Will INEC Re-list Deregistered Political Parties?

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Udora Orizu writes that chairmen of political parties that were deregistered by the Independent National Electoral Commission have called on the electoral body to obey an Appellate Court ruling to relist them

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on August 10 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.

The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, had ordered the Commission to re-list 22 of the political parties it deregistered for failing to win any elective office in the 2019 general election.

The court made the order after setting aside a judgment of the Federal High Court, which upheld the power of INEC to deregister political parties.

Some of the affected parties includes; Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, Progressive People Alliance, Advanced Congress of Democrats, Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party, All Blending Party, All Grand Alliance Party, Better Nigeria Progressive Party, Democratic People’s Congress, Freedom and Justice Party, Green Party of Nigeria, among others.

After a comprehensive review of the 2019 general elections, INEC had in February de-registered 74 parties out of the 91 registered parties that participated in the 2019 general elections, leaving the nation with 18 recognised ones.

The electoral body said the deregistered political parties 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.

Following the deregistration, the affected political parties, individually and in groups, 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. 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 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.

Aggrieved 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.

On August 10th, 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. The appellate court said the appellants are challenging the process of deregistration and not the act.

Therefore, Justice Dongban-Mensem ordered that the appellants be relisted as registered political parties.

INEC in its reaction by the National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Festus Okoye, said the commission has decided to appeal against the judgment.

He stated that the judgment of the Court of Appeal was faced with two conflicting judgments, as the same Court in another judgment had upheld its power to deregister parties.

He said, ”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.”

”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.

Okoye added, ”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.”

But, some Chairmen of the deregistered political parties while lauding the judgement of the Court of Appeal, have called on INEC to obey court ruling before heading to Supreme Court.

Speaking to THISDAY, the National Chairman of Progressive People Alliance (PPA), High Chief Peter Ameh said INEC heading to Supreme Court, doesn’t stop them from obeying the judgement of the appeal court.

Ameh who also doubles as the Chairman of the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), said if the electoral body heads to Supreme Court without obeying that judgement it is like people who obey something only when it favours them.

According to him, ”The judgement of court of appeal is victory for democracy. We are looking at opportunities while we stood our ground to be able to defend democratic participation and massive participation by Nigerians as it is in section 40, and other sections of the constitution, is because we believe it’s important to open doors for all Nigerians from different levels and communities, tribes and different social standards, so that the boy in Agege can have the same privilege with the one in Victoria Island, the boy in Maitama will have the same privilege with the one in Nyanya, these are the things we pursue.”

”And for us, the decision of Court of Appeal has given victory to participation of young people in politics in Nigeria. We praise the eminent Jury for their confidence in democracy and for their believe in our constitution.”

”In every law, you are supposed to able to obey then you complain. If you’re not obeying this one then you’re telling the Supreme Court you’re only going to obey if it favours you, that’s only when you’re going to obey. The fact is that it’s a declarative judgement and there’s no other thing that stops you from obeying this law. You cannot choose how to obey the law. There’s the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature.”

”The declaration of the Judiciary is very clear, that this action was an illegal action so that means we have not been deregistered based on the law. Follow the law, reinstate the parties by showing you’ve obeyed, then you can go to Supreme Court if you want and say look we have obeyed the Court but this is our reason. For the Ondo election, we are calling on our National Executive Committee, it’s not a one man decision, political parties compromise of so different segments of people so that’s our intention to call our meeting and then decide what steps to take.”

Tope Fasua, the National Chairman of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) on his part said there was nothing to slice and dice in the judgement and the claim that there is a conflicting judgement which warrants a further appeal of the case to the Supreme Court, was frivolous on the part of INEC and a waste of taxpayers money.

Fasua said, ”We warned INEC. I personally did almost 10 articles and several outings on radio, in which I pointed out that INEC was sleepwalking Nigeria into a constitutional crisis on several fronts. As things stand, the first thing is that INEC should include all parties in the Edo and Ondo elections and revert to status quo because the Appeal Court in Abuja, in a 5-0 unanimous judgement read by the President of the Court herself, has passed an unequivocal verdict that INEC did not obey the rule of law, acted in breach of the same constitution from which it claims to be drawing its power, failed to give fair hearing to the political parties which are its main customers, did not follow due process and acted illegally.”

”The other case INEC refers to is the case by a certain political party called NUP, which has made a career out of approaching courts to answer the question ‘Does INEC have a right to deregister parties?’ Of course, the courts have been answering in the affirmative. But answering in the affirmative does not mean INEC did its work the right way. Any right thinking political party, including the one I humbly chair – ANRP – will agree readily that INEC can deregister parties. The question the Appeal Court has now answered without any iota of doubt, is that in carrying out its duty INEC – like any other entity – must follow due process and it hasn’t in this instance.”

”INEC acted in a hurry and blindly in February 2020 in clear departure from the fact that it has smart people in its employment. Even a rookie magistrate can see that it had no grounds for that action. The constitution does not permit a policeman to catch an armed robber and shoot him to death on the spot. Some policemen in Nigeria are answering to such wayward action presently. Even the ones who shot and killed Mohammed Yusuf the Boko Haram Founder and the ones in Lagos who shot some so called armed robbers in Alimosho area two years ago have to account for their actions. How could INEC act so foolishly?

”What INEC has done can be easily explained in a simple analogy. Nigerians especially the youths who cannot see that this is a fight for their future and for freedom of association, may understand this. All Nigerian political parties are playing in a league. There are 37 matches in the season. 35 matches have been played. This is 34 states and the FCT. There are two matches to go which are Edo and Ondo. Any team has a chance to escape relegation if it can secure 25% in state or local government or councillorship or ward elections in the two states according to the amendment upon which INEC depends. The amendment clearly states in spirit and in letter that the 25% requirement is down to the ward level. The constitution protects the people of Nigeria and is not concerned with whether INEC conducts only federal elections. The constitution is even more biased towards the poor people in the villages and wards who truly need representation in government.

”So what kind of umpire will relegate 74 out of 92 political parties and even claim to have removed their licenses given the remaining elections? Only an umpire steeped in impunity, which has historically got away with treating people and institutions with gross disdain. This incidence will never go away. My party ANRP has sued INEC not only about the deregistration but also for damages. You cannot simply deregister and damage our franchise and goodwill and then watch as we struggle to go to court, spending untold monies, and then wait for the court to instruct you to do the right thing, and then simply obey the court. On whose account and with whose funds do we rebuild the party and capture lost goodwill? How do we repair the damage you have done ? Why does it seem so obvious that INEC believes that its mandate is to support the so called two big parties? Were the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) written into the Nigerian constitution? Are those parties not the ones causing most of the problems in the political process? Vote buying. Violence etc? And why is everyone ignoring the fact that state governors are acting illegally by appointing Caretaker Chairmen which is a term unknown to our constitution as leaders of local governments when they should be organising elections? The Nigerian constitution is interested in these questions and has protected the political parties in this regard.

”Nigerians must beg INEC not to set this country on fire. If they continue with the upcoming elections without the excluded parties the governors may be there for just a few days before the elections are annulled by court action. And the suits will keep coming. Perhaps INEC has outlived its usefulness. It is indeed a biased and utterly inefficient umpire.”

Also the Chairman of United Patriots (UP), Chukwudi Ezeobika in a chat with THISDAY said INEC is bound by law to immediately re-enlist the affected political parties while they appeal the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal.

He said, ”The Court of Appeal declared that the deregistration of political parties by INEC was illegal and went ahead to set aside the Judgment of the trial Court.”

”It is equally important to note that INEC had earlier obtained Judgment against Unity Party of Nigeria at the Federal High Court as well as in the Court of Appeal and same matter is pending at the Supreme Court.”

”The reliefs sought by the National Unity Party and that sought by 22 political parties as in the instant case are clearly different and the Court of Appeal took adequate time to distinguish between the case instituted by National Unity Party and that instituted by 22 political parties who were before the Court of Appeal.”

”While the case of National Unity Party questions the powers of INEC to deregister political parties as contained in Section 225(A) of the Constitution, that of the 22 political parties before the Court of Appeal bothered on non compliance with laid down procedures for deregistration of political parties.”

”The Court of Appeal having laid this to rest, the decision by INEC to appeal the unanimous judgment citing the Judgment given in the case of Unity Party vs INEC is misplaced and will remain an effort in futility. Furthermore, it is pertinent to state that the judgment of the Court of Appeal remains binding on INEC from the date such judgment was delivered and as a Declaratory Judgment, Stay of Execution can not be sought and or obtained by INEC.”

”INEC ought to relist the political parties as orderd by the Court of Appeal, as duly registered parties while it appeals the said judgment since the judgment is a Declaratory Judgment. The uncommon and outstanding courage of their lordships in restoring hope in our judicial system by this landmark and well delivered judgment, is commendable and the victory derived from the judgment remains a victory for democracy and the Rule of Law.”

QUOTE:

On August 10th, 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