Is INEC Empowered to Deregister a Political Party without Prior Notice or Hearing

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CASE TITLE:  PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT v. INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION & ANOR. (2022) LPELR-58524(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE:  17TH JUNE, 2022

JUSTICES:  PETER OLABISI IGE, JCA

BIOBELE ABRAHAM GEORGEWILL, JCA

DANLAMI ZAMA SENCHI, JCA

COURT DIVISION:  ABUJA

PRACTICE AREA:  ELECTORAL MATTER

FACTS:

Peoples Democratic Movement (Appellant), a registered political party, contended at the trial Court that the Independent National Electoral Commission (1st Respondent) deregistered the Appellant pursuant to the provisions of Section 225A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended) without prior notice or hearing.

The Appellant raised among others; whether the provisions of Section 225A(b)(i), (ii), (c)(i), (ii) and (c)(iii) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended) (4th Alteration Act, 2017), are to be construed disjunctively or conjunctively. The Appellant also prayed among others, for a declaration that provisions of Section 225A(b)(i), (ii), (c)(i), (ii) and (iii) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended) (4th Alteration Act, 2017), are to be construed disjunctively.

Delivering his judgment, the learned trial Judge resolved all issues for determination against the Appellant and held that the deregistration of the Appellant was validly done by INEC (Respondent).

Dissatisfied with the judgment of the lower Court the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES:

The appeal was determined upon consideration of the issues thus:

1. Whether the strict application of the literal rule of interpretation in the application of Section 225A(b)(i), (b)(ii), (c)(i), (c)(ii) and (c)(iii) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended) introduced by the 4th Alteration Act No. of 2017 which gives broad, discretionary and arbitrary power to the 1st Respondent does not operate to do mischief and occasion hardship and miscarriage of justice?

2. Whether by the facts and circumstances of this case and in the light of recent decisions of this Honourable Court, the learned trial judge was not right when he dismissed the suit when he held that due process and fair hearing is not necessary, particularly in the exercise of a statutory power to divest the right of a third party? 

COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS

Learned Counsel for the Appellant urged the Court to adopt the canon of interpretation that will lead to justice and submitted that, it could not have been the intention of the draftsmen to empower the 1st Respondent to deregister a political party for a minute reason. He submitted that the presumption of regularity, in this case, does not inure in favour of the 1st Respondent and the 1st Respondent cannot divest the right of the Appellant without giving the Appellant the opportunity to be heard on why its right should not be divested. Counsel also submitted that Section 225A (b)(i), (ii), (c)(i), (ii) and (iii) ought to be construed disjunctively so as to make way for the twin pillars of constitutional law; and further submitted that the Appellant was not afforded the opportunity to defend its non-participation at the 2019 general election.

In response, the Respondent’s Learned Counsel submitted to the effect that the wordings of the grounds for deregistration of a political party provided in Section 225A of the Constitution are clear and unambiguous and they are mutually exclusive, and it is clear that a political party that violates or breaches any of the grounds is liable to be deregistered and the 1st Respondent is not mandated to await violation of other grounds to be able to exercise its power to deregister the political party. He further argued that having regard to the provisions of Section 225A, (a), there is no requirement provided to hear a political party before the 1st Respondent can ascertain whether or not a political party is in default.

DECISION/HELD

In the final analysis, the appeal was dismissed.

RATIO

  1. ELECTORAL MATTERS – REGISTRATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES: Whether the Independent National Electoral Commission has the power to de-register a political party pursuant to Section 225(a) without prior notification/hearing

“… by paragraph 19 of the Appellant’s Affidavit supporting the Originating Summons and juxtaposing same with averments of the 1st Respondent in its counter-affidavit aforementioned, it is crystal clear that the Appellant was in breach of Section 225A (B) (i) (ii) and (c) (i), (ii) and (iii) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Further, I have closely perused the order of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Exhibit PDM2, the orders of the Court did not restrain the 1st Respondent from exercising its duties or functions pursuant to Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) Thus, the averment of the Appellant at paragraph 29 of the Affidavit supporting the originating summons that the 1st Respondent de-registered the Appellant on 6th February 2020 without prior notification, the Appellant has failed to satisfy the requirement as stipulated in S.225A of the Constitution 1999 (as amended), the 1st Respondent have the power to deregister the Appellant without prior notification. Thus, the lower Court was right when it held as follows: –

“The plaintiff at some points also mentioned the issue of being heard before its deregulation. Not only is it that there is no provision for such a hearing, but the hearing will also be of no effect as the facts of not obtaining the required votes in the elections could not be affected one way or the other by any hearing. (See page 199 of the Record of Appeal).

In any event, in the exercise of the powers of the 1st Respondent pursuant to Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the unreported case of INEC V ADVANCE CONGRESS OF DEMOCRATS (ACD) & 17 ORS, Appeal No. JC/CV/465/2020 delivered on Friday 25th March 2022 held that the Appellant (INEC) in that appeal has the power to deregister any political party that did not satisfy the requirements of S.225A of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (4th alteration).

Thus, the challenge by the Appellant against the 1st Respondent to deregister the Appellant has become academic and has no utilitarian credence or value. This is to say the issue raised by the Appellant has been determined by the Apex Court as regards the application of S.225A of the 1999 Constitution (as altered) raises the mere academic point as there is no live issue in it to be adjudicated upon or its determination holds no practical or tangible value for making a pronouncement upon it; it is otherwise an exercise in futility. See Amina Augie JSC in ARDO v INEC & ORS (2017) LPELR 41919 (SC) and DAHIRU & ANOR V APC & ORS (2016) LPELR 42089(SC) and AR SECURITY SOLUTION LTD V EFCC, (2018) LPELR 43828(SC).” – Per SENCHI, J.C.A.

  • ELECTORAL MATTERS – REGISTRATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES: Position of the law on power of the Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register a political party pursuant to Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)

“I agree with the submission of learned Counsel to the Appellant that the 1st Respondent by virtue of S. 153(1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), is vested with powers in carrying out its duties and functions that are not subject to any control from anybody or authority. In other words, the 1st Respondent (INEC) is among the statutory bodies established by virtue of S.153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that are vested with the power to exercise its statutory functions and or duties not subject to the control of a person(s) or authority. Thus, amongst the power, duties and or functions vested on the 1st Respondent (INEC) is as provided under S.225A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The provision provides as follows: –

“(225A) The Independent National Electoral Commission shall have the power to de-register a political party for:-

(a) Breach of any of the requirements for registration

(b) Failure to win at least twenty-five per cent of votes cast in –

(i) One State of the Federation in a presidential election; or

(ii) One Local Government of the state in a Governorship; or

(c) Failure to win at least-

(i) One ward in the chairmanship election

(ii) One seat in the National or State House of Assembly Election; or

(iii) One seat in the councillorship election.”

It is therefore clear that in the exercise of the part of the duties or functions of the 1st Respondent any of the events that occurred pursuant to Section 225A of the Constitution, the 1st Respondent has enormous powers to de-registered the political party concern and it must not be subject to any control or directive by a person or authority. In other words, where a political party is in breach of any of the requirements for registration of a political party as provided under Section 222 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), failure to secure a win at least twenty-five per cent of votes cast as stipulated at Section 225A (b)(i), (ii) or Section 225A(c)(i), (ii), (iii) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).” – Per SENCHI, J.C.A.

Electoral matters

lawpavilion • September 19, 2022


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