INEC Heads to S’Court as A’Court Gives Conflicting Judgments on Party Deregistration

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Chuks Okocha and Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday signified its intention to challenge before the Supreme Court the judgment of the Court of Appeal ordering it to re-list 22 political parties it had earlier deregistered for falling short of registration regulations.

INEC, which in February deregistered 74 political parties, leaving the nation with 18 recognised ones said with yesterday’s judgment of the Court of Appeal it was faced with two conflicting judgments.

It added that the same Court of Appeal in another judgment had upheld its power to deregister parties.

Earlier yesterday, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, had ordered the commission to re-list 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, sitting in Abuja, in a judgment delivered on June 11, had dismissed the suit of the 22 appellants challenging the power of INEC to deregister them.

The 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 upheld INEC’s powers to deregister them.

The lower court held that INEC validly exercised its powers in Section 225A of 1999 Constitution (as amended), adding that the parties provided no evidence that they met the criteria for them not to be de-registered.

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 People Alliance (PPA), United Patriots (UP) and 17 others on June 30, had in their appeal prayed the court to set aside the judgment of the lower court and order their relisting.

They said INEC could not exercise its power as provided by Section 225 A until it had conducted elections into all elective offices listed in the 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 which did not win elective position when elections 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 held that INEC failed to comply with Section 225(A) of 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 could not be taken away except by due process.

According to the appellate court, the appellants are challenging the process of deregistration and not the act.
Justice Dongban-Mensem accordingly ordered that the appellants be relisted as registered political parties.

INEC Heads to S’Court

However, INEC, in a reaction yesterday by its National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Mr. Festus Okoye, told THISDAY that the commission has decided to appeal against the judgment.

“It is in the interest of the electoral process for both matters to be consolidated. The electoral process will be better served through a final resolution of the issues in the deregistration of political parties. It will also enable the commission to stand on firm grounds rather than pick and choose which between two conflicting decisions it should obey,” he stated.

Okoye added: “On the 29th day of July 2020, the Court Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division, delivered judgment in the appeal filed by the National Unity Party (NUP) challenging the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deregister it and other political parties.

“In the originating summons, the National Unity Party sought a declaration that the commission does not have the power under Section 225A of the constitution to deregister the National Unity Party or any other political party for failure to win any of the offices mentioned in section 225A of the constitution or score a certain percent of the votes mentioned therein.”

He explained that the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, dismissed the case of NUP and affirmed the commission’s power to deregister NUP and other political parties.

“On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial judge dismissed the claim of the party and affirmed the right of the commission to deregister NUP and other political parties. The National Unity Party has appealed against the said judgment to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the case is presently pending in the Supreme Court,” he added.