BY JOSEPH ERUNKE
IT was a huge surprise to many, especially some political actors, when on Thursday, August 16, 2012, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Atahiru Jega, at a press conference, in Abuja, announced the deregistration of seven political parties, cutting down the number of registered political parties in the country from 63 to 56.
The development was greeted with mixed reactions. While some hailed the decision, others especially those largely affected by Jega’s action kicked against it, describing it as unconstitutional.
Responding Jega said he acted pursuant to the provisions of Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which provides that political parties must fill candidates to participate in elections.
The seven affected political parties were listed as Democratic Alternative, DA; National Action Council, NAC; National Democratic Liberty Party, NDLP; Masses Movement of Nigeria, MMN; Nigeria Peoples Congress, NPC; Nigeria Elements Progressive Party, NEPP; and National Unity Party, NUP.
These parties, as explained by the INEC boss, did not fill any candidate anywhere across the country in the April general elections! This brings to question the essence of their founders in presenting them for registration in the first place, given that the major mandate of any political party is to present candidates for election.
In the beginning: At the inception of democratic election in 1998, only three political parties were registered. They were the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the All Peoples Party, APP, that later transformed to be All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and the Alliance for Democracy, AD. But a legal action instituted in 2002 by the late Nigerian foremost lawyer and human rights crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi at the Supreme Court over party registration, opened the gate for more political parties to be registered and the number rose to 63 before the 2011 general elections.
Only 8 parties won legislative seats : A cursory look at the 2011 general elections shows that only eight of the 63 parties won at least a seat in the elections. Only 18 political parties fielded presidential candidates just as 23 fielded governorship candidates across the federation.
Records obtained from INEC showed that parties that won at least one state House of Assembly seat are the PDP, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; ANPP; Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; Accord Party, AP; Democratic Peoples Party, DPP; Labour Party ,LP; All Progressives Grand Alliance ,APGA,; Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN; and Peoples Democratic Congress, PDC. The INEC records further revealed that only 30 political parties took part in the elections that ended with the governorship and state Assembly elections.
Strongholds of leading parties
In the record, the PDP, as the leading political party, spread in all the six geo-political zones at both the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly including the South-west, while the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, won mainly in the South-West and a few places outside the zone.The Labour Party, LP, has its representations both at the National and State Assembly in Ondo State, while ANPP won in Zamfara, Borno and Yobe states.
The Congress for Progressive Change won six senatorial seats in Katsina, Kano and in Nasarawa State where it also won the governorship. The APGA won a senatorial seat in Imo State and state House of Assembly seats in some states. Accord Party won a senatorial seat in Oyo State and also some House of Representatives seats in some states, including Delta State where it won the Ika North House of Representatives seat.
The Gbenga Daniel’s led PPN redeemed its name with some seats in the state House of Assembly election in Ogun State.
But the Chris Okotie’s led Fresh Democratic Party, FDP, Balarabe Musa’s led People’s Redemption Party,PRP, Orji Uzor Kalu’s Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, Habu Fari’s Nigerian Democratic Party, NDP, and Dr. Olusola Saraki’s Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, among others failed to clinch even a seat in the elections.
Constitutional backing for hammering parties
Failure to present candidates to contest elective positions is not the only sin for delisting a party. There are various sections in the Nigerian Constitution that empower INEC to deregister erring parties. For instance, Section 223(1) and (2) of the Constituency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) provides that a political party’s composition of National Executive Committee must be broad based, cutting across various geo-political divides. Section 222(f) and (2) of the Constitution holds that parties must provide functional and verifiable offices in 2/3 of all the geo-political zones of the federation and must win at least a seat in the National or State House of Assembly before being allowed to continue to exist.
Thus, untired with the onlaught, Jega on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 raised the sledge hammer against additional 28 political parties considered not to be working in tandem with the above sections of the constitution. This development jerked the number of de-registered political parties to 35 just as it again, trimmed the number of existing ones to 29,among which is the Chekwas Okories’s newly registered United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA.
Uproar greets action
But Jega’s action did not go unchallenged. The affected parties dragged him to a Federal High Court in Abuja over what they considered as his breach of the constitution.
The parties under the aegis of Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, a name in which all the plaintiffs were jointly registered, had asked the court to determine, among other things: “Whether INEC can de-register a party which has fulfilled and satisfied all requirements of registration simply because it fails to win a seat in the presidential, governorship, National or State House of Assembly elections without considering other elections like the local government chairmanship and councilors elections;whether it will not amount to abuse of fundamental human right of the citizenry as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution for INEC to proscribe a political party by way of deregistration on the ground that the party does not meet the requirements of Section 78(7) (ii) of Electoral Act 2011 as amended.”
In an originating summons filed through their counsel, Mr. Kan Osieke, the political parties sought “a declaration that Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2011, as amended, is unconstitutional and in effect null and void
In a 14-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed in support of the suit by the National Chairman of the African Liberation Party, ALP, Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke, he averred that the parties had, ab initio, satisfied all the requisite conditions stipulated in the constitution and was accordingly registered by INEC at various dates.
In response to the suit, the National Assembly filed a notice of preliminary objection stating that the plaintiffs lacked the locus standi to file the case. It stated that the court also lacked the jurisdiction to hear and determine the case. In addition, it noted that there was no existing law known as Electoral Act, 2011, upon which the suit was premised. In view of its position, it urged the court to strike out or dismiss the suit for lacking in merit. The matter is yet to be decided.
Another litigant, NCP was not included in last week’s deregistration, ostensibly because a Lagos High Court had on September 12, this year, restrained INEC from deregistering it, pending the hearing and final determination of a subsisting suit. But the court had refused the NCP’s request to allow other parties to benefit from the same order.
But just as it was yet to get judgment in the suit challenging the deregistration of the parties, INEC, through its chairman, Attahiru Jega, went a step further, by killing the dreams of three additional parties considered not to have fallen outside the category of the already deregistered ones.
The parties affected in this third phase of INEC deregistration which was on Friday, 21st December,2012,included African Renaissance Party, ARP, National Transformation Party, NTP, and National Democratic Party, NDP. This latest move has brought the number of deregistered political parties at 34, leaving those in the political arena at 29.
While some people see the action of INEC in deregistering the parties as a good omen in Nigeria’s quest for democratic advancement, some have continued to see the action as a breach of the constitutional provision which promotes freedom of association.
Those who fall on the first school of thought insist that the inability of the political parties to meet certain criteria expected of them is a clear indication that they were not capable to remain in Nigeria’s political space, while those that hold the second view, argue that political parties can continue to exist even without necessarily having representatives in elective positions.
Chief among proponents of party deregistration is the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC’s candidate in the 1993 annulled presidential election, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, who, in throwing his weight behind the INEC’s action, described some of the affected parties as briefcase political parties which he noted, were just out to collect money every year.
National Vice Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the North Central Zone,Alhaji Yusuf Ayitogo agrees with Tofa. He says it was right for INEC to rid the political space of political parties that were not serious in the business of democratic elections. “Experience in recent time has shown that most of the registered political parties are not serious. So I believe strongly that INEC decision is a welcome development”, he had said.
But a leading voice in opposition to INEC’s action and Chairman of Conference of Political Parties, CNPP, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, kicked against the registration just as he said INEC’s action was a contempt of court, considering that the matter was before the law court.
“There are cases before the courts restraining the electoral body from de-registering the parties, yet they went ahead to do that. That alone is contempt of court and total disregard for the principle of law”, he had said.
National Chairman of Progressive Action Congress, PAC, Mr Charles Nwodo, agrees with Balarabe Musa. He said the exercise was not done in line with the provisions of the country’s constitution.
“We were quite aware that in the 60s, political parties were neither de-registered nor regimented for whatever reasons. It is the fundamental right of Nigerians to form associations and that aspect is still in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, he said.
In their comments on the deregistration, the coordinator of Patriotic Alliance ,PA, Maxi Okwu, and immediate past Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Emmanuel Osita Okereke, all said the INEC’s action was undemocratic.
Okwu, a lawyer and one-time Secretary General of the Conference of Political Parties (CNPP) and current National Chairman of the Citizens Popular Party (CPP), said the action was a clear violation of the country’s constitution.
At a recent interview in Abuja, INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, hinted that it was no longer uhuru for the those still in operation, warning that the sledge hammer could get to them any time they were found to be lacking basic things expected of registered political parties just as he did not foreclose the possibility of registering new political parties that qualify for such recognition.
“The commission acted in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by deregistering those 28 political parties, the same constitution gives the commission the power to register political parties and if there is a breach, such political parties will have to be deregistered. “