The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Thursday, May 28, recorded a landslide victory in a suit determined by the Federal High Court in Abuja. The suit filed by the erstwhile National Unity Party (NUP) challenged the constitutional power of INEC to deregister political parties.
The NUP is one of the 74 political parties that INEC deregistered in February this year on the ground that the parties failed to meet some requirements among which is their inability to win any position in federal and state elections as required by the 1999 constitution as amended. The commission stated the 74 parties did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitutional Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
Controversy had trailed the deregistration of the 74 political parties with some of the affected parties questioning the power of INEC to act decisively. But the national chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said the commission’s action was in sync with provisions of 1999 constitution, with particular reference to section 225 (A) of the constitution. Further justification for the deregistration, according to the commission, is the parties performed abysmally in all the general elections conducted by it such that they could not win any position. And this unarguably would mean that these parties did not exist at all in the strict sense of it.
So on February 5, the commission declared as follows: “the deregistration followed the poor performance of the parties in the 2019 general elections and court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigations”, adding that the action was in preparation for the coming 2023 general elections.
With this development only 18 parties scaled the requirement hurdles for registration. In short, the 18 parties have fulfilled the requirements for an existence based on Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution.
Amid the shock over the deregistration, the Actions People’s Party (APP) swiftly filed a suit and obtained a court order restraining INEC from deregistering it and this commenced the controversies that have raged between the electoral commission and the 74 deregistered parties.
The deregistered parties would do everything to get them back in the system including whipping up public sympathy. But elections stakeholders think their argument is opaque. Although in participatory democracy large numbers of registered political parties is a blessing as it gives the electorate choices during elections, it does not in the long run produce the expected vibrancy that comes with multiparty system. Instead, what was seen was largely the flip side of mixed multitudes, confusion and drawback to a fledgling democracy. Did they add any values? Many existed on their call cards, mail boxes and portfolios. Their operations leave much to be desired. If you add the mercantile motive behind some them it would become clear why discerning stakeholders ab initio called for pruning of political parties.
Following the order restraining INEC from deregistering the 74 parties obtained by APP, NUP also filed a suit seeking similar order of the court. Fortunately, for the commission, the court affirmed that INEC has constitutional power to deregister political parties which failed to comply with the provisions of the law. Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court held that the reasons given by the commission were valid in conformity with the law, sacrosanct and could not be affected by the fact of anticipated local government elections by some states which dates were not fixed, certain or even ascertainable.
Justice Taiwo held that the party failed to show that the exercise of the commission’s powers to deregister the party was at variance with the law and also ultra vires its powers.
By this same token, only 18 political parties will be participating in the Edo and Ondo state governorship elections scheduled to hold on September 19, 2020 and October 10, 2020, respectively.
Speaking on the development, chieftain of one of the deregistered parties, Pastor Orji Chekwas Orji, said “until the federal high court verdict is set aside, the parties remain deregistered and will not participate in the nation’s political process”.
It is pertinent to note that the Federal High Court’s ruling on the matter is a milestone for the commission under the leadership of the current national chairman, Professor Yakubu.
The commission has been faced with not a few litigation in recent time, many of which are suits filed by political parties on matters ranging from electoral processes, conduct during general elections to elections results.
Legal experts agree that the ruling is unlikely to be upturned by another court of coordinate jurisdiction. They argue that any judge of high court would need to find a marked difference before it can set aside the earlier judgment thereby dimming the hope of any of the affected 74 parties regaining their right to exit. From the look of it, this is a tremendous success for the commission in its legal tussles.
With the emerging development, proponents of multi party-system would rethink Nigeria’s experiments. Surprisingly, hardliners of multiple parties have lost their voices.
For Aliyu Bello, the development is good for both the voters and the commission. Bello, a young politician, said with the political parties being effectively streamlined, voters would no longer find it difficult casting their votes during general elections. Also, he reasons that INEC will conduct elections with ease. For him, having multiple parties on the ballot papers was odd. It created confusion and room for manipulation of the processes.
The 2019 general elections conducted with over 92 political parties on ballot, evidently, caused some confusion for the average voters. And it was greeted with complaint galore. The experience leaves a sour taste and regrettable memories.
Meanwhile, the commission, it was learnt, is focused on the upcoming Ondo and Edo governorship elections. Preparations for the polls have reached advanced stages and would not be derailed as INEC assures on improving on its records. Taking cognizance of the new normal necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, INEC is set to observe all the protocols, ensuring it does not compromise on free and fair elections. On its integrity, it is expected that the commission would conduct the polls devoid of malpractices and irregularities, while sticking to global best practices.
Nwokocha writes from Abuja