What’s Next for De-registered Political Parties?

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Chuks Okocha and Udora Orizu write that deregistration of political parties in Nigeria may have become a norm. As expected, the deregistered political parties have threatened to sue the Independent National Electoral Commission

There has been lots of mixed feelings over de-registration of 74 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). While some lauded this decision by the electoral body believing it’s a huge step in sanitizing the ballot paper, the resolution didn’t go down well with others, especially the affected parties. With this development comes the need to know what is next for the affected parties.

Some election monitoring groups such as YIAGA Africa, Centre for Democracy and Development and political parties under the umbrella of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) have expressed their views regarding party deregistration, their advice to the electoral body and plans going forward.

Following a comprehensive review of the 2019 national elections, INEC had on February 6 decided to deregister political parties that were unable to fulfil requirements for their existence based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). 

According to INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, that section empowers INEC to deregister political parties found guilty of breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party as well as failure to win at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25 per cent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election; and failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the national or state assembly election or one seat in a councillorship election. With this Nigeria now has 18 registered political parties.

Over the years, party deregistration has been a norm. Between 2011 and 2013, INEC under the Chairmanship of Prof. Attahiru Jega had deregistered 39 political parties based on the provisions of Section 78 (7) (I and ii). Several of the affected parties questioned the power of INEC to deregister them.

It happened in the time of the late vibrant lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. His political party, National Conscience Party (NCP) which has also been deregistered again, had its registration withdrawn. Fawehinmi went to court and won. Another politician who scored a judicial victory against delisting of his political party is Reverend Chris Okotie. When Fresh Nigeria Party was deregistered, he went to court and won. As expected, after INEC’s announcement, majority of the deregistered political parties have threatened to sue INEC. 

IPAC, the umbrella body of registered political parties in Nigeria which had about 81% of its parties deregistered issued a statement asking the electoral umpire to rescind its decision due to pending court actions instituted by 33 political parties.

Despite the fact that the affected political parties in IPAC are seeking legal redress, the leadership of the group is suspect right now, as the political parties of most of its elected officials were among those deregistered. For this reason, the council appears to be in disarray. Some of the parties which survived the INEC axe recently endorsed the action of the electoral umpire and elected an interim committee to handle the affairs of the council.

Speaking exclusively to THISDAY, IPAC’s National Legal Adviser, Chukwudi Ezeobika said that the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria condemns in its entirety, the decision of INEC to deregister 74 political parties who are members of the Council, describing the action as illegal and unconstitutional. 

The legal practitioner explained that by virtue of Section 78 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As amended), a political association that complies with the provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act (As amended) for the purposes of registration shall be registered as a political party. 

He said, “Furthermore, Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended) guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association. This remains a fundamental right which INEC, as an institution, lacks the powers to deprive Nigerians or political parties of.”

With regards to deregistration, Ezeobika said INEC must comply with the relevant provisions of the Nigerian constitution and the law.

“The Supreme Court in the case of A.G Federation v. A.G. Abia State & 35 Ors, held that FCT is not a state in Section 3(1) nor the Six (6) Area Councils Local Government Councils in a state as in Section 3(6) of the 1999 Constitution (As amended). The reliance by INEC, on Section 225(A) which is the 4th alteration to the Constitution, to deregister political parties, is in clear violation of the rights of political parties as provided for and guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” 

“The decision is reckless and irresponsible, as well as, an affront on the Nigerian judiciary. Such action remains unacceptable as the commission lacks the powers to deregister parties based on the reasons they adduced.”

On factions in IPAC, he claims the council is not in any way, in disarray or factionalized. 

“The council condemns in the strongest terms possible, such irresponsible and illegal conduct by certain individuals who purportedly ganged  up to usurp the powers of the legally constituted executive organ of the council in line with the Code of Conduct for the Inter Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC) 2019 (As amended).

“National Chairmen of many of the political parties who Leonard Ezenwa listed in his statement like Alhaji A. A. Salam of LP and Chief Ralph Okey Nwosu of ADC amongst others, have called the council to distance themselves from such irresponsible conduct by Mr. Ezenwa and the rest.

“That faction by Leonard Ezenwa is illegal and their action clearly violate the provisions of the Code of Conduct and the law and will be addressed by the council if such reprehensible action is not immediately reversed. IPAC is still under the chairmanship of Chief Peter Ameh.”

He said that the council as a body will decide on what move to make after the final court verdict, adding that they will not abide by INEC’s decision.

Deregistration of 74 political parties was a disaster waiting to happen. The ground for this was laid in 2017. Contrary to the widespread believe that INEC has no such power, the power was restored to the agency following the 2017 constitutional amendment.

The road to the restoration of INEC powers to deregister political parties dates back when some political parties successfully challenged INEC’s power after the amendment of the Electoral Act in 2010. The outcome of amendment as contained in the Fourth Alteration by the National Assembly bolstered the commission via the constitutional amendment.

Worried 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

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 Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register political parties

It is manifestly clear that INEC has been conferred with enormous powers to de-register political parties that fail to meet the fresh constitutional prerequisites.

Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria ((SAN) who also justified the constitutional powers of INEC. He said, “Going by the results of the 2019 general election, the 91 registered political parties may have been reduced to less than 10 that 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.

Falana, who deplored the opportunism of some political parties, as demonstrated in the last general election, urged INEC to sanitize 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 monetization and brazen manipulation of the democratic process by political godfathers.

“More importantly, Falana said that 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.”

Even before the final deregistration of the political parties, INEC had gradually been seeking ways to enforce the provisions of the fourth amendments in the constitution. At a meeting in Makurdi, in June 2019, the stated that it will propose further alteration to the conditions for the deregistration of political parties to weed out ‘dormant and commercial platforms’ with little or no visible structure and presence in the states.

The commission, according to the National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye went further to declare that Nigerians need political parties that can bid for political power and not mere commercial platforms for hire.

Okoye said that the present framework for the registration of political parties was inadequate to guarantee the registration of qualitative, membership driven and ideologically propelled political parties.

He added that some parties were mere platforms and have no concrete and visible presence in most states of the federation.

Okoye opined that, “the presence of too many political parties on our ballot papers has, in some instances, confused some of our compatriots that are not well endowed in literacy.

“It has bloated the ballot papers and result sheets and trucking them to the polling units has become a logistics nightmare.” 

According to him, INEC would present constitutional alteration that ties registration of political parties to visible, verifiable and concrete presence and structure in at least half of the states of the federation.

The National Commissioner further noted that the Fourth Alteration of the constitution is inadequate to weed out political parties with little or no visible structures and presence in any of the states of the federation.

In this regard,  he said, “The commission will also propose further alteration of the constitution for the deregistration of political parties as the 4th Alteration to the Constitution is inadequate to weed out dormant and commercial platforms with little or no visible structures and presence in any of the states of the Federation.

 “The commission will also propose a rational and democratic threshold for getting on the ballot and save the Nigerian people the phenomena of ‘also ran,’” he added.

 Justification for deregulation 

The political parties allowed to operate in Nigeria are the Accord Party,  the Action Alliance,  African  Action Congress,  African Democratic Congress,  All Progressives Congress,  All Progressives Grand Alliance,  Allied Peoples Movement,  Labour Party,  New Nigeria Peoples Party,  National Rescue November,  Peoples Democratic Party,  Peoples Redemption Party, Social Democratic Party,  Young Progressives Party and Zenith Labour Party. 

The Fourth Alteration vests in INEC the power to register and regulate the activities of political parties. These include; “Failure to win at least 25 percent of the votes cast in one state of the Federation in a Presidential election or 25 percent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election.

“Failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the national or state assembly election or one seat in a councillorship election.”

He said that in 2018, the Constitution was amended and in addition to the extant provision for the registration of political parties, the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution (Section 225A) empowers the Commission to deregister political parties.

Prior to the Fourth Alteration, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), he said that constitution had provided for deregistration of political parties. Between 2011 and 2013, the Commission, deregistered 39 political parties. 

However, he said several of the parties challenged the power of INEC to deregister them, particularly on the ground that the Electoral Act is inferior to the Constitution and that deregistration infringed their fundamental rights under the same Constitution. 

Subsequently, he said the courts ordered the Commission to reinstate the parties and that it was for this reason that the National Assembly amended the Constitution to empower the Commission to deregister political parties. 

According to the INEC chairman, in order to implement the provision of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution, the Commission carried out an assessment of political parties to determine compliance with the requirements for their registration. 

Following the conclusion of the 2019 general election, including court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigations, 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 in the Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which coincided with the 2019 general election. It should be noted that the FCT is the only part of the country where INEC is empowered by the Constitution to conduct local government elections.

The Strength and Analysis of De-registered Political Parties 

One of the conditions that authorized INEC to deregister the 74 political parties is “Failure to win at least 25 percent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25 percent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election.”

Seventy three political parties participated in the 2019 presidential election.

Statistics of the election:  registered voters – 82,344,107, accredited voters – 29,364,209, votes cast – 28,614,190; valid votes – 27,324,583 and rejected votes – 1,289,607. In an election that had 73 candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won 15,191,847 of the total votes cast, while his closest opponent, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), garnered 11,262,978 votes, an astonishing victory margin of 3,928,869 votes. Felix Nicholas of the Peoples Coalition Party (PCP) came a distant third with 110,196 votes.

Despite the fact that some of the candidates dropped out of the race before the election took place on Saturday, February 23, they were still credited with a few thousand votes in the final tally. It was reliably gathered from INEC that the commission used the performance of the presidential elections as a guide. 

YIAGA Africa, an election monitoring group, said INEC acted within the ambit of the law. 

The organization’s Director of Programmes, Cynthia Mbamalu said, YIAGA agrees that there is a need to deregister or reduce the number of political parties in Nigeria for the following reasons, “The poor quality of political participation and the quality of electoral competition. Increasingly, we have more political parties contesting in elections. In the 2019 general election, we were seeing 91 political parties. For the presidential election alone, a total of 73 political parties contested in the election, of which, asides the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the other 71 political parties collectively received 1% of the total votes cast. For the governorship election, we had states like Delta, Sokoto, Kano, Rivers, Imo having over 50 political parties contesting. This created confusion for citizens with respect to engaging each of these political parties and their candidates on their agenda for the elections.”

“It is important to understand the rising cost of an election with more political parties contesting in the election. As more political parties flood the electoral space, the cost for elections logistics and management of elections increases.  In addition, it is also a burden on the electoral commission which is constitutionally mandated to; monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances; arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the fund and accounts of political parties and publish reports; monitor political party primaries’ for each of the registered political parties. This is in addition to other responsibilities of INEC. 

“The challenge of access to the ballot and impact on the right of ‘one person one vote, an over-bloated ballot paper creates major issues in the voting process. On one hand, is the confusion to voters who have to choose from a very long list of parties in an over-bloated ballot paper. This impacts the ease of voting and the number of rejected ballots. Yiaga Africa analysis of the trend in invalid/rejected votes shows that for the 2011 general elections invalid/rejected votes were at 2.3%, in 2015 it was at 2.5% and by 2019 it increased to 4.5%. Meaning that in 2019, a total of 1,289,607 of votes cast were invalid. On the other hand, is the increased stress in managing election results especially as it relates to the accurate computation of results on Election Day considering the pressures that come with the voting process in Nigeria. And the time spent in the announcement of results from the polling units to the final point of collation. Election results are sensitive and require the utmost care in the computation and announcement. How do you guarantee this if over 70 political parties are on a ballot paper with more parties having similar acronym.”

Mbamalu further said while de-registration of political parties is in line with the powers of INEC under the constitution, however, a line of argument will be on the timing for de-registration of parties considering the requirement on local government elections. 

This, according to her, is in consideration of the inconsistency in the conduct of LG elections and perhaps a further call for review of the legal framework for political party registration.

On aggrieved parties seeking legal redress, she said political parties aggrieved by the decision of INEC have the right to challenge the decision in court and to show cause for their grievances. 

According to her, “This also includes challenging the decision if they believe it has violated their right to freedom of association. Political parties who especially feel they have fulfilled or have not breached any of the requirements of section 225 (Fourth Alteration, No. 9), can approach the court to seek redress. 

“The de-registration of political parties is not an ultimate restriction to the right to free association, as individuals seeking to form political parties to contest in an election can apply to INEC for registration provided they fulfill the requirements for party registration. In addition, with de-registration, there are currently 18 political parties in Nigeria, and citizens can become a member in any of these parties they connect with. 

More importantly, beyond seeking redress, is the need for deeper introspection by our political class on our failing political system with political parties lacking in ideology, founded on weak institutional framework and disconnected from the people. Political parties ordinarily should play a critical role in a democracy as a platform for political deliberation, civic and political education and aggregation of the people’s opinion to form a political agenda for political decisions and to contest for political power. It should be more than just registering political parties but in ensuring that we can justify the cost of election vis-à-vis the quality of political contest and the impact of political parties on the quality of our electoral democracy. 

“Can political parties start adopting a people-centric agenda that becomes a tool for galvanizing the voices of the people for policy development and reforms? As a people, we cannot afford to only focus on the numbers of parties and the frequency of contest in an election but rather on the quality for political discourse, the political contest for power and ability to engage the people for democratic development.”

Corroborating YIAGA’s statement, CDD through its Director, Idayat Hassan said de-registration of the political parties is a welcome development. 

She opined that most of the parties do not even campaign during elections, rather they just register candidates possibly for the fun of it.

Hassan lamented that long ballot paper confuse voters during the elections. 

According to her, “If we consider just the singular challenge this number of political parties have on the effective management of the ballot paper alone, then we will all agree they should be deregistered. We should not also forget that these parties are mostly proxy for politicians in the mainstream party. It is Plan B- ‘if I am denied ticket then I have alternative to contest on.’

“The long ballot itself increases INEC cost in production and proper management of elections. You find most of these parties are ethnic based, have no presence in states as stipulated under the constitution

“Now to the law itself, some of these parties have not passed the test to qualify as a political party under the constitution. They have failed to meet the main criteria to exist under section 222 of the constitution itself. So how do we expect them to pass the threshold as stipulated under the Electoral Act. 

She, however, advised that parties should not be deregistered and registered again under another nomenclature, rather, stricter rules should be created on access to ballot.

QUICK FACTS:

* Following a comprehensive review of the 2019 national elections, INEC has deregistered 74 political parties, claiming they were unable to fulfil requirements for their existence based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) 

*The deregistered political parties failed to win at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in the presidential election or 25 per cent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election; and failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the national or state assembly election or one seat in a councillorship election

*Seventy three political parties participated in the 2019 presidential election.

Statistics of the election:  registered voters – 82,344,107, accredited voters – 29,364,209, votes cast – 28,614,190; valid votes – 27,324,583 and rejected votes – 1,289,607. In an election that had 73 candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won 15,191,847 of the total votes cast, while his closest opponent, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), garnered 11,262,978 votes, an astonishing victory margin of 3,928,869 votes. Felix Nicholas of the Peoples Coalition Party (PCP) came a distant third with 110,196 votes

*Aside the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the other 71 political parties collectively received 1percent of the total votes cast

*For the 2011 general elections invalid/rejected votes were at 2.3%, in 2015 it was at 2.5% and by 2019 it increased to 4.5%. Meaning that in 2019, a total of 1,289,607 of votes cast were invalid

*Nigeria now has 18 registered political parties. The political parties allowed to operate in Nigeria are the Accord Party,  the Action Alliance,  African  Action Congress,  African Democratic Congress,  All Progressives Congress,  All Progressives Grand Alliance,  Allied Peoples Movement,  Labour Party,  New Nigeria Peoples Party,  National Rescue November,  Peoples Democratic Party,  Peoples Redemption Party, Social Democratic Party,  Young Progressives Party and Zenith Labour Party

* Between 2011 and 2013, INEC under the Chairmanship of Prof. Attahiru Jega deregistered 39 political parties based on the provisions of Section 78 (7) (I and ii). Several of the affected parties questioned the power of INEC to deregister them. At different times, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi of National Conscience Party and Reverend Chris Okotie of Fresh Nigeria Party challenged INEC in court and won

*The Inter-Party Advisory Council, the umbrella body of registered political parties in Nigeria which had about 81 percent of its parties deregistered has hinted on the possibility of seeking legal redress, depending on the provisions of Section 78 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As amended), which says a political association that complies with the provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act (As amended) for the purposes of registration shall be registered as a political party and Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended), which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association

*In 2017, the National Assembly amended constitution in the Fourth Alteration bolster the Independent National Electoral Commission, as contained in (Fourth Alteration, No 9) Act, 2017 enacted on May 4, 2017, which has amended section 225 of the 1999 Constitution to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register political parties