Supreme Court of Nigeria on Friday put a final lid on the prospect of reinstating the 74 political parties deregistered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for failure to win any elective position in the 2019 general election, when it ruled that the deregistration of one of the affected parties, National Unity Party (NUP), is constitutional.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgment delivered virtually by Justice Chima Nweze upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal which had earlier affirmed the deregistration of the NUP.
By this action, the apex court has sealed the fate of the remaining 73 deregistered parties, many of which have their appeals still pending in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
The NUP had challenged its deregistration by INEC in line with the laws and in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution and Electoral Act.
It noted that INEC “has the legal power” to deregister the affected political party.
The Supreme Court, by affirming the concurrent findings of the lower courts on the NUP case, has upheld not only the powers of INEC to deregister political parties, but also that the process and procedure adopted for the deregistration of the 74 political parties was in compliance with extant laws.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s judgement yesterday, INEC was faced with multiple cases by the deregistered political parties, with the courts giving conflicting judgements.
In one of such cases by some of the 74 deregistered parties, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, had in a judgment delivered on July 29, 2020, affirmed the powers of INEC to deregister political parties.
The appellate court in a unanimous decision presented by Justice Mohammed Idris, held that INEC acted within the constitutional provisions, as well as the Electoral Act in sacking the political parties, which failed to win a single office in the last general election.
Consequently, the Court of Appeal nullified and set aside the judgment of Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which had earlier nullified INEC’s deregistration of the political parties on the grounds that the deregistration breached Section 225(a) of the Constitution. The affected parties headed to the Supreme Court.
The said constitutional provision -Section 225(a) – spells out the minimum election victory a party must record or percentage of votes it must poll to sustain its status as a registered political party.
In another case by some other deregistered parties, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, ordered the commission to re-list 22 of the political parties deregistered for failing to win any elective office in the 2019 general election.
The court made the order shortly after setting aside a judgment of the Federal High Court, which upheld the power of INEC to deregister political parties.
Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, in a judgment delivered on June 11, 2020 had dismissed the suit of the 22 appellants challenging the power of INEC to deregister them.
Reacting to yesterday’s ruling, the President of the Inter Party Advisory Council, Dr. Leonard Nzenwa hailed the judgment, saying it had ended all speculations and that “this will aid INEC to now focus on critical issues in preparation for delivering credible, free and fair 2023 general election.”
Chuks Okocha and Alex Enumah in Abuja