THE FRESH news last week is the quashing of the controversial INEC’s order that deregistered Rev Chris Okotie’s FRESH and 27 other political parties by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of an Abuja High Court last Monday.
Something historic has a way of happening under your eyes when you least expect. This is not the kind of news any serious media outlet would ignore.
Most news watchers, including this writer, were amazed at the sudden turn of events. About nine months ago, INEC, armed with the controversial Electoral Act 2012(As Amended), began to deregister parties that failed to win any seat in our Legislature in the last elections. This strange, unprecedented development drew the flak of civil rights activists and political commentators.
The decision of the ruling PDP government to limit the number of parties to a “manageable few” was widely condemned as an attempt by the party to abridge the political space for its own selfish agenda, not to rid the polity of mushroom parties as INEC claimed.
In a style reminiscent of the defunct military regimes, the Commission’s Secretary, Mr Abdullahi Kaugara, in a letter to FRESH and 27 other political parties on December 6, 2012, said that consequent upon the “failure of the parties to meet the requirement of section 223(1)&(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999( as amended) and failure to win a seat in the National Assembly as provided in section 78(7)(ii) of Electoral Act 2012; ( As Amended)”, the affected parties stand deregistered.
The Electoral Act 2012 (as amended) is a law that appropriates the powers of the judiciary to invoke legal sanctions against parties that fell short of its provisions.
It also allows the National Assembly to encroach on the functions of the executive in the area of deciding the criteria for the setting up of political parties. A law maker cannot interpret the law; neither can the executive be a judge in any matter which is within the purview of the judiciary.
The Electoral Act 2012 (as amended) is a piece of legislation that creates over-lapping functions that have the potential to create conflicts between the three arms of government.
The attempt by INEC to play the judge in a case involving it led to this legal dispute with the parties. This is not the first time that the judiciary had resolved disputes of this nature in favour of parties. It will be recalled that the late legal icon and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, went to court to contest the refusal of the then National Electoral Commission to register his party, the National Conscience Party, NCP. He won the case and that was how his party and others joined the fray.
One wonders why the ruling party should be concerned with small rival parties who do not pose any visible threat to its power. If it is true as often claimed after each election that FRESH and other deregistered parties didn’t win a single seat in the Legislature why should that be a PDP problem?
The truth is that FRESH probably performed better in those elections than we are led to believe, and so realising the party’s true potential as a contender for power, the PDP made the Electoral Act 2012 (as amended) to crowd out all the small, but “dangerous” parties before they attain their full potential. It thus becomes wise to kill the small snakes before they grow to become fearful predators.
However, God has a way of catching the wise in his own craftiness. The Electoral Act 2012 (as amended) is INEC’s weapon of mass destruction of the smaller parties; the same law has becomes its nemesis. Granted, the ruling PDP says it would appeal the verdict, even up to the Supreme Court, it does nothing to change the fact that a new face of justice in the shape of this verdict won by FRESH has exposed the anti-democratic tendencies of Jonathan’s government.
The race is never to the swift. What the Electoral Act 2012 is trying to achieve is to make participation in elective politics the exclusive preserve of the strong and mighty. But democracy is a game of equals. Where there’s no level playing field, there can be no democracy. And in the absence of democracy you can only have chaos.
Many are of the view that what is being practised in Nigeria today is a mockery of democracy. That may be true but it is still better than military dictatorship or what experts call “democratic closure“; that is a situation where democracy is fore-closed because an authoritarian or totalitarian system of government is in place. The closest we ever came to this fearful leadership was the cruel Abacha military dictatorship.
That happened because the democratic forces in existence then were pen-wielding human rights activists like Chief Fawehinmi, Shehu Sanni, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Femi Falana, Sylvester Odion Akhaine, Col. Abubakar Umar and the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO being the arrow-head.
George Bernard Shaw said: “Every despot needs a disloyal subject to keep him sane”. These men kept the military dictators sane. This FRESH verdict, we hope, will keep the polity sane under a PDP government that is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissenting views. Rather than physically descend on opponents, it is applying legal gymnastics and legislative abracadabra to deal with its opponents.
But thank God, with our new-found hope in the FRESH effort, we have a choice to fight back, knowing full well that justice could be done.
Mr. SUNKANMI OGUNS, a political analyst, wrote from Lagos.