•Bell tolls for absentee Edo 14
Last Friday marked the end of the road for 74 so-called political parties. The Supreme Court, Nigeria’s court of last instance, drove the nail in the coffin for the struggling political groups, when it ruled on the appeal brought by Nigeria Unity Party (NUP).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had in February last year proscribed the political platforms from participating in elections in the country following their lack of acceptability by the electorate during the 2019 general elections. But, believing that the constitutional stipulation for freedom of association ousts INEC’s power to register and deregister, NUP hurried to court to upturn the ‘drastic decision’.
One of the assertive fringe political parties, the United Progressive Party (UPP), saw the attempt to challenge INEC as a wild goose chase. Leaders of the party met, quickly folded camp and fused into the governing All Progressives Congress (APC).
NUP overlooked UPP’s perceived timidity and continued the legal contestation. Not even the Court of Appeal judgement that upheld INEC’s action was enough to dissuade the appellants from continuing the litigation for reversal.
However, a curious twist in the matter emerged when some 22 out of the 74 rejected parties approached the court, pointing out that INEC did not follow the laid down procedures in deregistering them. Barely three months to the last Edo State governorship poll, precisely on August 10, 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld the argument of the 22, saying that INEC erred in law by proscribing the parties.
Efforts by the 22 embattled groups to take advantage of the Appeal Court ruling by participating in the Edo State gubernatorial election met a brick wall. INEC refused to revise the electoral process to accommodate them, contending that not only had the process gone beyond admitting new platforms but also that it intends to appeal against the judgment.
It would be recalled that while consenting that INEC, by virtue of Section 225(a) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, reserves the power to revoke the registration of any political party, the appellate court frowned that the deregistration of the 22 parties was executed with “utmost contempt and disregard for the due process of law and the court.”
Perhaps, on account of that seeming ambivalent ruling, INEC proceeded to the apex court to challenge the order of the court below urging it to relist the deregistered 22 political parties despite their evident poor electoral showing in the 2019 polls.
By the express provision of Section 225(a), a political party could be delisted from INEC’s register of parties “if it fails to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election, or one Local Government Area in a governorship election, or failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election or one seat in the councillorship election.”
INEC, in its appeal, insists that Section 225(a) thrashes whatever contempt and disregard for the due process of law and the court that the delisting of the 74 parties, the 22 inclusive, might have occasioned.
It is left to be seen whether the outcome of INEC’s pending appeal at the apex court against the August 10, 2020 ruling of Abuja Court of Appeal would produce a contrary verdict, to upturn last Friday’s judgment or whether it would amount to the Supreme Court reversing itself.
The Supreme Court, in the judgment delivered by Justice Adamu Jauro, upheld an earlier judgment by the Appeal Court, which approved INEC’s deregistration of NUP and 73 others, declaring that the procedure conformed with extant laws.
Speaking to journalists shortly after wielding the big axe on the 74 parties, INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmood, explained that the commission took the action as part of its preparations for the coming 2023 general election cycle.
The Supreme Court, while affirming the July 29, 2020 verdict of the Court of Appeal, noted in the lead judgment read by Justice Chima Nweze, that INEC rightly exercised powers conferred on it by the Nigerian constitution in deregistering the party.
THERE are many implications of shedding the excess weight of 74 mushroom political groups, both for INEC and the electorate. Ever since Gani Fawehinmi secured legal victory over INEC in 2002 on the issue of registration of parties, politicians flooded the electoral commission with many applications.
In the judgment delivered on July 26, 2002, the Court of Appeal Justices Dahiru Musdapher, M. S. Muntaka-Coomassie, held that the Constitution of an association seeking to be registered as a political party must take congnisance of the provisions of S. 223 of the Constitution.
“Any other condition stipulated by INEC would appear to be contrary or in addition to the constitutional requirement. In the alternative, it is submitted that in making these conditions, INEC has enlarged, curtailed or amended the constitutional provisions referred to above.
“Where a right has been conferred by the Constitution, it cannot be taken away by any other statutory provision except the Constitution itself and any law so made is void to the extent of its inconsistency,” the court maintained.
However, 16 years after the ruling, which opened the floodgate for mushrooming of political parties, the National Assembly reviewed the Constitution and included Section 225, which firmed up the legal framework for INEC to regulate political parties.
It was the full force of Section 225 that the Supreme Court unleashed against 74 political groups to free INEC from the encumbrances of bogus number of parties.
According to Section 225, “A political party could be delisted from INEC’s register of parties if it fails to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election, or one Local Government Area in a governorship election, or failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election or one seat in the councillorship election.”
With the manageable number of parties, INEC would no longer cite the number of parties to justify humongous amount in its budget for the provision of election logistics. Also, the ballot would be more compact and therefore easy for voters to select their party of preference.
Apart from saving balloting time, the thinner number of parties would help to reduce the number of invalid ballots caused by ink blotches during folding. Further, with just 18 parties out of which fewer few could field candidates, voters would be better placed to evaluate candidates and make informed choices.
The removal of 74 parties out of INEC’s register, therefore, constitutes a relief to the electoral umpire and a boon to voters.
Perhaps, elated by the new impetus, INEC recently announced its preparedness to conduct outstanding bye-elections in the country, beginning from the Sabon-Gari Constituency in the Kaduna State House of Assembly.
In a statement shortly after the apex court judgment, INEC announced June 19, 2021, for the Kaduna Constituency bye-election caused by the inability of the lawmaker representing the area to meet up the 187 days minimum attendance.
It would be recalled that after it declared Hon. Aminu Abdulahi Shagali’s Sabon Gari State Constituency seat vacant, the Kaduna State House of Assembly forwarded a communication to INEC, that Hon. Aminu Abdullahi Shagali’s seat was vacant.
In a statement by its spokesman, Festus Okoye, INEC explained: “The vacancy occurred as a result of the lawmaker’s absence without just cause from one-third of the meetings of the Assembly for one year in contravention of Section 109 (1)[f] and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”
Against the background of the planned bye-election for the Sabon Gari state constituency, sources within INEC disclosed that the Kaduna bye-election would clear “some legal cobwebs” for a similar exercise in Edo State, where the State House of Assembly also communicated the electoral umpire on the vacant seats of the 12 absentee lawmakers-elect.
Although 12 lawmakers-elect kept away from the inauguration for close to two years, two others joined them shortly before the November 19, 2020, gubernatorial poll in Edo State.
In December 2019, the seats of the recalcitrant members-elect were declared vacant by the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Frank Okiye after they failed to heed the legislature’s call on them to turn up to be inaugurated.
Taking sides in the political supremacy between Governor Godwin Obaseki and former national chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole the 12 lawmakers rebuffed overtures to them to submit to the Assembly leadership. They insisted that the governor must make a second proclamation for a fresh election of floor functionaries to take place.
Those who shunned the House of Assembly include, Vincent Uwadiae,(Ovia North-East 2); Ugiagbe Dumez,(Ovia North-East 1); Washington Osifo,(Uhunmwode); Victor Edoror,(Esan Central); Kingsley Ugabi, (Etsako East); Michael Ohio Ezomo, (Owan West) and Sunday Aghedo, (Ovia South-West).
Others are, Chris Okaeben, (Oredo West); Crosby Eribo, (Egor): Aliyu Oshiomhole, (Etsako West 2): Oshomah Ahmed, (Etsako Central) and Ganiyu Audu, (Etsako West 1).
The 12 absentee lawmakers-elect had gone to court seeking an order compelling Governor Obaseki to make a fresh proclamation, since according to them, the mode the Assembly was inaugurated at night, did not conform to parliamentary procedures.
However, citing a ruling of a Port Harcourt Federal High Court, Governor Obaseki maintained that there was no way a second proclamation should be issued at the lawmakers-elect’s instance.
After 18 months of their evasive manouvres, the Speaker, Okiye, declared the 12 seats vacant, including two others who strayed to the opposing camp in the buildup to the 2020 governorship election and failed to meet the mandatory sitting requirement.
In the letter to INEC, Okiye urged the electoral body to conduct bye-elections into the affected constituencies within 90 days. It would be seen whether INEC would await the final judgment on the cases instituted by the absentee lawmakers-elect or act on the letter by Edo State House of Assembly.