The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expressed its readiness to challenge the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which Monday ‘overruled itself’ in the case of the deregistration of 22 political parties.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Committee on Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said the commission would challenge the conflicting court decisions at the Supreme Court.
Earlier in February, the electoral body sacked 74 parties for “failing to meet the criteria provided for by section 225(a) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).”
Dissatisfied with the decision, some of the affected parties approached a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/444/2019, the plaintiffs asked the court to determine whether INEC has the constitutional power to deregister them.
The parties challenging the decision are Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), All Blending Party (ABP), All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP), Alliance of Social Democrats (ASD), Change Advocacy Party (CAP), Democratic People’s Congress (DPC), Green Party of Nigeria (GPN), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN) and Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN).
Others are New Generation Party of Nigeria (NGPA), Nigeria For Democracy (NFD), Peoples Coalition Party (PCP), Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), People for Democratic Change (PDC), Young Democratic Party (YDP), Re-Build Nigeria Party (RBNP), Save Nigeria Congress (SNC), Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), United Democratic Party (UDP), United Patriots (UP) and We The People of Nigeria (WTPN), with INEC and the Attorney General of the Federation as respondents.
And on June 11, Justice Anwuli Chikere ruled in favour of INEC on the grounds that the parties could not prove their case.
While the judgement of the lower court lasted, an appellate court sitting in Abuja had earlier updated in the case of National Unity Party (NUP) upheld and validated the power of INEC to deregister the parties.
The ruling, the conflict
But in an unusual decision, the Court of Appeal Monday delivered a conflicting judgment by ordering INEC to reinstate the 22 deregistered parties.
Blueprint reports that Monday’s ruling now threatens the conduct of the Edo and Ondo governorship election which has been fixed for the 19th of September and 10th October, 2020 respectively.
The decision of the apex court would greatly affect the conduct of both Edo and Ondo polls as the deregistered parties were not included in the parties cleared for the election.
Delivering its judgment, a panel led by President Court of Appeal Monica Dongban-Mensem, unanimously overturned the judgment of the lower court.
Though the court upheld the power of INEC to deregister parties in line with Section 225 of the Constitution, it went further to say that INEC needed to prove that it complied with the procedure outlined.
The court ruled that INEC ignored due process in exercising its powers under section 225(a) of the constitution (as amended).
The panel noted that the parties already filed their suit at the lower court which was yet to be determined before the deregistration.
Furthermore, the panel held that INEC failed to give reasons to the parties on why they could no longer exist.
The court held that section 40 of the constitution gives citizens the right to the freedom of association, and as such, the right conferred on a political party cannot be taken away except in accordance with the provisions of the law and due process.
The court further held that the appellants did not challenge INEC’s powers as enshrined on section 225(a) of the constitution but the process by which they were deregistered.
Consequently, the court ordered that the appellants should be listed as political parties in the country.
Indicating its decision to take up the matter at the Supreme Court in a statement Monday, INEC said the commission was not in a position to pick and choose which one of the judgements to obey.
The statement said the commission in the meantime was focused on preparations for the conduct of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections scheduled to hold on September 19, 2020 and October 10, 2020 and is strictly and methodically following its timetable and schedule of activities derived from the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
It assured Nigerians and the people of Edo and Ondo states that the commission was on course and would deliver on its mandate.
The statement reads, “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is in receipt of the judgement of the Court of Appeal delivered today, August 10, 2020 in an appeal filed by ACD and 22 others relating to their deregistration by the commission. In the judgement, the Court of Appeal held that the deregistration of ACD & 22 others is ultra vires the powers of the commission and ordered the commission to reinstate them.”
“We recall that on July 29, 2020, the Court Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division in an appeal filed by the National Unity Party (NUP) affirmed the power of the Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties that fail to meet the constitutional threshold in section 225A. Dissatisfied with the judgment, the National Unity Party lodged an appeal which is presently pending before the Supreme Court.
“The commission is therefore 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 deregistration of ACD & 22 others.
“Faced with two conflicting judgements from the same court, the commission is not in a position to pick and choose which one of them to obey.
“Consequently, the commission will approach the Supreme Court for a final resolution of the issues raised in the two conflicting judgements.
“Meanwhile, the commission is focused on preparations for the conduct of the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections scheduled to hold on September 19, 2020 and October 10, 2020 and is strictly and methodically following its timetable and schedule of activities derived from the Constitution and the Electoral Act. We assure Nigerians and the people of Edo and Ondo States that the Commission is on course and will deliver on its mandate.”