In defence of the FRESH paradigm

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BY TERI EFFIONG

THE latest deregistration by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC of FRESH and 27 other parties, after seven others were delisted earlier in the year, point to the fact that the ruling party is already warming up for the big contest.

FRESH, in keeping with the vow of its indefatigable chairman, Rev. Chris Okotie, acted swiftly to file a suit against INEC at a Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday, December 11, 2012, to contest the party’s delisting, claiming a breach of its fundamental human rights and freedom of association of its members, among others. The National Assembly and the Inspector General of Police are joined in the suit filed by constitutional lawyer, Dr. Fred Agbaje and Barr. Kola Dopamu.

Other delisted parties are likely to do the same. And with a subsisting suit on the same vexed issue filed by the National Conscience Party, NCP in a Federal High Court in Abuja coming up for judgment in March 2013, the polity is set for a long-drawn legal battle, which may ignite passions for 2015 prematurely.

This present legal battle is between two opposing political blocks – the old brigade as represented by the ruling elite, led by the PDP, versus the young Turks who are seeking a new paradigm shift in governance as represented by reform-minded Rev. Okotie and his Party, FRESH which has long been campaigning for a generational power shift as the way forward for Nigeria out of the present stagnation.

Therefore, viewed in this context, the deregistration is a dress rehearsal for the 2015 elections; the boldest attempt yet by the ruling PDP to silence some potentially difficult opponents who could spring surprises in our very unpredictable environment, where small, presumably weak parties could suddenly become formidable forces on account of strategic realignments or alliances.

Predicting humiliation for the governing elite in 2015, the irrepressible pastor-politician, at a press conference before the GRACE programme of his Household of God Church recently said:  “For us (at the FRESH Democratic Party) like I said, we believe that this aberration will be corrected and it will be the beginning of a new day for Nigeria. 2015 portends good things for the country because we are seeing the demystification of some political parties. This deregistration is not something that you can accept in a civilised society. This can only happen in a place like Nigeria and I believe that in the end we are seeing the last of the oppression in Nigeria.”

INEC based the delisting on failure of the parties  to win elections, as well as their limited spread and weak structures. However, it is unheard of that an election umpire will unilaterally decide that the size, spread and strength of opposition parties should be the basis of their existence, when the constitution provides for freedom of association.

At no time in our political history did a capacity to win elections at a stipulated time, form the basis of party existence. It is, therefore, without precedent and should not stand. It is also  instructive that many lawyers share this view. Obviously, the ruling party is an interested party in this matter. Its officers are in power in different offices across the country; as 2015 approaches, they’d want as little opposition as possible. Avoiding small parties that could become spoilers is a wise step taken in the right direction.

However, the PDP controlled government cannot, through its agent (INEC) remotely or indirectly adjudicate in a  matter in which it has a clear, vested interest. It cannot determine by force of its present numerical strength in the federal legislature, which parties it approves to be its opponent in electoral contests. To allow this unlawful deregistration to stand in this era of deregulation is to condone a perpetration of injustice by the ruling party against the opposition. It would amount to a tyranny of the majority.

It is widely acknowledged that the PDP’s majority was secured through a combination of scientific rigging and other fraudulent devices as the upturning of some of its ‘electoral victories’ at governorship levels have shown. Nevertheless, it is anxious to strengthen  its  hold on governance at all levels, come 2015.

The rule of law is back on trial. An important government agency like INEC  isn’t taking cognizance of the fact that its action could amount to contempt of court in view of NCP’s pending suit.

Besides, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division in  an appeal filed  by the Peoples  Redemption Party, (PRP) and others on the issue of registration stated succinctly and unambiguously that INEC  had no power to refuse to  register a party that has  fulfilled the  required constitutional provision; and by extension, no power whatsoever to de-register an existing party that has fulfilled all constitutional stipulations.

Many observers have noted that the INEC decision contradicts  the 2002  Supreme  Court judgment on the same subject. Perhaps all the party needed to do was seek the interpretation of that judgment as applicable to the latest deregistration exercise.

*Mr. Effiong,  a commentator on national  issues, wrote from Lagos.

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