The Nigerian court said the electoral body did nothing wrong by de-registering political parties.
The Federal High Court in Lagos, Wednesday, ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has the power to de-register political parties in Nigeria.
The suit brought by the National Conscience Party, NCP, challenged the INEC’s power to de-register parties, after the agency de-registered 28 parties last year.
Joined in the suit, as defendants, were the National Assembly, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the INEC.
While delivering his judgment, Justice Okon Abang also stated that the National Assembly has the power to enact electoral laws.
The judge awarded a legal cost of N15,000 each to be paid by the NCP to the National Assembly and the INEC.
The office of the Attorney General of the Federation did not appear in court throughout the case, nor did they send a representative despite being served a notice.
The NCP urged the court to declare Section 78 of the Electoral Act, which empowers INEC to de-register political parties, null and void because it violated the 1999 Nigeria Constitution Section 40’s freedom of association.
In his 50 minute long judgment, Mr. Abang stated that it is within the powers of the National Assembly to enact the Electoral Act.
“I think the National Assembly of Nigeria, under Section 4 and 228(b) of the 1999 Constitution, have the power to make laws for the peace, order, and good governance with particular reference to any matter set out in the exclusive legislative list,” said Mr. Abang.
“It is my view that this power includes the power for making laws to regulate political parties,” he added.
The judge said that although Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution confers the freedom of association to citizens, it has to be earned.
“Every right should give rise to a corresponding obligation. No right is absolute,” said Mr. Abang.
“For a citizen to earn a fundamental right as is enshrined in the constitution, that citizen has a duty to earn that right.
“Though a citizen has a right to associate freely, the citizen does not have the right to associate and commit felony.”
The judge also ruled that the National Assembly empowers the National Assembly to legislate on political parties.
“If the law says that every political party must win either a presidential, governorship election, or at least a seat in the National Assembly or State Assembly; so be it,” said Mr. Abang.
“This is a duty a political party has to perform to earn a right to be recognized by INEC as a political party. I think there is nothing wrong with this requirement,” he added.
Mr. Abang further said that a political party that has a good ideology, followers, and laudable programmes should “at least” win any of the elections conducted by INEC.
“Political parties should do more than being a platform for a group of persons of like minds to deliberate on issues of interest,” the judge said.
“Political parties should take the bull by the horns. Political parties should sell their manifestos to the people. Political parties should win elections.
“It is only when a candidate of a political party wins any of the elections that the party will be in a position to propagate their ideas, principles, and values,” said Mr. Abang.
Marcus Eyarhono, counsel to the NCP, had argued that de-registering a political party because it did not win any election is akin to disbanding a religious group for its little or no followership.
The judge disagreed, stating that it was “not applicable.”
“It is only when you win a seat that you can influence a decision. It is not just a meeting of like minds,” Mr. Abang said.
Mr. Abang also disagreed with the NCP’s position that the Electoral Act’s Section 78 insistence on parties winning elections puts undue pressure on political parties.
“The Section should not force any party to win election… The law enforcement agencies are there if any party takes the laws into their hands.
“The issue is for the plaintiff and members to win an election, to influence, positively, the lives of the poor masses.
“The provisions should not be interpreted with sentiments,” the judge said.
Mr. Abang also commended the National Assembly for being “in a hurry to enact laws that will touch the lives of the people.”
“Section 78 requires immediate compliance. It is not dependent on what happens in the future. It is either now or never.
“The National Assembly should be commended for enacting Section 78,” he added.
Dozens of members of the NCP who attended Wednesday’s proceedings filed out of the court, silent and dejected, after the judge’s ruling.
Though their party was not among those de-registered, INEC’s impending plan to proscribe more political parties casts a shadow of apprehension on the members.
Outside the court, they began to protest the judgment.
“Of course we are not happy with the ruling. It is against everything Gani (Fawehinmi) fought for,” Ayodele Akele, National Secretary of the NCP, said.
“We are going to appeal it and, if possible, take it to the Supreme Court,” he added.
The INEC’s de-registering of 28 political parties on December 6, 2011, elicited a plethora of court cases from the victims who protested the de-registration.
Some of the affected parties include Chris Okotie’s Fresh Party; Balarabe Musa’s Peoples’ Redemption Party; late Anthony Enahoro’s National Reformation Party; Olu Falae’s Democratic Peoples Alliance; and Tunji Braithwaite’s National Advance Party.