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INEC and Deregistration of Political Parties

 INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu

BEVERLY HILLS, May 16, (THEWILL) – THE Supreme Court, judging by its judgement of Friday, May 7, 2021, has empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission to deregister political parties which performed poorly in general elections.

The Supreme Court’s judgement affirmed the judgement of the Court of Appeal, which upheld the deregistration of 74 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The commission had last year deregistered the parties over their failure to win any election during the 2019 general elections.

Announcing the deregistration in February 2020,  INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the parties were deregistered for their inability to fulfill the requirements for existence, based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Yakubu recalled that prior to the 2019 general election, Nigeria had 91 political parties, while one more party was registered by court order after the election, thus making a total of 92 political parties.

He noted that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vested in INEC the power to register and regulate activities of political parties. He also recalled that in 2018, the Constitution was amended “in addition to the extant provision for the registration of political parties, the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution (Section 225A) empowers the commission to deregister political parties.”

Yakubu said that in order to implement the provision of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution, the commission carried out an assessment of political parties to determine compliance with the requirements for their registration. He said that similarly, following the conclusion of the 2019 general election, including court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigations, the commission was able to determine the performance of political parties in the elections.

He added that in addition, the parties were also assessed on the basis of their performance in the Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory, the only Local Government elections which INEC was empowered to conduct. He said consequently, the commission had determined that 16 political parties fulfilled the requirements for existence based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution, while 75 parties did not satisfy the requirements of the fourth alteration to the constitution.

“However, one of the political parties, the Action Peoples Party filed a suit in court and obtained an order restraining the commission from deregistering it. “The party remains registered, pending the determination of the case by the court.

“The new political party, Boot Party registered by court order after the 2019 general election will also continue to exist. “Accordingly, 74 political parties are hereby deregistered. With this development, Nigeria now has 18 registered political parties,” Yakubu said.

It would also be recalled that the INEC based on the Electoral Act provision, between 2011 and 2013, deregistered 39 political parties.

Several of the political parties challenged the power of INEC to deregister them, particularly on the grounds that the Electoral Act is inferior to the constitution and that deregistration infringed their fundamental rights under the same constitution.

Subsequently, the courts ordered the commission to reinstate the parties. It was for this reason that the National Assembly amended the Constitution to empower the commission to deregister political parties on the following grounds: Breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party; failure to win at least 25 percent 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; failure to win at least one ward in a Chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State Assembly election or one seat in a councillorship election.

As expected, reactions trailed the judgement. Most of the people that spoke with THEWILL agreed with the decision of the Supreme Court on the deregistration of the parties.

The Inter Party Advisory Council of Nigeria’s National Publicity Secretary, Ambassador Agbo Major, in a statement said that while they supported the apex court ruling, the affected political parties should work with the 18 registered parties for sustainable democracy in Nigeria.

The statement reads, “IPAC is particularly happy with the speed in determining and delivering judgement on this matter, which obviously was a clog in the wheel of our preparation for the 2023 general elections.”

The National Chairman, Young Democratic Party, Aye Georgina Dakpokpo, said, “In fact, the Court of Appeal ruling in our case, ACD & 21 Others V INEC, also affirmed the decision by INEC to deregister NUP, while stating that due process wasn’t followed in our case.”

Also In his reaction, human rights activist and lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), told THEWILL that the Supreme Court merely upheld the obvious because INEC was empowered to deregister any party that failed to meet the constitutional requirement.

He said, “There can be no competitive game without a centre referee. It will be lawless and unruly. The Nigerian situation where you have tens of mushroom political parties that exist only in name and on paper, without any genuine effort to cultivate voters and win elections or even serve as credible opposition by speaking out against the ills of the society, does not augur well for our wobbling, fumbling and groggy democracy.

“These associations that label themselves political parties simply clog up the ballot papers, over-tasking INEC in its job and voters who want clear choices in their presence. Many a time, a valid election was nullified simply because one of the relatively anonymous parties was erroneously or inadvertently left out of the ballot. And when allowed to contest, many of them score just about five to 12 votes, while the real parties score millions of votes. That is no credible contest by any stretch of the imagination. The answer lies in amending the Constitution and constitutionalising independent candidature to enable persons who are not able to ideologically identify with any of the existing parties run as sole and independent candidates.”

Another Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Monday Ubani, while speaking with THEWILL on the judgement described the deregistration of political parties by INEC as sacrosanct and in conformity with the law. He said there should be no controversy over INEC’s power to deregister parties.

He said: “Although some people will argue that we are in a democracy and people have the right to come together to form political parties, we must allow sanity to prevail. Otherwise, before 2023, we will have over 100 political parties. To me, it is better we have two major parties, than having mushroom parties that can’t win a single seat at the local government polls.

“We have to look at the provision of the law in order to amend it. INEC should apply the power granted it by law to deregister parties that failed to win a seat throughout the federation.”

He added that parties that fail to abide by the provisions of the Electoral Act should also be deregistered.

A member of Campaign for Democracy, Mr Sola Olawale said the decision of the apex court would sanitise balloting on the day of election. A party that cannot win any councillorship seat cannot be taken seriously as a political party. It is better to prune down the number for the electorate to easily make a choice.