REPORT: Parties deregistration and matters arising

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 By Emmanuel Oloniruha, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Nigeria has witnessed increase in the number of registered political parties from three in the Fourth Republic to 30 registered political parties in 2003, 50 parties in 2007, and 60 parties in 2011.

The number fell between 2011 and 2013 when 39 political parties were deregistered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), an umpire charged with the responsibility of conducting elections, registering, monitoring and deregistration of political parties.

Justifying the commission’s action, former INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega, cited the provisions of section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, which empowers INEC to deregister parties following the breach of any of the requirements for registration and failure to make any impact in the elections.

However, some leaders of the deregistered politicians went to court to seek redress and the court pronounced Section 78 (7) (i) and (ii) as being ultra vires to constitutional provisions and that made INEC to restore the licences of some of the deregistered political parties.

The number grew to 92 before the 2019 general elections, with many groups still seeking to be registered as parties by INEC.

Some analysts observe that a multi-party system is an essential part of a well-functioning democracy, so, they support the development.

Similarly, many critics express concern that the development poses more challenges to Nigeria’s evolving electoral system, especially where many parties are passive.

The critics note that with 73 presidential candidates on the ballot paper and 1,068 governorship candidates in 29 states in the 2019 general elections, INEC ought to urgently prune the number of registered parties.

Their concerns border on increase cost of election, confusion and time needed to identify multiple party logos of their preferred candidates on the ballot papers during the elections.

Malam Mohammed Haruna, INEC National Commissioner in charge of Kwara, Kogi and Nasarawa State, observes that the large number of political parties in the 2019 general elections created a lot of logistics problem for the commission.

So, after the 2019 general elections, including court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigation, INEC conducted a comprehensive review of the general elections and deregistered 74 parties on Feb. 6.

Some of them are the Alliance National Party (ANP) Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) African Peoples Alliance (APA) Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP) Fresh Democratic Party (FRESH), Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and Nigeria Community Movement Party (NCMP).

Others are National Unity Party (NUP), Peoples Coalition Party (PCP), Peoples for Democratic Change (PDC), Peoples Trust (PT), Reform and Advancement Party (RAP), United Democratic Party (UDP), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and United Progressive Party (UPP).

Announcing the deregistration, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said that the parties were deregistered for their inability to fulfil requirements for existence based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Yakubu believes that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vests in INEC, the power to register and regulate activities of political parties.

“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,’’ he explained.

Yakubu also observes that 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.

He notes that one of the political parties, the Action Peoples Party (APP), filed a suit in court and obtained an order restraining the commission from deregistering it.

He explains that the party it challenged the decision on the grounds that the provisions of the 1999 Constitution in that regard is supreme on Electoral Act and that deregistration infringes their fundamental rights under the same constitution.

He also recalls that based on the provision, the commission, between 2011 and 2013, deregistered 39 political parties.

But Yakubu said: “The National Assembly amended the constitution to empower the commission to deregister political parties on breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party.

“If political parties fail 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.

“Also, 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.”

Supporting the commission’s decision, Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) Idayat Hassan described the delisting of the political parties as a welcome development.

Hassan said that most of the parties did not campaign during the last elections while long list of political parties confused many voters during the elections.

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

Irrespective of this, the affected political parties, individually and in groups, approached the Federal High Court to challenge the action of INEC, demanding that they should be re-enlisted.

However, in various judgments, the Federal High Court upheld INEC’s powers to deregister political parties.

For instance, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of a Federal High Court on May 28, in judgment delivered in the suit filed by NUP against INEC, affirmed the electoral umpire’s powers to deregister political parties.

The court affirmed that the constitutional powers of the commission and the reasons given by the commission for deregistering political parties were valid, in conformity with the law and sacrosanct.

The court further held that INEC’s powers could not be affected by the fact of anticipated local government elections by some states which dates were not fixed, certain or even ascertainable.

Taiwo, also in delivering judgment in a separate suit filed by Hope Democratic Party (HDP) against INEC, reaffirmed that the commission was empowered by the 1999 Constitution to deregister political parties that failed to meet provisions of Section 225 (a) of the constitution.

Similarly, Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court in Abuja, in a judgment delivered on June 11, dismissed the suit filed by 32 political parties, challenging the power of INEC to deregister them.

Not satisfied with the judgements of the Federal High Courts, the deregistered political parties approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgements of the lower courts.

The Court of Appeal in Abuja, in a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris with Justice Yargata Nimpar and Justice Peter Ige on appeal by NUP, upheld the decision of Justice Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja that held that INEC has the constitutional power to deregister non-performing political parties.

Idris, in resolving the issue in favour of INEC, held that the lower court was right in deregistering the appellant.

“It is, therefore, my well-considered view that the learned trial judge was right in its interpretation of the said provisions and has therefore occasioned no miscarriage of justice to the appellant.

“From my findings on this issue therefore, it is my strong and unshaken view that the appellant did not place sufficient evidence before the trial court. This issue is hereby resolved in favour of the respondent against the appellant.

“In the final result, I hereby uphold the decision of the trial court in its entirety. I hold that the appeal is lacking in merit and thus dismissed. I make no order as to cost,’’ ruled,’’ Idris ruled.

In a separate ruling on Sept. 2, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja also dismissed the appeal filed by HDP challenging the judgment of Federal High Court which upheld the power of INEC to deregister the party.

Also 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 went to Appeal court.

They are pleading with the court to set aside the judgment of the lower court, which had upheld INEC’s power to deregister political parties.

Delivering a 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.

Dongban-Mensem held that the appellants were challenging the process of deregistration and not the act, directing that the appellants be relisted as registered political parties.

Reacting to the judgement, INEC, in a statement issued by Mr Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, said that it would approach the Supreme Court on “conflicting judgments’’ by the Court of Appeal.

“The commission is faced with two conflicting judgements from the Court of Appeal; one affirming the powers of the commission to deregister political parties and the other setting aside the delisting of ACD and 22 others.

“The commission will approach the Supreme Court for a final resolution of the issues raised in the two conflicting judgements,” he said.

The chairmen of political parties whose parties were deregistered commended the Appeal Court ruling ordering their re-enlistment, while calling on INEC to obey court ruling before heading to Supreme Court.

Chief Peter Ameh, former Chairman of the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC) and the National Chairman of the deregistered PPA, said that INEC’s decision to approach the Supreme Court would not stop it from obeying the judgment of the Appeal Court.

Meanwhile, the Coalition of Progressive Political Parties had advised the 74 deregistered political parties to rethink strategy to change Nigeria’s political trajectory instead of seeking legal actions.

Chairman of the coalition, Mr Bashir Ibrahim, advised the deregistered parties to come together and work out strategies for moving Nigeria in the right direction.

As Nigerians await the judgment of the Supreme Court, concerned members of the affected political parties believe that whatever may be the decision of the court, it will provide a good platform for deepening the nation’s democratic and electioneering process.(NANFeatures)

….Emmanuel Oloniruha, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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