The Independent National Electoral Commission’s decision to deregister 28 political parties sparks a flurry of reactions
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, stirred the hornets’ nest last week when it yanked 28 political parties off its register, thus putting an end to their official existence. The electoral body claimed it had incontrovertible evidence that the 28 parties had not complied with constitutional provisions to enable them to continue to exist.
INEC boss, Professor Attahiru Jega pointed out that their offences include failure to maintain offices in Abuja and periodically conduct congresses and conventions to elect party officials as provided by the constitution. He stated that unlike an earlier deregistration of seven political parties for failure to field candidates in the 2011 elections, the recent exercise aims at achieving greater sanity in the political system.
He explained that political parties which had pending cases against the electoral body were spared from the last deregistration exercise pending the determination of the court cases and called on Nigerians to view the exercise as an attempt to ensure that all stakeholders in the political process play according to the rules. “The constitution gives INEC the powers to register political parties. The constitution also defines in Section 221 to 228 what the requirements of registration are,” Jega said.
He further stated that the provision
s that grant powers to INEC to register political parties also gave the National Assembly the powers to enact laws to govern the electoral process as enunciated in the Electoral Act 2010: “In particular if you look at sections 222 and 223, political parties are supposed to register with INEC and to have an office in Abuja and hold periodic elections; they are supposed to have executives that represent, in their composition, the federal character, in particular, two-thirds of the states of the federation. Also the Electoral Act in particular says that those who did not win any seats in any of the elections can be deregistered.” Not unexpectedly, INEC’s decision sparked a volley of reactions from parties affected by it. While they acknowledged that the constitution specifies the discretionary roles of the commission over political parties, the Electoral Act invests it with the powers to de-register parties on precise grounds. One of the grounds, as stipulated in Part V of Section 7 of the 2010 Electoral Act, is the right to de-register parties “for failure to win a seat in the National Assembly or state assembly elections”. But the National Conscience Party, NCP, which won a seat in the Ekiti State Assembly in the 2003 elections, had taken INEC to court, challenging its earlier deregistration of parties, a case still pending.
To PRP’s founder, Balarabe Musa, INEC’s action was “fascist” and “contemptuous”, given the pendency of NCP’s suit, for which an interlocutory injunction was granted against INEC. “INEC did not go to court to vacate the injunction by NCP but went ahead to announce deregistration of more political parties; this is not only fascist but contemptuous,” Musa said.
The parties argued that the commission lacked the powers to delist them based on the ruling by the Supreme Court in INEC versus Balarabe Musa in 2002. According to the Nigerian Weekly Law Report (pt.796) 412, the apex court in the judgment delivered by Justice Muhammadu Uwais (JSC), leading five other justices, urged INEC to register political parties that met the constitutional requirements. Based on the suit, filed by Musa alongside late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and three others, the registration ceiling was widened before the 2003 general elections.
Fresh Democratic Party, FDP, founded by Chris Okotie, who was its presidential candidate in 2003 and 2007, could not agree more with Musa. Its Director for Media and Publicity, Ladi Ayodeji, described the party’s inclusion among those deregistered as “a rude shock” and “undemocratic”. FDP accused INEC of surreptitiously acting a script to “further shut out the opposition from the democratic space” in order to favour the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which it said was afraid of its “growing stature”.
Mohammed Fawehinmi, son of NCP’s founder, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, told the magazine that it was “highly irresponsible of the commission to deregister the parties”. Declaring the pronouncement null and void, he said he was “hopeful that the suit filed by the NCP against INEC and for which ruling has been fixed for next March would be decided in our favour”.
Besides the issue that INEC is barred by the Supreme Court ruling, the parties also claimed the action was injurious to their fundamental human right to freedom of association as enshrined in Section 40 of the constitution. Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay told the magazine that he disagreed their freedom of association had been breached. “That section is not absolute,” he declared. Sagay opined that the country cannot have “a proper democracy in the country with over 70 political parties” and advised the parties to merge to form a stronger opposition, while “winning at least a seat in the National Assembly should be benchmark for parties that want to remain on the ballot”.
Emeka Ngige, a senior advocate, shares Sagay’s sentiment, even though he claimed to have mixed feelings about the action. He told TheNEWS that though he believed a broad political turf was healthy for the nation’s democracy, many of the smaller parties have become tools for blackmail. “Allowing as many political parties as possible would give alternatives to aggrieved candidates who may have been unlawfully prevented by their original party. But my concern is that most of these political parties exist for the purpose of filing election petitions on grounds of exclusion from the elections.” Exclusion is when a candidate who was duly sponsored to contest an election does not find his name or party logo on the ballot.
Ngige alleged that “Shylock INEC staff connive with unscrupulous candidates to hide their nomination forms so as to deliberately omit them from the ballot, only to file a petition on the ground of unlawful exclusion after the election.” He added that they do so to blackmail the pronounced winner and extort money from him. “I am a witness to a particular incident whereby the one who claimed to have been excluded was demanding N20million from the winner to withdraw his petition. That is the sad aspect of having so many political parties in the country since exclusion is one of the basic grounds for nullification of an election,” he said.
While the aggrieved political parties look up to the courts for salvation, INEC said it is continuing with the deregistration.
—Nnamdi Felix & Folarin Ademosu