Last Thursday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) took the nation by surprise as it deregistered 28 political parties it considered moribund. The latest delisting is coming a year and four months after the electoral umpire axed seven parties for not meeting up to the expectations of the law.
While the development has attracted a series of reactions for and against, anxiety has heightened in the political circles following indications that out of the total of 63 parties that contested the 2011 general election, only eleven may make it to the 2015 polls.
We are convinced that INEC had relied on section 78 (7) of the Electoral Act which provides that INEC "shall have power to de-register political parties on the following grounds: (i) breach of any of the requirements for registration" and "for failure to win presidential or governorship election or a seat in the National Assembly or the state House of Assembly."
The deregistration exercise is becoming interesting as INEC has commenced a systematic pruning of the parties based mainly on their performance in the elections. While the dust of the elections was still in the air, INEC deregistered seven parties following their failure to field any candidate in all the elections in 2011.
A case challenging INEC's decision is scheduled for adjudication on March 2013, but INEC has bared it fangs once again and insisted that the commission is in order. The chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, foreclosed another chance for the deregistered 28 political parties, insisting that the commission did not act in subjudice of a pending case before a Lagos High Court, but in compliance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
We think that in order to strengthen our democracy, INEC has to be firm about party registration and deregistration, and the issue of integrity of the political process, including the composition and tenure of the parties' National Executive Council (NEC) as required by Section 223 (1) and (2), and verifiable headquarters and spread as enshrined in Section 222 of the 1999 constitution.
Also, the Third Schedule, Part 1, Section 15(b) of the constitution clearly specifies the power of INEC to register political parties: "the commission shall have power to register political parties in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution and an Act of the National Assembly"; (and, in Section 15 (i)), "carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly".
In other words, INEC has the constitutional power to register political parties that meet the requirements provided for by both the constitution and the Act of the National Assembly. There is no doubt that the constitution does not specifically provide for deregistration of political parties which no longer meet the requirements for registration after being registered.
However, the Electoral Act filled this gap by conferring upon the commission the function to deregister any political party that no longer meets the requirements for registration. The Act provides in Section 78 (7i and 7ii) that "the Commission shall have power to deregister political parties which breach any of the requirements for registration" or failed "to win presidential or governorship election, or a seat in the National Assembly or State Assembly."
Much as we believe in a liberal political space, we are compelled to believe that parties crying against INEC's move have not shown sufficient cause to remain in the scheme of things.