*Faults process of deregistration
By Alex Enumah
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on Monday ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to relist 22 of the political parties deregistered last year for failing to win any elective office in the 2019 general election.
The court made the order shortly after setting aside a judgment of the Federal High Court which upheld the power of INEC to deregister political parties.
Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja had in a judgment delivered on June 11, 2020, dismissed the suit of the 22 appellants challenging the power of INEC to deregister them as political parties in the country.
INEC after the conclusion of the 2019 general election announced the deregistration of 74 political parties on account of not winning a single seat in the general election.
The affected political parties individually and in groups, however, approached the Federal High Court to challenge the action of INEC.
However, in various decisions, the Federal High Court declared that INEC has powers to deregister them.
The lower court severally while holding that INEC validly exercised its powers in Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), stated that the parties provided no evidence that it met the criteria for it not to be deregistered.
However, miffed by the decision of Justice Chikere, the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), Alliance of Social Democrats (ASD), Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), United Patriots (UP) and 17 others had on June 30, in their appeal prayed the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the lower court and order their relisting as political parties.
They argued that INEC cannot exercise its power as provided by section 225 A until it has conducted election into all elective offices listed in the said section.
According to section 225A, INEC can deregister a political party if the party was found to have breached any of the requirements for registration or failed to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in an election.
They therefore urged the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment of the lower court, which had upheld INEC’s power to deregister political parties who did not win elective position when election have not been conducted into all political offices nationwide.
Delivering judgment in the appeal, a five-man panel of Justices led by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, held that the deregistration was illegal because due process was not followed.
The appellate court further held that INEC failed to comply with section 225(A) of the 1999 Constitution as amended because it did not provide reasons for the deregistration of the political parties.
Justice Dongban-Mensem, who observed that the constitution provides that citizens be entitled to freedom of association, said that the right conferred on a political party cannot be taken away except by due process.
According to the appellate court, the appellants are challenging the process of their deregistration and not the act.
Justice Dongban-Mensem accordingly ordered that the appellants be relisted as registered political parties in the country.