The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has annulled the recent deregistration of 22 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The intermediate appellate court held that INEC acted in contempt of the court in taking the decision and that it also failed to follow constitutional procedure in abridging their rights.
The 22 political parties were already before the court on the powers of INEC to deregister them while INEC itself was aware of the pendency of the suit but chose to deregister the parties without waiting to know the position of the court on the issue.
Besides, the court held that INEC also failed to tell the parties reasons for its action, saying the law that gives the INEC powers to deregister also entitles the party to know why their rights to continued existence must be abridged before such decision is taken.
The 22 judgment creditors, it would be recalled were among the 74 political parties de-registered in February 2020 by the electoral umpire, claiming they did not meet the necessary constitutional requirements.
In a judgment on Monday, a panel of the Court of Appeal, led by the court’s president, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, was unanimous in holding that INEC ignored due process in exercising its powers under Section 225(a) of the Constitution (as amended).
The judgment was on an appeal marked: CA/A/ABJ/CV/507/2020 filed by the 22 political parties.
They 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).
Respondents in the appeal were the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and INEC.
The parties had sued last year on warning of plan by INEC to exercise its power to de-register parties, as contained in the 4th Alteration Act, which President Muhammadu Buhari assented to in 2018.
They had sought the interpretation of the novel provision in Section 225(a) in the amended Constitution.
But, before the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/444/2019 could be decided, INEC announced its de-registration of parties in February.
In a judgment on the case on June 11, 2020, Justice Anwuli Chiekere of the Federal High Court, Abuja, rejected the plaintiffs’ contention, dismissed the suit and upheld INEC’s powers to de-register political parties, a decision the 22 parties appealed to the Court of Appeal.
In the lead judgment by Justice Dongban-Mensem, the Court of Appeal held that the de-registration of the appellants was illegal because INEC failed to comply with due process of law.
The appellate court equally held that INEC’s acton was not in compliance with the provisions of Section 225(a) of the Constitution because it (INEC) did not indicate reasons for its decision to de-register the appellants.
The court noted that Section 40 of the Constitution entitles citizens to 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.
It noted that the appellants were not challenging the legitimacy of the law/constitutional provision under which INEC claimed to have acted, by the process of their deregistration.
The Court of Appeal proceeded to set aside the June 11, 2020 judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja and ordered that the appellants should henceforth be listed as political parties in the country.