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NIGERIA'S GHOST POLITICAL PARTIES

By NBF News
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Officially, there are 56 political parties registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But apart from the few major ones that have traceable and functional national secretariats in Abuja, most of the other political parties appear to have gone into extinction as an assessment visit  by Daily Trust to the addresses provided to INEC as their national headquarters reveals.

Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria prescribes that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shall have powers to, among other things, 'register political parties in accordance with this Constitution and an Act of the National Assembly.' It is in line with this provision that INEC registered a total of 63 political parties in Nigeria. The number would have been higher if not because seven political parties were deregistered in the aftermath of the April 2011 general elections.

INEC had in August last year de-registered seven parties namely: Democratic Alternative (DA), National Action Council (NAC), National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), Nigeria People's Congress (NPC), Nigeria Elements Progressive Party (NEPP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) for not fielding candidates and failure to win any political seat during the April general elections.

Also in exercise of its oversight functions over political parties as it relates to financial accountability, INEC recently published external auditors report on the accounts of the registered political parties. Interestingly the report showed that only four out of the 63 registered political parties in Nigeria were able to maintain a comprehensive membership register in the year 2010.  It further indicated that seven parties did not submit their reports to the electoral body for audit while out of the 56 that submitted only three were found to have prepared and audited financial year statements.

Although much has been highlighted in terms of INEC's role in registering political parties as well as conducting periodic audit of the accounts of the registered political parties, not a few questions have been raised by critics as to whether the parties are actually still in existence or they have gone extinct after receiving their certificates of registration from INEC.

This is because apart from the major political parties that have traceable national secretariats in Abuja as well as branch offices in the states of the country, the rest appear to have gone to seed. Unfortunately, the financial grant which used to accrue to the registered parties through INEC; and which used to be a reason why they converged at their secretariats occasionally, has been stopped.

The questions then arise: where are the other registered political parties? Have they fizzled out?  Do they now exist only in name? It was to find answers to these and several other questions that Daily Trust undertook assessment visits to the addresses provided by some of these registered parties to INEC as their national headquarters in Abuja. The findings were as interesting as they were quite revealing.

At the African Political System (APS) a giant size vertical billboard erected within the premises of its supposed secretariat conveys a political advertising message of the party's presidential candidate during the 2011 general polls. 'African Political System (APS) will reposition Nigeria, APS the solution to African problems', it reads.

A closer look reveals a huge portrait of the presidential candidate posted in the middle of the billboard's frame beside a smiling photo of America's president, Barrack Obama. Then the campaign message: Vote Nigerian Obama, Sir Lawrence Famakinde Adedoyin.

Welcome to No. D39, Lagos Street Garki,  the supposed national secretariat of the African Political System (APS), one of the political parties registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It took Daily Trust reporters almost an hour of going round and making enquiries from the neighbourhood before the party's faded flags were eventually spotted on top of the one storey building.

Apart from one Manga Asha who introduced himself as the national secretary of the party, none of the other officials could be found. Asked if the party was still in existence, Manga said APS being one of the first registered political parties exists. 'We have been on since 2007; we fielded governorship candidates in all the 36 states of the country and had our presidential candidate in the person of Sir Lawrence Famakinde Adedoyin', he said.

It was almost the same situation at the  Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP).  Suit D6 located on the 3rd floor of the popular Jabi Plaza opposite This Day along Obafemi Awolowo, way is supposed to be its national secretariat. But when Daily Trust visited the place it was empty and practically abandoned. Even the security personnel at the plaza could not remember the existence of such a party at the place. When called on phone the National Chairman of the party, Professor Nnaji Godswill, told Daily Trust that official activities were affected because the office was incapacitated due to the impact of the recent bombing of This Day office. A peep inside the office from a shattered window glass actually revealed the damaging impact of the bombing on the office that requires renovation.

But further inquiries by Daily Trust revealed that activities at the party's office had declined long before the bombing at This Day office took place. It was gathered that the only time the office came alive was when they got their last grant from INEC. A member of the estate management at the Plaza, who wouldn't want his name in print, said they were having problems with the party over rent issues.

The situation at the African Renaissance Party (ARP) supposedly situated at number 10, road 53, off 5th avenue Gwarinpa estate was not different. Our reporters eventually found the building along Gwarimpa's 5th avenue which was securely padlocked after several hours of search. There was neither a flag nor signpost to indicate the presence of a political party. Enquiries from neighbours revealed that the place had been taken over by some expatriates who converted it into a borehole drilling outfit. When our reporters put a call through one of the contact numbers provided to INEC; a lady picked and the following conversation ensued:

Daily Trust: Hello! Are we speaking with someone from the African Renaissance Party (APS)?

Lady: Yes please, how may we help you?
Daily Trust: We are trying to enquire about your office address so we can come and see your officials.

Lady: Go to number 10, road 53, off 5th avenue Gwarimpa estate.

When we reminded her that we were right in front of the address she gave the lady, who apparently worked as a secretary at the party's office before it became converted, became confused and hung up.

Elsewhere at House 43, 6th Avenue also in Gwarimpa which is supposed to be the address of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN), the story was no different. There was no sign of a political party existing in the building. The only sign that a party had existed there was the iron rods used in raising the party's flags which were now standing tall but without flags.  Our reporters noticed a group of carpenters working beside the party's signboard which had been removed and overturned at the corner of the wall.

A young man appeared carrying a bucket of water as he headed for the front door of the supposed party office. The carpenters beckoned at us that he is a member of the PPN and we walked up to him for inquiries. The young man who pleaded not to be mentioned in print claimed that the party was still existing. Asked why the flags and signboard were removed he said they had removed them because their landlord no longer wanted the place to be used as a political party office.

When Daily Trust visited Maitama district where some of the registered political parties provided as their addresses to INEC, the situation was no different. Some of the offices were either under lock and key or converted to other uses. The Democratic Front for a Peoples Federation (DFPF) gave its address as 22, Mediterranean Street, Imani Estate, off Shehu shagari way Maitama.

But a visit to the place shows that it now belongs to a law firm: Falana and Falana Chambers. A legal practitioner at the firm told Daily Trust that they had handled a legal case on behalf of the party and took over the office thereafter while the party relocated to another address. Attempts to get in touch with the party proved abortive as the phone numbers provided in the address to INEC could not be reached.

A similar visit to the Maitama office of the African Liberation Party (ALP) revealed that the party no longer exists at suite 38 and 39 on the third floor of Maitama Shopping complex which is the address it provided to INEC. A visit to the place shows that while suite 38 has been taken over by a firm that deals in aluminium doors and windows, suite 39 has also been converted to a business outfit.  One of the managers of the Maitama shopping complex told Daily Trust in confidence that the party no longer exists there, hence the suites they were occupying had to be rented out.

Also plot 1385 located beside the El-Amin International School, off IBB Way Maitama was found to be heavily padlocked even though is supposed to be the secretariat of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).

At No.33 Dan Suleiman Street Utako District Abuja, the Democratic People's Alliance (DPA) was discovered to have moved. The gateman confirmed that the party had hired an apartment there as its head office but moved out some years back. Interestingly when called on phone, the national chairman of the party, Chief Fam Onimisi who answered from Minna, Niger State, claimed that they were still using the address at Utako. When reminded that Daily Trust reporters were right in front of the address and were told DPA was no longer there, Onimisi said: 'Why don't you wait for me to come back to Abuja to invite you so that we can sit down and discuss?'

The Mega Progressive Peoples Party (MPPP) is actually located at its given address of House 53, 1st Avenue Federal Housing Authority Lugbe. But a visit to the place indicated that even though its signpost is conspicuously standing in front, there were neither party officials nor activities going within the office premises. Our reporters put a call across to one of the numbers provided on the party's address to INEC to find out more. A fellow who simply identified himself as Santuraki answered and said he is the national secretary of the party and had travelled out of Abuja. He asked our reporters to go inside the building and meet a party official.  But passing through the main entrance, our reporters saw a table where fresh cow meat was displayed for sale. Shortly the supposed party official came out to say the secretary had called and informed him of the presence of our reporters who later discovered that the party official was the seller of the cow meat.

It took almost two hours of searching before the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) could be located at its C14, F10 Close address located somewhere within the Mount Pleasant Estate along Jabi-Airport Road bypass.  Apart from the signboard in front of the House it indicated as its address, nobody was found there and there was hardly anything to indicate that it is the national headquarters of a party.

The Movement for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD) no longer exists at the 1st floor of House No 1, Younde Street, Wuse zone 6 Abuja, which it indicated as its office address in Abuja. However, the National Conscience Party (NCP) which shares the same building was found to be operating there. Adebayo Lateef, the party's national administrative secretary was available with its FCT chairman, Mr. Collins Omonigho.

They attributed the low level of activities at party secretariats to the stoppage of grant from INEC saying, however, that the NCP was still alive and kicking. According to them the party was planning to hold its next national convention in July and was fully preparing to take part in the 2015 general elections.

A few of the registered political parties, however, were found to be engaged in some activities at their national secretariat. The Labour Party (LP) located on the 2nd floor Dabo of Shopping Mall Wuse zone 3 appeared busy when Daily Trust visited. The party's flags were conspicuously seen while officials of the party were said to be holding a 'crucial meeting' when our reporters visited.

Also at the Action Alliance located at AA- plot 1977 Orlu Street Area 3; Garki the national chairman, Dr. Dele Ajadi was present in his office. It was however observed that the party has moved from the main building to the Boys Quarters. The chairman, Ajadi said they moved to allow for renovation at the main building.

On whether or not the party was still waxing, the chairman said the party was feasible in 25 states. 'We fielded a governorship candidate during the rerun election in Sokoto State and we are also going to field one in the forthcoming Edo governorship poll', he said, adding that their current membership in the country stands at not less than 50,000.

At the end of the assessment visit to the registered political parties, Daily Trust sought to know from INEC whether or not the lack of functional national secretariat for the parties amounts to an offence that attracts de-registration from INEC as sanction.

Kayode Idowu, spokesman of INEC the Electoral Act does not make such a provision. 'INEC does not interfere in the internal affairs of the registered parties. According to Idowu, the only avenue where such issues would have been discussed was through inter-party dialogue. 'But the post election retreat organized by INEC in Calabar where such an issue would have been discussed was aborted because the parties failed to attend on grounds that they were not paid by INEC', Idowu said.

Commenting withdrawal of grant as one of the reasons advanced by some of the political parties as affecting their operations at their secretariats, Idowu said the Electoral Act has removed the grant hitherto enjoyed by the parties.

If the current state of affairs at the secretariats of the registered political parties is anything to go by, analysts say more parties may record poor performance during the 2015 general elections, which by implication means that INEC may de-register more in the aftermath of the 2015 polls.