is the nobility of INEC’s intention questionable, the Commission does not appear to have adhered to the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution, nor the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended). How could the INEC have registered the PDM as a political party knowing that the Movement has no office of its own in the 36 States of the federation, as required by the Constitution and has no members known to the public or to INEC, apart from the card-carrying members of the PDP?
Procedurally, the registration of PDM was done without the issue of public notice that the application of the Movement was being considered by INEC for registration as a political party. As a result, the bulk of its members were kept in the dark until the deal was executed. INEC cannot pretend not to know that the only goal which the promoters of PDM registration had in mind was to destabilize the PDP, thereby causing disunity and fractionalization in the party.
Since the announcement of the registration of the PDM as a political party, over 23 State Chapters of the Movement have dissociated themselves from the purported change in status. One of the founding fathers of the PDM, Chief Tony Anenih, currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, has also distanced himself from the registration of the Movement as a political party. According to Anenih, “the vision of the founding fathers of the PDM is to keep the Movement as a political pressure group within the PDP and not as a political party’’ (ThisDay of 8th September, 2013).
Alhaji Atiku’s game-plan in manipulating the registration of the PDM is a familiar one. His interest is to break-up the PDP for just one cause: seeking for a platform on which to contest for the 2015 presidential election. I share the position of people who have said that Atiku’s action has no justification, having gained tremendously from both the PDM and the PDP. It is true that Atiku was with the PDM at the beginning, and it was his membership of the PDP that catapulted him from governor-elect of Adamawa State to Vice-President in 1999. He occupied the position till 2007.
Atiku’s sole grudge against the PDP must be his failure to ascend to the position of the President of Nigeria. He should be persuaded to accept the fact that the power to grant that exalted position belongs to God. Perhaps, the only reason Atiku cannot realize this obvious fact is that he has been blinded by ambition or he is simply too confused to accept the reality of the Nigerian politics. Having lost focus in the game, he doesn’t know where to go. Atiku wants to break-up the PDP; yet he lacks the courage to leave the party. He has surreptitiously registered the PDM as a political party; yet, he vehemently denies being a member of the new party and insists on remaining within the fold of the PDP.
The only puzzle is why the INEC should register the PDM. Again, it is possible that INEC might have complied strictly with the provisions of the law in registering the PDM. The ball is in the court of members of the original PDM who are still bona fide members of the PDP to fault the registration by proving that provisions of Section 78 (5) of the Electoral Act were breached by the new PDM. Subsection 5 of the section reads: “Any association which through the submission of false or misleading information pursuant to the provisions of this section procures a certificate of registration shall have such certificate cancelled.” If they can prove that the new PDM procured registration on the strength of furnishing misleading information to INEC, then they would have succeeded in puncturing Professor Attahiru Jega’s air of neutrality as an umpire in Nigeria’s electoral enterprise.
· Mr Ifejeani is a political scientist based in Lagos.