The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal has on Wednesday 29th July, 2020 affirmed the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties in the country.
This is contained in a unanimous judgement of the three man panel of the Court of Appeal presided over by Justice Mohammed Baba Idris in the case between the National Unity Party V INEC in Appeal No. CA/A/CV/426/2020. Other members of the panel include Hon. Justices Peter Olabisi Ige and Yargata Nimpar.
INEC had in February 2020 de-registered 74 political parties, including the National Unity Party, on the basis of their poor performance in the 2019 general elections and the court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigation. INEC added that the 74 political parties did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Alteration to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
National Unity Party did not find the situation comfortable. It therefore challenged its de-registration before the Federal High Court, Abuja via Originating Summons seeking the following reliefs:
“1. A DECLARATION that the Defendant does not have the constitutional vires under section 225A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (Fourth Alteration No. 9, Act 2017 to de-register the Plaintiff as a political party or any other political party for failure to win any of the offices mentioned therein without the completion of election in the 774 local government Area Nigeria and all the state in Nigeria and all the state in Nigeria and all the state of the Federation
“2. A DECLARATION that the Defendant cannot validly invoke section 225A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (Fourth Alteration No. 9, Act 2017 tod or impose any sanction or take any other administrative action against the Plaintiff when the Plaintiff has not breached any Provision in section 22 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)
“3. AN ORDER OF PERPETUAL INJUNCTION restraining the Defendant either by itself, staff, officers, agents, privies, or howsoever described from de-registering or sanctioning or taking any other administrative decision against the Plaintiff as a duly registered political party in Nigeria.
“4. AN ORDER OF COURT setting aside and/or nullifying any decision taken by the Defendant against the Plaintiff or any other political party by way of de-registration, based on section 225A (B&C) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Fourth Alteration, NO 9, Act 2017), for being illegal, ultra vires its powers, null and void in its entirety until election is fully conducted in the 774 local government councils in Nigeria and the 36 states of the Federation”
Dismissing the plaintiff’s case, Justice Taiwo held, among others, that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lawfully de-registered the National Unity Party (NUP) as a political party in Nigeria. The court found that INEC validly exercised its powers in Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), when it terminated NUP’s political party status adding that the party provided no evidence that it met the criteria for it not to be de-registered.
ARGUMENTS ON APPEAL
Miffed by the decision, National Unity Party appealed to the Court of Appeal on five grounds wherein the following two issues were formulated as follows:
“1. Whether the Lower Court was not wrong in its interpretation of the provisions of section 225A (b) and (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Fourth Alteration No. 9) Act 2017 and hereby occasion miscarriage of justice on the Appellant
“2. Whether the Appellant did not place sufficient material facts and evidence before the Lower Court”
Chigozie K. Eburuo, Esq., on behalf of the Appellant argued that the interpretation of section 225A of the Constitution by the lower Court was wrong and contrary to the principle of liberal interpretation. He relied on the cases of Ararume V. Independent National Electoral Commission (2007) 9 NWLR (part. 1038) 127 and Elelu-Habeeb v. A.-G., Fed. (2012) 12 NWLR ( Pt. 1318) 423.
He further argued that INEC can de-register political party only after the conduct of a pending election and the Appellant in this case had provided sufficient evidence to establish that there was a pending election in which it will participate with the prospect of winning and the court ought to have taken judicial notice of it.
The Respondent adopted the issues formulated by the Appellant and argued that the trial court rightly gave literal interpretation to the provisions of section 225A of the Constitution since it was clear and unambiguous. He said the word “OR” in section 225A of the Constitution is to be construed disjunctively, not conjunctively as submitted by the Appellant. He relied on section 18(3)of the Interpretation Act and the case of Kabirikim v.Emefor (2009) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1162 ) 602
Respondent further argued that it has the power to deregister a political party that violates any of conditions listed in section 225A of the Constitution and there is no restriction for deregistration by time limitation
On issue two, the Respondent argued that the Appellant had the burden to establish that it had not breached any of the conditions spelt out in section 225A of the Constitution but it failed to prove same with credible evidence adding that court cannot go on voyage of discovery
The Respondent counsel therefore urged the court to discountenance the arguments of the Appellant and affirm the decision of the trial court.
On issue one, the provision of section 225A of the Constitution was reproduced as follows:
225A. The Independent National Electoral Commission shall have power to de-register a political party for –
- breach of any of the requirements for registration;
- failure to win at win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in –
- one State of the Federation in a Presidential election; or
- (ii) one Local Government of the State in a Governorship election.
(c) failure to win at least —
- one ward in the Chairmanship election;
- (one seat in the Nation in the National or State House of Assembly election; or
- one seat in the Councillorship election.”
The court held that the provisions above are clear and unambiguous and must be given its literal meaning. It disagreed with the Appellant that the word “OR” in the section is to be construed conjunctively
“From the above definitions and explanation of the terms, it is clear that the colon semi colon and dash used in the provisions signifies a continuation of a sentence to be connoted as a whole but the use of the word ‘OR’ signifies the point where the sentence becomes disjunctive. Not only does the use of the word ‘OR’ signify that subsections (b) and (c) are disjunctive, the full stop used at the end of subsection (b) before the continuation of subsection (c) shows that both subsections are disjunctive
“With the inclusiveness of my findings on whether subsection (b) and (c) of section 225A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration No. 9 Act) are disjunctive, I agree in totality with the findings of the Trial Court on this issue” the court held
On issue two, the court held that though the trial court could take judicial notice of the conduct of elections in the country, it was not under obligation to take judicial notice of the Appellant’s participation at the election “that would leave the court in the cross-road of speculations and assumptions which road the court is not permitted to take…speculation has no place in our courts. Neither the parties nor the court is permitted or entitled to speculate anything”
The court also held that even in the local governments where elections were conducted, the Appellant could not establish that it had met criteria for it not to be de-registered. Going further, the court held that the Appellant contended that it had prospects of winning futuristic elections, but it did not place evidence before the court regarding the dates of such elections.
The appeal was therefore dismissed and the decision of the trial court upheld.
Emeka Obegolu, FICMC, with A. Elachi, Phd. and O. P. James, Esq. presented the Respondent while E. Ibegbunam, Esq. represented the Appellant.
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