By Davidson Iriekpen
A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has reminded the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it has wide powers to de-register political parties that failed to scale some minimum electoral tests and urged the electoral body to de-register 81 political parties.
In a statement issued yesterday, Falana said the application of the rules would see the number of political parties cut from 91 to fewer than 10.
He said contrary to the widespread belief that INEC has no such power, the power was restored to the agency following the 2017 constitutional amendment.
The senior lawyer recalled how some political parties successfully challenged INEC’s power after the amendment of the Electoral Act in 2010.
He said the National Assembly bolstered the commission via the constitutional amendment.
“Disturbed by the mockery of multi-party democracy in the country through the unprincipled proliferation of political parties the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act 2010 to empower INEC to de-register political parties that failed to win any election. Since political parties were registered pursuant to section 222 of the Constitution, the suits filed by the affected political parties succeeded as the Federal High Court declared the amendment unconstitutional and set it aside.
Among the grounds are that a party can be de-registered if it breaches any of the requirements for registration and fails to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election; or one local government of the state in a governorship election.
“However, the National Assembly took advantage of the 2017 constitutional review to reduce the number of registered political parties in the country. Thus, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No 9) Act, 2017 enacted on May 4, 2017 has amended section 225 of the 1999 Constitution to empower the INEC to de-register political parties,” Falana said in the statement.
“Among the grounds are that a party can be de-registered if it breaches any of the requirements for registration and fails to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election; or one local government of the state in a governorship election.
A party can also be de-registered if it fails to win at least one ward in the chairmanship election; one seat in the national or state house of Assembly election; or one seat in the councillorship election.
“From the foregoing, it is indubitably clear that INEC has been conferred with enormous powers to de-register political parties that fail to meet the fresh constitutional prerequisites.
“Going by the results of the 2019 general election, the 91 registered political parties may have been reduced to less than 10 that may have scaled the constitutional hurdle.
“Not a few people would hail the constitutional amendment in view of the prostitution of the political system by political parties are ill-equipped to promote participatory democracy, economic freedom, human rights and rule of law.
“But it ought to be pointed out that the planned de-registration of political parties that fail to win elections is likely to limit the political space to the so called mainstream political parties that are not committed to any political philosophy or ideology”, Falana said.
The senior lawyer, who deplored the opportunism of some political parties, as demonstrated in the last general election, urged INEC to sanitise the democratic space by applying the rules and enforcing relevant provisions of the constitution and the electoral act.
“INEC is called upon to formulate new guidelines for the registration political parties within the ambit of the Constitution.
“This should be done in view of the fact that not less than 100 political associations are said to have submitted applications for the registration of new political parties. With respect to registered political parties INEC must fully comply with section 225(2) of the Constitution by sanctioning them if they fail to submit a detailed annual statement and analysis of their sources of funds and assets.
“This will go a long way to check the monetisation and brazen manipulation of the democratic process by political godfathers.
“More importantly, INEC should henceforth exercise its powers under Section 224 of the Constitution by ensuring that the programmes as well as the aims and objects of every political party conform with the provisions of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution,” Falana said.