The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is one of the Federal Executive Bodies established by Section 153 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and one of its major functions is the registration of political parties in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act.
There is no doubt that Political Parties are essential organs of any democratic setting and this is because they serve as platforms for political discussions and formulation of policies for the wellbeing of the citizenry of any given country.
Thus, it simply goes without saying that whenever a political association applies to INEC for registration as a political party, such an application must be considered in a liberal and favorable manner (so long as the condition precedents for the registration of a Political Party as stated in Sections 222-224 of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2010 are complied with) because it is the citizens of the country that would benefit from the registration of a Political Party on the long run.
It is against this backdrop that, I shall in this short paper consider whether or not INEC has the power to refuse the registration of the All Progressive Congress (APC). After answering this question, I shall proceed to proffer my candid advice on whether or not INEC ought to approve the registration of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Can INEC refuse the registration of APC?
It is no longer news that the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, have merged into a single entity, and they have jointly submitted an application for the registration of a new party, All Progressive Congress, to INEC.
Although there has been speculation in the media that INEC is considering advising the All Progressive Congress to change its name before it would be registered as a political party, it is important to state that as at 27th July 2013, INEC had not given an official position on the status of APC’s application.
Without prejudice to INEC’s impending verdict on APC’s application for registration, it is submitted that INEC has the power to refuse the registration of APC if it is discovered that the promoters of APC have not complied with any of the condition precedents for the registration of a political party in Nigeria. This position is supported by Section 84 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2010 which provides thus:
“On receipt of the request for merger of political parties, the commission shall consider the request and, if the parties have fulfilled the requirements of the constitution and this Act, approve the proposed merger and communicate its decision to the parties concerned before the expiration of 30 days from the date of the receipt of the formal request.
PROVIDED that if the Commission fails to communicate its decision within 30 days the merger shall be deemed to be effective.” (Emphasis supplied)
It is instructive to note that the 30 days period mentioned in the proviso to Section 84 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2010 above has not lapsed yet, so this proviso cannot be activated yet.
Also, in the case of Independent National Electoral Commission v. Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa (2003) LPELR 1515 at 38 Paragraph B-C, Ayoola, JSC (as he then was) held thus:
“Registration is the process of recording the existence of a political party and it provides evidence and certification of compliance with Section 222 of the constitution. It is evident that a political party cannot be registered as being in existence unless the association has satisfied the conditions of eligibility in Section 222.”
The implication of the above is that INEC is imbued with the statutory powers to exercise its discretion in considering whether or not APC has fulfilled all the condition precedents for registration as a Political Party—INEC’s discretion must however be exercised based on the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2010, and not based on the whims and caprices of the INEC Chairman.
Should INEC Register the All Progressive Congress?
Whilst it is conceded that the All Progressive Congress is eligible as an association to function as a Political Party, it is submitted that INEC ought not to register the All Progressive Congress as a Political Party based on the doctrine of lis pendens. This is because the African People’s Congress has commenced an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/224/2013 challenging INEC’s refusal to register it as a political party, and one of the reliefs which it is seeking before the Court is an order prohibiting the registration of any other association known as and called African People’s Congress or having the acronym, APC, as a political party pending the determination of the suit.
Now, the doctrine of lis pendens which is an acronym for pendent lite nihil innovetur, simply means that during litigation, nothing new should be introduced. The doctrine is intended to prevent foisting a fait acompli on a court over an unconcluded matter before it. See: Akinkugbe v. E.H. (Nig.) Ltd. (2008) 12 NWLR (Pt.1098) 375
In the premises, it is clear from the above that the registration of the All Progressive Congress (APC) by INEC would certainly overreach the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/224/2013 and it is also capable of rendering the decision of the Federal High Court to be of no effect if the Court finds in favor of African People’s Congress.
In view of the above, I respectfully implore INEC as a law abiding body to refuse the registration of the All Progressive Congress as to do otherwise would amount to ridiculing the judiciary and it would also run contrary to the settled doctrine of lis pendens.
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