By Pastor Peters Osawaru OMORAGBON
On August 10, 2020, the nation was relieved by the bold statement and ruling of the Appellate Court with competent jurisdiction and jurisprudence when it overruled INEC on its illegal deregistration of 74 duly registered political parties in Nigeria-including the National Conscience Party (NCP), the oldest political party today in Nigeria and the party that got the land-mark judgement of the Supreme Court of November 8 2002, making it possible for the registration by INEC of any political party in Nigeria in line with section 40 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution. That judgement Eighteen years ago made it possible for parties like the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the political party of the current President of Nigeria that later merged with Action Congress of Nigeria, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance to form the All Progressive Congress (APC) in February of 2013.
Arowolo and Aluko, (2012), in their paper ‘Democracy, Political Participation and Good Governance in Nigeria postulated that it is the responsibility of the elites to design policies of their own choice that hinged societal progress and stability as a function of the elites’ initiative. The paper went further to identify that the civil unrest being experienced in Africa and Europe’s advancement cannot be separated from the activities of these elites in these areas. According to Arowolo and Aluko, (2012), ‘the fact that Nigeria is oscillating between democratic stagnancy and governance backwardness is reflexive of the elites’ pursuit of personal aggrandisement and promotion of egocentricism rather than altruistic policies, that are nationalistic and ‘peoplecentric’ in nature. Peoplecentric policies are policies that are people-centred, whose objective primarily is designed to engage the citizenry and serve the interest of the people and the community’
For democracy to evolve good governance, it must be liberal and participatory. In this sense, Liberal democracy entails not only free and fair elections in terms of voting administration, it requires a more comprehensive fairness of political competition embodied in the concept of a just and open competition. In a liberal democracy, the electoral arena is open, and the playing field is reasonably level. Only in a free society with opportunity of free participation and respects for citizens’ rights can good governance be achieved. True democracy places emphasis on freedom, and open competition, popular and meaningful participation, responsiveness, transparency, and accountability. Freedom to organise, freedom to protest anti-people policies and freedom to demand and assert citizens’ rights and interests, freedom of the press to report, investigate and expose government policies and actions without fear or favour. According to Diamond (2005), “Only in a climate of true political and civil freedom can a country achieve the absolute fundamental condition for development: responsible government—that is government that is committed to the advancement of the public good, rather than the private interests of its own officials and their families and their cronies”.
Hear what INEC stated in its watery defence in paragraph 17 of its affidavit to our originating summons: That the proliferation of political parties poses a major challenge to electoral administration in Nigeria with most of them remaining comatose after registration, but their presence in the register of political parties in Nigeria only makes the jobs of INEC ALMOST impossible to perform seamlessly.
As at August 2, 2019 there were 408 registered political parties in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and out these about 6 are more popular-The Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Green, Scottish National Party, Northern Ireland, the remaining 402
political parties remain UNKNOWN till tomorrow in the register of political parties and are featured on the ballots ONLY when they field a candidate. None of them has been deregistered because they have no member in the House of Common, Lords or the county councils. Amongst the relatively unknown parties is the Workers Revolutionary Party headed by a Nigerian called Joshua Ogunleye. Would the Nigerian Police Force postulate that because the population of Nigerians are increasing daily and for it to be able to engage in crime control, it should begin the process of reducing the population by eliminating Nigerians it defines as ‘comatose’?
It is worrisome for a commission that is funded DIRECTLY by a federation account with unlimited powers and unfettered access to fund to employ as much staff as it desires to openly make such undermining confession about multi-party democracy and call it proliferation. It is worrisome to fathom the thinking of INEC when it was responsible in the first place for the registration of the parties. Secondly, where is the respect for section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution that empowers every Nigerian their fundamental right to form, belong to any political party of their choice to advance their political beliefs. The Constitution never sets a ceiling to the numbers of political parties to be formed by citizens! No political party is funded by the government, why would INEC see that as a problem to use as an excuse to deny Nigerians their right and freedom of Association?
Now, the argument is on to allow for Independent Candidacy in future elections, what would INEC do if this is allowed and you find thousands of Nigerians contesting as Independent Candidates?
THE NEED TO REVIEW AND AMEND THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 225A OF THE CONSTITUTION
Section 225A of the Constitution provides:
The Independent National Electoral Commission shall have 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 percent 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 election.
(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 imperative to note, that the Nigerian state is founded on the principles of Democracy and Social Justice, and the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
Sections 13, 14(1) and 17(1) & (2) of the Constitution provide, as follows:It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive, or judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
The State social order is founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
Every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.
Now, if the Nigerian State is founded on the principles of Democracy and Social Justice, and the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice, and it is the duty and responsibility of the National Assembly to conform to, observe and apply these principles, then the National Assembly MUST
be guided by these principles in the exercise of its legislative functions, including amending the Constitution.
The term, “democracy” is defined in the Black’s Law Dictionary (Eight Edition) at page 464, as:
Government by the people, either directly or through representatives.
The term, “social justice”, is defined in the same Dictionary at page 881, as: Justice that conforms to a moral principle, such as that all people are equal. The definition of Democracy, as stated above, has two elements, to wits:
(i) The right of direct participation in the government; and
(ii) the right to participate in the government through elected representatives.
Clearly, in enacting the provisions of section 225A of the Constitution, the National Assembly did not consider the fact that Nigeria is
a state founded on the principles of Democracy and Social Justice and the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
Again, the right to Freedom of Association, as enshrined in section 40 of the Constitution, is principally meant to protect ones’ INTERESTS. Interests are bound to vary with different people and groups. Further, the right to Freedom of Association is intertwined with the rights to Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Expression and Freedom from Discrimination for one’s political views or affiliation. The thoughts and views of a group of people of like minds on national issues, give rise to their opinion and ideologies, the basis upon which political parties are formed. These rights are intrinsic and inalienable. It has been universally accepted that human rights stem from the attributes of man and are essential to the realization of human aspirations; without human rights, life is meaningless and may be regarded as solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.
The above point is amplified in the preamble of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as follows:
… a recognition of the INHERRENT DIGNITY and of the EQUAL and INALIENABLE rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.
Thus, the provisions of section 225A which empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register political parties for failure to win election, are antithetical to the Constitution and international best practices, and must be expunged from the Constitution. By virtue of the foregoing provisions of the Constitution, all Political parties are entitled
to equal protection under the law and are entitled to continue to exist without undue interference from the government and its agencies.
PROPOSED REMEDIES FOR BREACH OF REQUIREMENTS FOR REGISTRATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN PLACE OF SECTION 225A OF THE CONSTITUTION
Political parties, like other corporate entities, need to be regulated. But the regulation must be kept within a clearly defined limit, to protect political parties against arbitrary powers of the ruling party and to ensure their continued existence. Hence, the Supreme Court, in the celebrated case of INEC V. MUSA (2003) N. W, L. R. PART 806, PAGE 72 AT PAGE 160 PARAGRAPH C – E, held, that while the National Assembly may make laws to provide for the registration, monitoring and regulations of political parties, it cannot, in the guise of the exercise of that power, decree conditions of eligibility of an association to function as a political party. And, this was the whole essence of the provisions of section 228 of the Constitution, which the National Assembly, in its First Alteration Act of 2010, deleted from the Constitution. The section provides, as follows:
The National Assembly may by law, provide –
(a) for the punishment of any person involved in the management or control of a any political party found after due enquiry to have
(b) contravened any of the provisions of section 221, 225(3) and 227 of this Constitution;
(b) for the disqualification of any person from holding public office on the ground that he knowingly aids or abets a political party in contravening section 225(3) of this Constitution.
These provisions were enacted to protect and enhance the principles of Democracy and Social Justice and the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice, and ultimately the right to Freedom of Association. Under the
provisions, the punishment for breach of any of the requirements for registration of political parties was targeted at the officers of the party found to have aided and abetted the breach, and not the political party itself.
Therefore, in line with the principles of Democracy and Social Justice, the ideals of Freedom, Equality, and Justice and ultimately the need for the continued recognition of the right to Freedom of Association, the
provisions of section 225A Constitution MUST be expunged, and the provisions of section 228 restored in the Constitution.
. Pastor Peters Osawaru OMORAGBON is the Edo State Governorship Candidate 2016, 2020, House of Representative Candidate, Kosofe Federal Constituency, Lagos (2003) and Oredo Federal Constituency, (2015), National Deputy Chairman, South-South, NCP, Permanent United Nations Representative and Director for International Liaison for Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association-UK and President, Diaspora Nigerian Nurses Association).