BY RAPHAEL EKPANG
In what many see as stirring the hornet’s nest, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in one fell swoop last week de-registered 74 political parties over their failure to meet constitutional requirements that determine the continuous existence of political parties in the country.
Expectedly, the Commission’s action triggered a barrage of reactions from the affected political parties, commentators and other Nigerians alike. Although, the INEC’s action may not have come as a surprise as the cloud of de-registration had hovered around the head of political parties soon after a verification exercise conducted last year by INEC in December 2019.
Many are not at ease with the proliferation of parties in the country. While others think a multiple party system is a true reflection of democratic governance in Nigeria, there are equally no shortage of calls to drastically cut down the number of parties in the country. In the midst of divergent views, the INEC wielded the big stick on the 74 political parties and, set the stage for kudos and knock for the Commission.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who made the announcement at a press conference last week Thursday in Abuja, said the parties failed to meet the constitutional requirements that determine their continuous existence. With the development, according to Yakubu, Nigeria now has 18 political parties.
He said that 16 political parties, after assessing their outing in the 2019 general elections, fulfilled the requirements for existence based on section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). They are: Accord Party, Action Alliance, African Action Congress, African Democratic Congress, All Progressives Congress, All Progressives Grand Alliance and Allied Peoples Movement. Others are: New Nigeria Peoples Party, National Rescue Movement, Peoples Democratic Party, Peoples Redemption Party, Social Democratic Party, Young Progressives Party, and Zenith Labour Party.
According to INEC, the 75 parties didn’t satisfy the requirement but one, the Action Peoples Party (APP), filed a suit in court and obtained an order restraining the commission from deregistering it. Yakubu said a new party, Boot Party (BP) which was registered by court order after the 2019 general elections would continue to exist. He stated: “Prior to the Fourth Alteration, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) had provided for the deregistration of political parties. Based on this provision, the Commission, between 2011 and 2013, deregistered 39 political parties.
However, several of the parties challenged the power of INEC to deregister them, particularly on the ground that the Electoral Act is inferior to the Constitution and that deregistration infringed on 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 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.
“• 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.
“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.
“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.
“In addition, they were also assessed on the basis of their performance in the area council elections in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which coincided with the 2019 general election.
“It should be noted that the FCT is the only part of the country where INEC is empowered by the constitution to conduct local government elections.” Yakubu said the commission had fixed September 19 and October 10, 2020 for the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states.
Meanwhile, the deregistration of the political parties has been greeted with mixed reactions. While some parties leaders are of the view that the fewer the parties we have, the better the politics; others are saying that the Commission lacks the constitutional powers to deregister any party, and some believe that even though the Commission has the powers to deregister parties, it is rather too early for that now.
The national chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Okey Nwosu said that the commission has carried out its constitutional mandate of deregistering political parties who have failed to meet up with the requirement of having national spread and elected officers in both the federal, state and the local government. He therefore advised chairmen and leaders of the deregistered parties not to border going to court, saying that it will be a waste because the INEC did that in line with the constitution and the courts will naturally give verdicts in that order.
In the same vein, the chairman of the Accord Party, Hon. Mohammed Malado supported INEC for the de-registration of the 74 political parties who failed to meet up with the commission’s requirement to continue to exit as political parties in Nigeria, saying that the commission has the powers to register and deregister political parties.
Hon. Malado noted that the INEC, prior to the de-registration of the 74 political parties carried out verification in all the offices of the political parties to fulfill the requirement, and also that the commission would have considered the performance of each political party during the 2019 general elections and other elections that followed and has come out with the decision to de-register such parties according to its findings and back up by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I want to believe that INEC has done its home work properly, so what it has done is in accordance with the constitution and there is nothing anyone can do about it. My advise is that those party leaders should find other parties and join so that together we can move the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Debo Adeniran, the Executive Chairman, Center for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) has berated the commission for what he calls arbitrary registration of political parties in the first instance. He noted that if INEC had based the registration of political parties on ideology there was no way the commission could have registered up to 92 political parties.
Mr. Adeniran argued that since one of the criterion is for parties to have elected officers in at least, at the local government level, therefore, the commission should have given them the opportunity to participate in the local government elections currently going in some states before embarking on the process of deregistration.
“I wouldn’t know the criterion that was used to registered the 92 political parties, otherwise there was no need talking about deregistration now,” Adeniran stated. Also, Femi Falana, SAN, argues that the law that INEC relies on to deregister the parties is not yet ripe for implementation.
According to him, Section 225A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 empowers INEC to de-register political parties for various reasons. Quoting the section of the constitution, Falana said,
“The Independent National Electoral Commission shall have power to deregister a political party for breach of any of the requirements for registration: “Failure to win at least 25 percent of votes cast in one State of the Federation in a Presidential election or one Local Government of the State in a Governorship election; “Failure to win at least one ward in the Chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election or one seat in the Councillorship election.”
However, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria believes the de-registration of the parties by INEC was not justified because Local Government elections have not been held in 13 states. Falana believes INEC should have waited for all states to conduct their LG elections before delisting the political parties. The consensus is that INEC should put its house in order and prepare for a more credible elections ahead , now that some of the political parties have been axed.