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    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Court Upholds INEC’s Deregistration of Political Parties

    Justice Okon Abang


    Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Lagos Wednesday upheld the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties.
    Abang, in a judgment on a suit filed by the National Conscience Party (NCP) challenging INEC’s deregistration of political parties last year, said the electoral umpire has the constitutional power to deregister any political party for failure to win elections into the office of either president, governor, state or National Assembly.      
    The judge stressed that political parties must do more than advocating their ideologies to selling their manifestos to the people with a view to winning elections.

    According to him, “It is only when a candidate of a party with ideology wins an election that such party is able to positively influence the decision making process.
    “I’m of the view that there is nothing wrong in the requirement that parties should win elections, otherwise many groups will be political parties and that will not advance the course of our young democracy.”
    The judge then dismissed the suit which sought to restrain INEC from deregistering the NCP or any other political party, describing it as lacking in merit.
    The judge, who awarded N15,000 damages against NCP, also discharged an interlocutory injunction which he made on September 13, 2012 restraining INEC from deregistering, pending the determination of the suit.
    NCP had filed the suit to challenge the provisions of the Electoral Act which empowers INEC to deregister political parties, stressing that it contravened the freedom of association guaranteed under Section 40 of the Constitution and Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Right.

    The party had contested the provisions of Section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Act, 2010, which empowers INEC “to deregister political parties, for failure to win presidential or governorship election or a seat in the National Assembly or State House of Assembly”.

    The party also challenged the powers of the National Assembly (the first defendant in the suit) to enact Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act.
    NCP’s lawyer, Marcus Eyarhono, in his address, urged the court to declare the said provision of the Electoral Act as “null and void and of no legal effect whatsoever” because it violated certain provisions of superior laws.

    In response, INEC’s lawyer, Adeniyi Lawal, described NCP's suit as incompetent and amounted to an abuse of court process.
    Lawal urged the court to dismiss the suit and to hold that INEC is statutorily empowered by the constitution to deregister parties, while the National Assembly is entitled to make, enact and amend the laws in the country.
    Also, National Assembly's counsel, Oluwatosin Apata, asked the court to disregard the plaintiff's claim.
    Apata argued that by virtue of Sections 4 and 228(d) of the same constitution, the National Assembly is vested with the legislative powers to enact laws that regulate the activities of INEC, including the power to register and deregister political parties.

    Considering the arguments, Justice Abang held that there was a proviso in Section 40 of the constitution that specifically empowers INEC to regulate political parties.
    He equally ruled that the National Assembly has powers to make laws, including the one given to INEC in the Electoral Act to deregister any political party that fails to win elections.

    Justice Abang added that though there are rights listed in the constitution, but there are certain obligations to be performed before the rights could be enjoyed, and that in the instant case, the requirement is that political parties must win elections into certain offices to remain as political parties.
    The judge ruled that Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and People's Right relied upon by NCP, also has a proviso that the necessary legal requirements must be met for the rights to be enjoyed.
    As soon as the judge rose, members of the NCP staged a peaceful protest at the court against the verdict.
    They sang solidarity songs and vowed not to relent in the bid to protect the party formed by the late human rights activist and legal luminary, Gani Fawehinmi.
    Addressing the press in court, NCP's National Chairman, Tanko Yusuf, said the party rejected the verdict in its entirety, and would contest it at the Appeal Court.
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