By Lateef Ibrahim, Abuja
Last week Thursday’s deregistration of seventy-four political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, did not come as a surprise to many political observers, analysts and pundits.
To many, the action of the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led Commission was long overdue.
Many of the deregistered political parties, without any fear of contradiction, were merely existing on paper as they never made any known impact since the time they were registered up till the period they were shown the exit door.
Prior to the 2019 general election, Nigeria had 91 political parties. One more party was registered by court order after the election, making a total of 92 political parties.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) vests in INEC the power to register and regulate the activities of political parties.
It will be recalled that in 2018, the Constitution was amended. In addition to the extant provision for the registration of political parties, the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution (Section 225A) empowers the Commission to deregister political parties.
Prior to the Fourth Alteration, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) had provided for the deregistration of political parties.
Based on this provision, the Commission, between 2011 and 2013, deregistered 39 political parties. However, several of the parties challenged the power of INEC to deregister them, particularly on the ground that the Electoral Act is inferior to the Constitution and that deregistration infringed their fundamental rights under the same Constitution.
Subsequently, the courts ordered the Commission to reinstate the parties.
According to Prof Yakubu, it was for this reason that the National Assembly amended the Constitution to empower the Commission to deregister political parties on the following grounds:
*Breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party.
*Failure to win at least 25% of the votes cast in one State of the Federation in a Presidential election or 25% of the votes cast in one Local Government Area of a State in a Governorship election.
*Failure to win at least one ward in a Chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State Assembly election or one seat in a Councillorship election.
The INEC National Chairman explained, at the press conference where he announced the deregistration of the 72 political parties that in order to implement the provision of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution, the Commission carried out an assessment of political parties to determine compliance with the requirements for their registration.
Yakubu stressed that following the conclusion of the 2019 general election, including court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigations, the Commission was able to determine the performance of political parties in the elections.
The INEC Chairman explained further that the parties were, in addition, also assessed on the basis of their performance in the Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which coincided with the 2019 general election.
In his words, “Consequently, the Commission has determined that sixteen (16) political parties have fulfilled the requirements for existence based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as follows:
Accord Party (A), Action Alliance (AA),
African Action Congress (AAC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), African Democratic Party (ADP), All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA), and Allied Peoples Movement (APM).
Others are; Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), National Rescue Movement (NRM), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
“Seventy-five (75) political parties did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution. However, one of the political parties, the Action Peoples Party (APP), filed a suit in court and obtained an order restraining the Commission from deregistering it. Consequently, the party remains registered pending the determination of the case by the court.
“The new political party, Boot Party (BP), registered by court order after the 2019 general election will also continue to exist.
“Accordingly, seventy-four (74) political parties are hereby deregistered. With this development, Nigeria now has eighteen (18) registered political parties”, he said.
Prior to the deregistration of the 74 parties, some of them had already approached the court to restrain INEC from deregistering them. But the electoral empire pulled the rug off their feet, by taking the action earlier than expected.
After the deregistration, many of the parties are also perfecting their acts to
return to the court with a view to challenging the action of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The leadership of the Nigeria Community Movement Party (NCMP), one of the affected parties has however condemned the action of the INEC, describing it as a “joke and ‘political fraud’ not acceptable to Nigerians..
The NCMP, in a statement by its National Chairman, Mr Babatunde Ademola, described action of INEC as illegal, saying the matter was already before a court of law.
He said that about 33 parties have approached the court to restrain INEC from going ahead with the action, adding that the court had fixed Feb. 17 for its final hearing on the case.
According to him, “INEC has acted without integrity and this is a political fraud. INEC cannot act without waiting for what the court has to say.
“The case is still in court and will have its final ruling on Monday, Feb. 17”, he said.
Continuing, Ademola said “INEC’s action was unlawful as some of the deregistered parties were newly registered and were preparing to participate in upcoming states and local government elections.
“Most political parties have candidates for local government elections that will be conducted in the different states of the federation, which the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) will oversee
“If INEC will authoritatively deprive 74 political parties from participating in the forthcoming elections in Edo, Ondo, Anambra and other local council elections coming up, this is to be noted as hostility towards a democratic state.
“We are in a democratic era and these political parties are by Nigerians and for Nigerians”, he said.
While expressing the optimism that the court will protect, the interest of all Nigerians and restore political parties, Ademola added, “The court will not allow INEC to take such powers that does not belong to it for posterity sake”.
Whichever way the argument goes, the question remains: What is the usefulness or relevance of political parties that are not adding value to the political space in which they are operating?
A party that cannot win a single councillorship seat in an election, without any doubt, does not fit to be called or addressed or be referred to as a political party.