PRIOR to 2002, Nigeria had only three officially recognised political parties- Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
However, due to the various contradictions inherent in the three existing parties, coupled with the desire of many Nigerians who donâ€™t believe in them and the necessity for fresh political alternatives, it became inevitable for the emergence of several political associations.
Buoyed by the liberal provisions in the 1999 constitution on the formation of political parties, these individuals formed about 33 political associations which applied to the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) for registration.
However, the INEC, on May 17, 2002, rolled out what it termed guidelines for registration of political parties, contrary to the provisions of the constitution particularly sections 222 to 224. The 33 political associations under the aegies of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, met to reject this extra-constitutional guidelines.
When it became obvious that the INEC was still intransigent to follow due process, Fawehinmi filed a case at the Federal High Court to challenge the INEC illegality. But for the doggedness and resilience of Fawehinmi, who was the chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP), by going to court on this issue, there would not have been Action Congress (AC), Labour Party, Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and the rest of the opposition parties we have today.
The case was fought up to the Supreme Court which gave judgment in favour of the political parties, thanks to the resilience of Gani who literarily worked day and night for three days along side one of his counsel, Adindu Ugwuzor, to make sure that the appeals at both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court were filed within time and the briefs of argument ready on time.
The case was lost at the Federal High Court. This led to an appeal at the Court of Appeal, which, in a landmark decision, upturned the Federal High Courtâ€™s decision and upheld the appeal, agreeing substantially with the submissions ofÂ Fawehinmi.
The INEC, in its attempt to buy time and stultify the implementation of the Court of Appeal epochal decision, decided to lodge an appeal atÂ the Supreme Court which, in a monumental and historic judgment on November 8, 2002, altered the political landscape of the country by allowing for more political parties in the country, hence the deluge of parties that we have today.
The unanimous Supreme Courtâ€™s decision was given by Justices Muhammadu Lawal Uwais (who presided), SalihuAlfa Belgore, Idris Legbo Kutigi, Anthony Iguh, Akintola Ejiwumi, Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola and Niki Tobi.
Excerpts of the lead judgment readÂ by Justice Ayoola: â€œThe plaintiffs were associations seeking registration as political parties. By virtue of section 221 of the Constitution, â€œNo association, other thanÂ a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any electionÂ or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the electionÂ expenses of any candidate at an election.
The plaintiffs each applied to the Independent National Electoral Commission (â€œINECâ€ or â€œthe Commission) for registration as a political party. On 17th day of May, 2002 INEC released guidelines for the registration of political parties.
Being of the view that guidelines 2(c) and (d), 3(a), (c), (d)(iv), (e), (f), (g), (h); and 5(b) (â€œthe impugned guidelinesâ€) were â€œinconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 relating to registration of political partiesâ€ and that they should not be made to comply with the guidelines, the plaintiffs commenced the proceedings from which this appeal arose by originating summons whereby they sought, among other things, declarations of invalidity of those impugned guidelines and also of sections 74(2)(g) and (h), 74((x), 77(b), 78(2)(b) and 79(2)(c) of the Electoral Act, 2001.
INEC is one of the Federal Executive Bodies established by section 153(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Its composition and powers are by virtue of section 153(2) contained in part 1 of the third schedule to the Constitution, paragraph 15(b) of which empowers it to: â€œregister political parties in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution end an Act of the National Assemblyâ€, while paragraph 15(c) and (d), respectively, provided that the Commission shall have power to â€œmonitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their financesâ€ and â€œcarry out such other function, as may conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly.â€
â€œTo put the issues in the appeal in proper perspective, it is expedient to pause to emphasise that by section 14(1) of the Constitution the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
Political parties are essential organs of the democratic system. They are organs of political discussion and of formulation of ideas, policies and programmes. Plurality of parties widens the channel of political discussion and discourse, engenders plurality of political issues, promotes the formulation of competing ideas, policies and programmes and generally provides the citizen with a choice of forum for participation in governance, whether as a member of the party in government or of a party in opposition, thereby ensuring the reality of government by discussion which democracy is all about in the final analysis.
â€œUnduly to restrict the formation of political partiesÂ weakens the democratic culture. However, to leave political parties completely unregulated and unmonitored may eventually make the democratic system so unmanageable as to become a hindrance to progress, national unity, good government and the growth of a healthy democratic culture.
Between the two apparent extremes over-regulation and complete absence of regulation is the need for balanced regulation. In interpreting the provisions of the Constitution and enactment relating to the formation, regulation and monitoring of political parties the recognition of the need for balanced regulation is essential.
â€œHowever, although section 40 of the Constitution entrenched the right of every person to form or belong to a political party, it is clear from the provision to that section and several other provisions of the Constitution that the makers of the Constitution did not opt to leave political parties unregulated by the State.
Regulation of political parties by the State manifests in the fact that the Constitution itself has set conditions for the existence and recognition of political parties – and empowered the National Assembly to legislate for the regulation of political parties that may have already fulfilled the conditions of eligibility to function as political parties as prescribed by section 222 of the Constitution.
Regulation of political parties by the State therefore comes in two forms, namely: regulation directly by the Constitution as in section 222 and regulation authorized by the legislature or other agency of the state as may be permitted by the constitution.
It follows that any attempt to regulate political parties not by the Constitution itself or by its authority is invalid.
In the final analysis, this case is about the supremacy of the Constitution. Section 1(3) of the Constitution provided that: â€œIf any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.
â€œThe National Assembly has powers,Â by virtue of section 228(d) of constitution, to confer by law powers on INEC as may appear to the necessary or desirable for the purpose of enabling the Commission more effectively to ensure that political parties observe provisions of sections”