INEC’s hammer on political parties and matters arising




Prof. Yakubu

The chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, recently announced the de-registration of 74 out of the 91 parties in the country. The development triggered debates and even legal challenge against the Commission. KEHINDE OSASONA takes a look at the issues at stake.

Throwback

Before now, Nigeria had a total of 92 political parties registered under INEC. The aim then was to provide a level-playing ground for the citizens to choose, belong and aspire to positions via any political party of their choice.

However, in December 2019, when the Commission hinted on its resolve to carry out verification of political parties, many political observers knew that the Commission was up to something other than just checking the party’s activities.

INEC had during the exercise set up eight teams of its Election and Party Monitoring (EPM) department to verify the 92 registered political parties. While giving an insight, Musa Husunu, a deputy director in the EPM department, said there were some criteria which INEC expected from every registered political party.

Toeing the same line in October 2019, the Senate had during a meeting pitched its tent with INEC by supporting, through legislation, the reduction in the number of political parties in the country.

Expressing dissatisfaction further, the National Assembly insisted that the number of political parties was a contravention of the amended Electoral Act.

Justifying the reason that some party should not be on the ballot, the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South), said, “Those parties that didn’t perform shouldn’t be on the ballot. The existing electoral act as amended has precluded the participation of parties that didn’t perform in the last elections. We need to amend the act to reduce the political parties to a maximum of five. This committee is really committed to reducing the number of political parties to save taxpayers money.”

Sensing danger, political pundits sought to know the motive behind the move just few months after what it described as “conspiracy” between NASS and INEC took place.

But despite the unveiling of the officially recognised 18 registered political parties, a political analyst and public commentator, Mr. Lanrewaju Oroye, decried INEC’s action, saying that it was undemocratic and archaic.

According to him, the action taken by the Commission favours only few elements while many players in the political sphere and many aspirations have now been punctured.

“This latest action is an off-side and the Commission should have a rethink. More worrisome is the fact that it is happening at a time when qualified Nigerians who does not have millions of naira to throw around are looking for a political abode to pursue their ambition.

INEC’s reasons

At a news conference in Abuja, the Commission’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, told newsmen that the affected political parties were deregistered because of their failure to meet various criteria stipulated by the Constitution during the elections.

Yakubu disclosed further that the decision was taken by the Commission in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

Some of the reasons stated by the Commission are failure to win at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25 percent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election.

Consequent upon emerging development, the political parties allowed to operate in Nigeria today, he said, were the Accord Party, the Action Alliance, African Action Congress, African Democratic Congress, All Progressives Congress, All Progressives Grand Alliance, Allied Peoples Movement, Labour Party, New Nigeria Peoples Party, National Rescue November, Peoples Democratic Party, Peoples Redemption Party, Social Democratic Party, Young Progressives Party and Zenith Labour Party.

“The rest,” he stated further, “ceases to be regarded as a registered political party in Nigeria.”

APC, NYCN hail INEC’s action

Endorsing INEC’s action, the ruling APC through its deputy national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena, canvassed a two-party system for the country.

Nabena said the decision by the electoral umpire would pave the way for serious- minded political parties to play active roles in the political process of the country.

He said, “This is a welcome development. We need serious-minded people to play partisan politics not political jobbers who just want the names of the parties on the ballot papers only to turn around to negotiate for payment of monies for one reason or the other.

“Politics remains a serious business and the fewer the serious parties in the country, the better for our democracy.”

Incidentally, just when the affected parties were still recovering from the shock the APC urged the Commission to de-register more political parties to sanitise the nation’s electoral system.

The chairman of Ebonyi state chapter of the APC, Mr. Nwachukwu Eze, made the call in an interview in Abakaliki.

According to him, the de-registration process should continue until the country has a maximum of six political parties to ensure that the electoral space was not ‘unnecessarily congested’.

He said, “We applaud INEC for doing the needful as such de-registration had been overdue. We had a situation where few individuals or family members put-up papers and register with INEC but do not exist in states or anywhere in the country.

“They do not have offices, membership bases, structures and one person in most cases, is the chairman, secretary and other members of the executive. INEC has presently decided to sanitise the system and this can be likened to the deleting of unwanted files in a computer for it to have enough storage space.”

Speaking further, he said, “This decision will make logos of political parties appear bold on ballot papers and make voters have enough space to thumb-print.

“When we have over 90 political parties on a ballot paper, the illiterate voters would be confused on how to thumb-print.

“So, INEC should not be distracted by complaints about the de-registration, I advise that INEC shut its ears,” he added

Similarly, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) described the Commission’s action as “a good omen.”

In a statement in Enugu, the Council’s national public relations officer, Bestman Okereafor, said it was a good step towards credible 2023 general elections.

The statement partly read, “NYCN’s attention has been drawn to INEC’s decision to deregister 74 political parties and bringing the number down to 18. We consider this as a giant stride and a step in the right direction; it shows that the electoral commission is poised to do it well.”

Okereafor thereafter congratulated the 18 political parties that survived INEC’s scrutiny, urging them to play their roles in the nation’s polity.

NCP, UPN others kick

However, faulting INEC’s decision as being too hasty, the national chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Yunusa Tanko, said it came as a rude shock that the same commission, which deregistered 74 parties, was already preparing to register 100 political parties.

According to him, “INEC took its decision without waiting for a court order on the case, considering the fact that about 50 political parties are already in court awaiting the court’s decision on February 18 2020.”

Also, a factional national publicity secretary of the UPN, Felix Felix Oboagwina, said the de-registration came to the party as a rude shock because the late Dr. Fredrick Fasehun and others joined forces to resuscitate the party, which was originally founded by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo with the intention to intervene in the challenges confronting the country.

He described INEC’s action as “against the freedom of association as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.”

Legality

Meanwhile, while giving a legal angle to the matter, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Seprebofa Oyeghe, explained that Section 40 and 222 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right and freedom to join political party of one’s choice.

According to him, the right to form or join a political party in Nigeria was liberalized following the decision in INEC v. Balarabe Musa & Ors. (2003) FWLR (Pt. 145) 729 SC. The resultant effect is that there now seems to be a proliferation of political parties, even those that could not win a single ward.

Oyeghe noted that it is in the bid to checkmate the indiscriminate formation of parties, and avert a situation where parties would be registered and unchecked that the Constitution vide its Fourth Alteration empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register political parties on some stipulated grounds.

He said, “INEC has only exercised the powers/right conferred on it by the Constitution, which is the grund norm, the fons et origo of our legal system the fundamental law of the land. While the Commission has deregistered a number of political parties, a lot are in the process awaiting registration. Hence, there is need to review the powers of the commission.

“But like I said the Commission has only exercised the powers conferred on it by law and any party aggrieved should approach the court to ventilate their grievance and seek legal redress including interpretation of the relevant provisions of the law.”

RAP goes to court

In its bid to seek redress, some parties have already approached the law courts to challenge the power of INEC to de-register them, particularly on the ground that the Electoral Act is inferior to the Constitution and that the de-registration infringed on their fundamental rights under the same Constitution.

Consequently, in a suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/129/2020, the Reform and Advancement Party (RAP) has instituted a suit against INEC at the Federal High Court, Abuja.

Suing on behalf of themselves and the promoters and financiers of RAP, the National Chairman, Dr Israel Nonyerem Davidson and National Youth Leader, Engr. Alexander Ocheinu filed the suit on February 10, 2020.

Part of the reliefs sought by the plaintiff include; a declaration that the powers vested in INEC to register and regulate activities of political parties in Nigeria, in addition to the powers to deregister political parties provided in Section 225A of the 4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution and in Section 78 (7a) (I) and (II) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) can only be exercised when democratically organized election has been conducted at the federal, state levels; and in the 768 local governments recognised in the 1999 Constitution.

What next?

Investigations by this reporter revealed that the minority political parties are already in talks with the PDP over proposed merger.

Spokesperson of the coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) Ugochinyere Imo was quoted recently in an interview where he hinted that minority political parties were ready for merger and that talks was ongoing on the matter, despite the de-registration of the political parties by INEC.

According to him, negotiations are already on, although informally, but that the CUPP will soon make public its official position on the matter, when negotiations are concluded.

On its part, the Action Democratic Party (ADP) told leaders and members of de-registered parties to consider joining it. In a statement issued in Abuja, its national publicity secretary, Adelaja Adeoye, urged them parties to join its fold.

He said, “At this time, all those in the defunct and delisted parties must not feel like they have no place to go to because ADP is the party they should consider and they will be well treated when they join.

Also, the main opposition party, PDP, recently revealed plans to pull political strength with other minority political parties to enable it to oust the APC in 2023.

Uche Secondus, the national chairman of the PDP, was quoted as saying in an interview that the party will possibly merge with other political parties to open a window for it to remove the APC from power.

Secondus, while fielding questions from newsmen on the merger, said, “Why not, when the time comes, if there is need for us to pull our resources and pull our strength together, it can happen, it is possible. Our focus is in making sure that our party is strong and viral and ready to win election.”

The last time there was merger of political parties was before the 2015 general elections and it was what culminated into the ruling APC.

Despite the furore occasioned by the electoral umpire’s action, will the proposed merger also serve as the propeller to entrench effective opposition in the nation’s party politics?

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