26 May 2014

Nigeria: Fresh VS INEC - Threat to Elections


SECURITY challenges in the North-East are seen as threats to the 2015 elections. Another threat to elections, beginning with the June 21 governorship election in Ekiti State, is the legal squabble between the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the Fresh Democratic Party, FDP.

The elections could be cancelled to the detriment of taxpayers if the INEC refused to include candidates of FDP on the ballot, and the party successfully challenges its exclusion in court.

INEC on December 5, 2012, de-registered FDP and 27 other parties, drawing its powers from the law. INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, cited Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010 which states, "The Commission shall have power to deregister political parties on the following grounds: (i) "breach of any of the requirements for registration; and (ii) for failure to win a seat in the National or State Assembly election."

FDP on July 29, challenged the action. Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, annulled INEC's decision. "The statutory powers conferred on the first defendant (INEC) can be described as ministerial but when such power concerns deregistration of political parties, it becomes a quasi-judicial power because after registration, a political party becomes a legal entity and acquires a legal right and a decision to take away such legal right without a hearing, according to Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, is hereby declared null and void. Insofar as the first defendant (FDP) was not heard before the decision was taken, the said decision is null and void," Justice Kolawole ruled.

He also said that the amendment was inconsistent with the general provisions of the Constitution in relation to formation and continued operation of political parties. The court ordered INEC to restore and recognise FDP as a political party in Nigeria.

INEC ignored the court order. FDP was excluded from the Anambra State governorship election, it is not part of the governorship election in Ekiti State.

Five months after the judgment, INEC filed notice of appeal, which it abandoned. In the absence of an appeal the judgment stands. INEC as a democratic institution should recognise FDP and the 27 others. The test of its fairness lies on how it treats all parties, the small ones included.

As a product of law, INEC should embrace the law in its operations. Its refusal to re-register FDP as ordered by the court is lawlessness taken to ridiculous heights. The 2015 polls should be conducted with an impartial INEC as umpire. To sustain a big democratic space, INEC would have issues with regulating parties, but they should be resolved within the law.


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