Nigeria: Court Restrains INEC From Deregistering 31 Parties Already Deregistered

18 February 2020

Abuja — Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from carrying out its planned de-registration of 31 political parties, pending the hearing of a suit challenging the powers of INEC to delist them.

The restraining order came 11 days after the commission had deregistered 74 political parties with 31 of them seeking a judicial review of INEC's decision.

But in a swift reaction, the electoral body faulted the ruling, stating that a court cannot restrain it for an event that has already taken place.

Justice Chikere gave the order in a ruling on an interlocutory injunction brought against the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and INEC by the 31 political parties.

Justice Chikere adjourned till February 27 for hearing in the substantive suit.

The court had on January 23 fixed ruling for yesterday after counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Kehinde Edun, had moved and argued the interlocutory motion.

The plaintiffs, Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP), All Blending Party (ABP) and 28 others had in March last year sued the AGF and INEC at the Federal High Court over the planned de-registeration of political parties.

Justice Chikere in the ruling held that the plaintiffs have legal rights, which must be protected and consequently ordered the defendants to maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the main suit.

In the main suit with number: FHC/ABJ/CS/444/2019, the plaintiffs asked the court to determine whether the provisions of sections 225A b(I) , b(ii), c(I), c(ii) c(iii) of the 1999 Constitution, introduced by the 4th Alteration Act number 9 of 2017, are to be construed disjunctively/alternatively or whether they are to be construed conjunctively.

"Whether the 2nd defendant can exercise any power under section 225A (b) and (c) of the 1999 Constitution without conclusive and democratic elections be first heard and concluded into all electoral constituencies of the federation.

"Whether having regards to the lack of authority by the second defendant to conduct and determine the winners for chairmanship and councillorship elections into local government and wards in the federation the second defendant should be allowed to exercise power to de-register political parties for failure to win election into such seats" and others.

The plaintiffs said if the above questions are in the affirmative, the court should declare that the provisions of sections 225A b(I) , b(ii), c(I), c(ii) c(iii) of the 1999 Constitution, introduced by the 4th Alteration Act number 9 of 2017, are intended to be construed dis-junctively.

"A declaration that the power conferred on the second defendant by section 225A (b) and (c) of the 1999 Constitution to de-register political parties could not have been intended to have any retroactive effect and as such election into all electoral constituencies must first be held before the power of the second defendant under this can accrue," they averred.

They, therefore, prayed the court for an order of injunction restraining the second defendant from exercising the powers conferred on it by section 225A (1)) and (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 until conclusive and democratic elections are held into the presidency, all governorship, National Assembly, State Assembly, local government chairmanship and councillorship positions in the federation, which elections must have been held after this section was introduced.

"An order of injunction restraining the second defendant from exercising its powers to de-register the plaintiffs or any political party for that matter as the second defendant does not have the powers to conduct elections into all the positions listed in section 225 A(b) and (c) of the 1999 constitution.

"An order of injunction restraining the second defendant from deregistering the plaintiffs or any political party for that matter for failure to win seats or certain percentages of the vote cast at the 20I9 general election as these political parties could have won but for irregularities and cancellations perpetrated by persons who are not agents of the political parties."

The plaintiffs, however, on Friday brought an order of mandatory injunction for the court to compel INEC to restore the political parties to status quo, the motion was supported by an affidavit of urgency.

Reacting to the judgment, IPAC President, Chief Peter Ameh, said from the order of the court, INEC had been restrained from deregistering the political parties.

Ameh who addressed journalists shortly after the court pronouncement, also said that those who wanted to topple the leadership of IPAC on account of the INEC's party deregistration had failed.

He said: "We believe in the spirit and letters of the law and that was why we did not call our members out to protest. We went to court to defend our rights and to ensure that our children will not be afraid to join an association or political party because it will be deregistered the next day without recourse to provisions of the constitution of the land".

Court Can't Stop Event That Has Taken Place, Says INEC

However, INEC has faulted the ruling, saying that a court cannot restrain an event that has already taken place

The INEC's Director in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Oluwole Osaze Izzi, said a court could not stop an event that had taken place.

He added that no restraining order was granted, as only an accelerated hearing was granted .

"Ordinarily, courts don't grant injunctions to stop an act which has already been done. We haven't seen the order. So, it is difficult for us to comment on it. Perhaps, the fact of deregistration wasn't brought to the court's attention. I am aware that this was mentioned in court today by the plaintiffs' lawyer but their application to restore the plaintiffs as registered political parties wasn't taken today.

"This motion is still pending. The court has granted accelerated hearing of the case," Uzzi stated.

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