The first legal provision on deregistration of Political Parties post 1999 general election is contained in section 78(7) of the Electoral Act, 2010. The section contains two grounds for deregistration viz: (1) breach of any of the requirements for registration (2) failure to win Presidential or Governorship election or a seat in the National or State Assembly election.
First of all, it is important to say that the right to form or belong to a Political Party is a fundamental human right enshrined in section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). In the said section, it provides, “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party…for the protection of his interest.”
The introduction of the deregistration clause in the Electoral Act, 2010 was greeted by mixed reactions. While some hailed it, others deprecated it. The National Conscience Party (NCP) was the first to challenge the legality of section 78(7)(ii) in Court. Hon. Justice Abang of the Federal High Court Lagos in its judgment of 6th March, 2013 held the provision to be legal and valid. However the Court of Appeal Lagos in a judgment delivered on 24th July, 2015 declared section 78(7)(ii) unconstitutional, null and void. Thus, in the case, NCP & Anor. v National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria & 2 Ors. (2016) 1 NWLR (Pt.1492) 1 CA, the Court of Appeal per Chinwe Eugenia Iyizoba, JCA in declaring section 78(7)(ii) as inconsistent with the Constitution and null and void stated:
“I reiterate once more that there is nothing in section 221-229 of the Constitution prescribing that the continued existence of a recognized political party depended on its ability to win at least a seat in the National or State Assembly. There is no quarrel with section 78(7)(i) which empowers the Commission to de-register a political party on the ground of breach of any of the requirements of registration. But deregistration under section 78(7)(ii) for failure to win at least a seat in the National or State Assembly is a different ball game. There is no constitutional backing for the provision.”
Relying on the de-registration clause, INEC on 18th August, 2011 deregistered 7 Political Parties namely DA, NAC, NDLP, MMN, NPC, NEPP and NUP. Similarly, on 5th December, 2012 INEC deregistered 28 other Political Parties ostensibly due to failure to win a election. The Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) challenged its deregistration at the Federal High Court, Abuja. Justice Gabriel Kolawole in a delivered in March 2013 restored the registration of FDP. In the same vein, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) took out an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja which court presided over by Justice Adeniyi Ademola on 16th December, 2015 restored the registration of PRP.
In Barrister Jezie Ekejiuba v. INEC & Anor. (2016) LPELR-40926 (CA), the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division per Tom Shaibu Yakubu, JCA most succinctly stated:
“I am of the considered opinion that if the framers of the 1999 Constitution, having provided for the recognition of political associations which could metamorphose to political parties through the processes of registration by the 1st respondent pursuant to section 222 of the Constitution, had the mind that the registered political parties could be de-registered, the conditions for such de-registration would have been spelt out in the Constitution. In order words, since the conditions and processes involved before a political association is registered as a political party by the 1st respondent are clearly spelt out in section 222 of the Constitution, similarly the processes and conditions for a de-registration of a political party by the 1st respondent, if that was in the mind of the framers of the Constitution, the same would have been clearly set out in the Constitution.”
The two Court of Appeal decisions placed side by side opposes each other in some respects. Both decisions are to the effect that INEC cannot deregister a Political Party on the ground of failure to win election. However, there is dissonance in the interpretation of section 78(7)(i) which borders on deregistration on the ground of breach of any of the requirements for registration. NCP’s case approves of that ground, whereas Ekejiuba’s case struck it down. The Court in Ekejiuba’s case reasoned that if the intention of the framers of the Constitution was that a Political Party could be deregistered under certain conditions, it would have provided for same.
Therefore, in a bid to fortify INEC with powers to deregister Political Parties, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration, No. 9) Act , 2017 provided elaborately the grounds for deregistration. Today, deregistration of Political Parties is now constitutionally provided. Section 225A of the Constitution (as amended) provides as follows:
The Independent National Electoral Commission shall have power to de-register a Political Party for-
(a) breach of any of the requirements for registration;
(b) failure to win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in-
(i) 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-
(i) one ward in the Chairmanship election;
(ii) one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election; or
(iii) one seat in the Councillorship election.
The Constitution has therefore comprehensively set out conditions for deregistration. The ground of breach of any of the requirements of registration has six items as contained in section 222 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In Barrister Jezie Ekejiuba v. INEC & Anor. (2016) LPELR-40926 (CA), the Court stated: “The six conditions of registration are well spelt out in section 222 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) thus:
No association by whatever name called shall function as a political party, unless-
(a) the names and address (sic) of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission;
(b) the membership of the association is open to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of his place of origin, circumstances of birth, sex, religion or ethnic grouping;
(c) a copy of its constitution is registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in such form as may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
(d) any alteration in its registered Constitution is also registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission within thirty days of the making of such alteration;
(e) the name of the association, its symbol or logo does not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of the association are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria; and
(f) the headquarters of the association is situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Without argument, the large number of Political Parties that participated in the 2019 General Elections created logistics challenges for INEC including cost, space and time. For example, 73 Political Parties were on ballot for the Presidential election. This is the largest number that we have witnessed in any election in Nigeria. Apart from the two dominant political parties-APC and PDP, the performance of the remaining 71 political parties was a huge joke. They made no impact in terms of the share of the votes cast. Also, the large number of Political Parties in the Presidential election made collation of results hectic and longer than usual.
Although, there are a few supplementary elections pending in places where election was declared inconclusive by INEC; nevertheless, we can tell how many Political Parties were able to escape the INEC sledge hammer of deregistration. How many of the Political Parties that participated in the Presidential election won at least twenty-five percent of the votes cast in one State of the Federation? With the exception of APC and PDP no other Party did. How many of Political Parties that participated in the Governorship election in the 29 States where Governorship election was held won twenty-five percent of the votes cast in one Local Government Area of the State? Again, with the exception of APC and PDP no other Party did. Judging the political parties on the basis of seats won in the National Assembly, only 11 Political Parties were successful. The successful Political Parties are APC, PDP and YPP in the Senate and APC, PDP, APGA, ADC, AA, PRP, APM, SDP, ADP and LP in the House of Representatives. For the House of Assembly, the seats revolve around APC, PDP and a couple of other Political Parties within the group of 11 Political Parties that won seats in the National Assembly or perhaps a few other Political Parties outside the 11. From the foregoing, it is a sore narrative that a paltry 12 percent of the 91 registered Political Parties that survived the constitutional slaughter provision.
The Independent National Electoral Commission should rise to clear the political space by deregistering the ‘sickler’ political parties in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). This should be done as soon as the 21 days of presenting election petition elapses. Section 285(5) provides that an election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of result of the elections. With barely four days to the end of the 21 days for presenting presidential election petition no other Party outside the group of 11 have presented a petition challenging the presidential election. INEC has a duty to maintain a healthy balance in the Political environment by ensuring that Political Parties which are too weak for competitive party democracy are not allowed to loiter the political space creating political nuisance.
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