NIGERIANS were doubtlessly enamoured by the outcome of the legal battle between Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a political party, National Unity Party (NUP) which was dragged to the country’s apex court-Supreme Court of Nigeria.
AFTER the 2019 general elections, the electoral umpire took notice of the multiplicity of complaints of eligible voters who were confused while thumb-printing on the ballot paper handed to them at the polling centres. The confusion largely stemmed from the multiplicity of political parties whose logos closely resemble one another. This confusion led to the discarding of many thumb-printed ballot papers according to the provision of the Electoral Act. The problem, no doubt, affected the chances of some candidates in the outcome of the polls to the extent that some popular candidates lost the election while their opponents won .
CONSEQUENTLY, INEC embarked on scrutinising the political parties that failed to meet the prescriptions of the Electoral Act which among other provisions, stipulated that political parties that fail to win seat at the three tiers of government would be de-registered.
WHEN the lists of the affected political parties were published, INEC was faced with multiple cases by the deregistered political parties, with the courts giving conflicting judgments. Some of the affected political parties headed to the Appeal Court while one, NUP thereafter, headed to the Supreme Court. The political parties, no doubt, made for the law courts on the belief that the provision in the Nigerian Constitution for Freedom of Association had no conditions attached to it.
EVENTUALLY, the Supreme Court of Nigeria went through the submissions of the lower courts and gave judgment against NUP. Thus, putting a final lid on the prospect of reinstating the 74 political parties deregistered by INEC for failure to win any elective position in the 2019 general elections. In other words, the apex court contended that “deregistration of one of the affected parties, the National Unity Party (NUP), is constitutional”. By this action, the apex court has also sealed the fate of the remaining 73 deregistered parties, many of which have their appeals still pending in various courts.
THE Supreme Court, by affirming the concurrent findings of the lower courts on the NUP case, has upheld not only the powers of INEC to deregister political parties but also, that the process and procedure adopted for the deregistration of the 74 political parties was in compliance with the laws.
IN ONE of such cases by some of the 74 deregistered parties, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, in a judgment delivered on July 29, 2020, affirmed the powers of INEC to deregister political parties.
THE appellate court in an unanimous decision presented by Justice Mohammed Idris, held that INEC acted within the constitutional provisions, as well as the Electoral Act in sacking the political parties, that did not win even a single office in the last general elections.
THE Court of Appeal had nullified and set aside the judgment of Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which had earlier nullified INEC’s deregistration of the political parties on the grounds that the deregistration breached Section 225(a) of the Constitution.
THE said constitutional provision, Section 225(a) spells out the minimum election victory a party must record or percentage of votes it must poll to sustain its status as a registered political party.
IN ANOTHER case by some other deregistered parties, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, ordered INEC to re-list 22 of the political parties deregistered for failing to win any elective office in the 2019 general elections.
JUSTICE Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, in a judgment delivered on June 11, 2020, had dismissed the suit of the 22 appellants challenging the power of INEC to deregister them.
BUT to appreciate the development better, one needs to understand the roles political parties play in a society. This may go well beyond winning seats in elections.
AT THIS juncture, it is pertinent to note some of the functions of political parties which include mobilising people and explaining to them their visions for the land amid the development of a general election in which they stand in which if they win, would assuage their legitimate yearnings and aspirations for better leaving standard. Political parties articulate the views of their members with the view of showing how their ideas will contribute to the policies, programmes and projects. Political parties are also contributory in raising the living standard of society as pressures groups.
They join international community to advance the cause of humanity. Political parties organise party primaries to elect credible and ‘saleable’ candidates to win all the seats or substantial seats to enable them implement their policies and programmes. So, winning electoral seats are not all the parties do. Though INEC’s action is lawful as the judgement of Supreme court establish, the electoral umpire should guard against silencing vital political voices.
NATIONAL Light commends the Supreme Court for taking final decision on restoring sanity in the democratisation of the country and by extension, the organisation of political parties. Other advanced democracies have manageable number of political parties which create the sanitising ambience of the electoral campaign and voting proper.
ALTHOUGH, one can make a case for many political parties to obviate situations, albeit in developing countries, where the fantastically wealthy people hijack the political parties and front their minions to win the primaries paving the way for onward general elections. Multiple political parties give vent to variegated philosophies on how to better the lot of the hoi polloi. That factor should be put into serious consideration when INEC decides on taking similar action in future because there is danger in single narrative.