It was dashed hope for some of the deregistered political parties following a recent ruling of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, which held that the powers of INEC to deregister political parties is sacrosanct. FELIX NWANERI reports
Nigeria’s political landscape witnessed a quake in February, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deregistered 74 political parties in what many described then as a tsunami.
As expected, the electoral umpire’s action was trailed by mixed feelings. While some stakeholders and senior lawyers insisted that the electoral commission lacks the power to deregister the affected parties headed for the courts to upturn their respective deregistration.
However, their hope of making a return to the polity seems an uphill task given the recent ruling by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, which held that the powers of INEC to deregister political parties is sacrosanct.
The court presided by Justice Anwuli Chikere, in its judgement, held that Section 225(a) of the Constitution gives INEC the powers to deregister parties that failed to comply with the provisions of the constitution.
No fewer than 32 out of the 74 deregistered political parties had approached the court seeking an order to set aside the decision of INEC, but the court refused their prayer and upheld the constitutional powers of INEC to deregister political parties.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the same court in Abuja had earlier in two separate judgements also upheld the same powers of INEC. The judge affirmed the deregistration of the National Unity Party and the Hope Democratic Party by the electoral commission.
In the same vein, Justice Chikere, in her judgement, held that the parties failed to state sufficient facts to support their claims, while stating that where a provision of the law is unambiguous, it ought to be given its simple interpretation hence Section 225(a) of the Constitution is clear and unambiguous and should be interpreted in support of the deregistration done by INEC.
The judge also vacated the earlier injunction granted to the parties and dismissed their suit in its entirety. The parties had filed a suit last year to restrain INEC from carrying out the exercise, when they learnt about the plans of the commission. The judgement brings the number of political parties, which have their deregistration affirmed by the court to 36.
The electoral commission has over the years been locked in a running battle with some of the registered political parties over poor performance during elections. The commission, in 2011, for instance, deregistered seven political parties – Democratic Alternative (DA), National Action Council (NAC), National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), Nigeria Peoples Congress (NPC), Nigeria Elements Progressive Party (NEPP) and National Unity Party (NUP). This brought down the number of registered political parties then from 63 to 56.
INEC took the action over failure of any of the parties to win a seat either in the state House of Assembly or National Assembly elections that held that year. The decision was pursuant to Section 78 (7) of the Electoral Act 2010, which specifically confers the electoral commission with powers to deregister any political party that breaches its registration requirement(s) or fails to secure a legislative seat in either the state or federal legislature.
The section states: “The Commission (INEC) shall have powers to deregister political parties on the following grounds: (i) breach of any of the requirements for registration, and (ii) for failure to win a seat in the National Assembly or State Assembly election.”
But an Onitsha-based human rights lawyer, Jezie Ekejiuba, went to a Federal High Court sitting in Awka, Anambra State, to challenge deregisteration of the parties on the ground that INEC’s action was unconstitutional.
The court presided by Justice J. Ojukwu, in its judgement, dismissed the suit for lack of merit, saying that INEC had the power to deregister political parties under the Nigerian constitution. But, dissatisfied with the judgement, Ekejiuba headed to the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, to challenge the verdict.
The appellate court, in a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice Tom Yakubu on behalf of other concurring justices – Rita Pemu and Omodere Bolaji-Yusuf – in 2016, set aside the lower court’s judgement and ordered the restoration to life of all the seven deregistered parties.
Another batch of parties was deregistered in 2012. Among the parties were Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) founded by a former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa; Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP).
Like the deregistration exercise of 2011, the sack was also as a result of the fall out of the 2011 general election in which more than 95 per cent of the 63 registered political parties then put up poor showing.
The affected parties, however, challenged INEC’s action in court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja, who ruled on the matter in 2015, held that the parties were deregistered without being given fair hearing.
The judge also declared as unconstitutional, invalid, null and void, the provisions of section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Act 2010, which INEC relied on to deregister the parties.
According to him, the section was inconsistent with provisions of sections 1(3), 40 and 221 to 229 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee the rights on Nigerian citizens to freely join lawful assembly, trade unions and to belong to any politi