The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the de-registration of 22 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The parties were among the 74 scrapped in 2020 by INEC following their dismal performances in previous elections.
Respondents in the appeal are the attorney-general of the federation (AGF) and INEC.
The parties are Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), All Blending Party (ABP), All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP), Alliance of Social Democrats (ASD), Change Advocacy Party (CAP), Democratic People’s Congress (DPC), Green Party of Nigeria (GPN), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN) and Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN).
Others are New Generation Party of Nigeria (NGPA), Nigeria For Democracy (NFD), Peoples Coalition Party (PCP), Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), People for Democratic Change (PDC), Young Democratic Party (YDP), Re-Build Nigeria Party (RBNP), Save Nigeria Congress (SNC), Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), United Democratic Party (UDP), United Patriots (UP) and We The People of Nigeria (WTPN).
Delivering Judgment, Justice Ejembi Eko, in an appeal instituted by INEC against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, voided and set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja division which had nullified the de-registration.
Eko held that the appeal court on its own raised the issue of lack of fair hearing in favour of the 22 scrapped parties and arrived at a conclusion without hearing from other parties in the matter.
“This appeal by INEC is meritorious and is hereby allowed. The decision of the court below is set aside”, Eko said.
The apex court held that the court of appeal took out the issue of fair hearing out of the contemplation of the notice of appeal filed by the political parties but refused to do the needful in order to be fair to others in the matter.
It said that the court of appeal erred in law by raising the issue of fair hearing in favour of the political parties suo motu and declined to give opportunity to other respondents to address it on the matter in order to arrive at a just conclusion.
Eko said that proceeding to give judgment in such a situation as done by the Court of Appeal ran foul of the pillar of the same fair hearing and as such, its findings and conclusion cannot stand.
INEC had on Feb. 6, 2020 de-registered 74 political parties for failing to win any political office in the last general election.
The Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and 21 other parties sued at the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge their de-registration by INEC.
In a judgment on June 11, 2020, the Federal High Court dismissed the suit on the grounds that INEC was empowered to de-register parties that failed to win elections.
The court held that Section 225(a), (b) and (c) of the Constitution could be construed disjointively to imply that INEC possesses the power to deregister parties.
On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Abuja, the appellate court, in its judgment in August 2020 said although INEC could de-register parties, it was wrong to have deregistered ACD and 21 other parties while their case was pending in court.
Delivering judgment on Aug. 10, 2020, a panel led by Monica Dongban-Mensem, appeal court president, unanimously overturned the judgment of the lower court.
The court held that INEC ignored due process in exercising its powers under section 225(a) of the constitution (as amended).
The panel noted that the parties already filed their suit at the lower court which was yet to be determined before the deregistration.
Also, the appellate court held that INEC had failed to give reasons to the parties on why they could no longer exist.
The court held that section 40 of the constitution gives citizens the right to the freedom of association, and as such, the right conferred on a political party cannot be taken away except in accordance with the provisions of the law and due process.
Dongban-Mensem said the appellants did not challenge INEC’s powers as enshrined on section 225(a) of the constitution but the process by which they were deregistered.
Consequently, the court ordered that the appellants should be listed as political parties in the country. NAN