The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday has annulled the de-registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission,INEC, of Fresh Democratic Party and other political parties in December, 2012.
The court declared that Section 78(7) (ii) of the Electoral Act on which the INEC action was premised as unconstitutional, invalid, null and void, saying it is offensive to the provisions of Section 40 and sections 221-229 of the Constitution.
The court ruling was outcome a suit filed by Fresh Democratic Party and its presidential candidate in the 2011 general elections, ChrisOkotie, protesting the de-registration of political parties.
Okotie and his party approached the court through their counsel, Fred Agbaje seeking for a declaration that section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act, 2010 is unconstitutional, invalid, null and void to the extent that if offends the provisions of Section 40 and sections 221-229 of the 1999 Constitution.
They asked the court to hold that INEC cannot deregister the party except in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and faulted the alleged reliance by INEC on section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, in deregistering Fresh Democratic Party without first hearing from the political party and insisted that the action violated the provisions of sections 36, 38 and 40, as well as sections 221-222 of the 1999 Constitution, and paragraph 15 of the 3rd schedule (part 10 of the Constitution) among others.
The plaintiffs also asked the court to make a declaration that INECcannot deregister the party except in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
The presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in his judgment held that the concept of deregistration of political parties is strange to the 1999 Constitution.
“I am worried that Section 78(7) (ii) of the Electoral Act, 2011, does not appear from my understanding to have any constitutional precedence. It was a product of legislative despotism which will only encourage political parties to become desperate to win election at all cost.
“The section is from all intent and purposes inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution. To that extent of inconsistency and in line with Section 1(3) of the constitution, it is hereby declared unconstitutional and shall cease forthwith to be part of the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2011, as amended,” the judge ruled.
He noted that the criteria by which the National Assembly delimitedderegistration to failure to win seats in state and National Assembly elections appears like nothing but legislative arbitrariness, sinceINEC has powers to conduct other elections.
According to him, “INEC would not have lost anything by issuing the1st plaintiff, FDP, with a query to enhance the integrity of its decision.
“The statutory powers conferred on the 1st defendant, INEC can be described as ministerial but when such power concernsderegistration of a political party it becomes a quasi judicial power because after registration a political party becomes a legal entity and acquires a legal right and a decision to take away such legal rights cannot be taken without according the political party a hearing,” Justice Kolawole said.
He declared invalid and set aside INEC’s decision dated December 6, 2012 purportedly de-registering the 1st plaintiff, Fresh Democratic Party, FDP.
However, the court denied the party one of its prayers that the court should order the defendants to pay them the sum of N10m as compensatory damages.