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Supreme court affirms INEC’s deregistration of Hope Democratic Party

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The Supreme Court has affirmed the de-registration of Hope Democratic Party, HDP, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for failing to meet some provisions of the 1999 Constitution in the results of previous elections.

The apex court dismissed the suit brought before it by the party and its founder and presidential candidate, Ambrose Albert Owuru challenging the legality of INEC’s action.

In a unanimous judgment by a 5-member panel of Justices of the Court, delivered by Justice John Inyang Okoro, Owuru and his party were referred to previous judgments of the court to the effect that the electoral body has powers to de-register any party upon failure to meet up with the constitutional stipulated rules.

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At the proceedings, HDP and Owuru, who were represented by Bofede Oporu, had made spirited efforts to get the attention and sympathy of the court but the efforts were turned down.

Among others, Oporu had tried in vain to convince the Supreme Court that the de-registration was done by the INEC while a suit was pending against the electoral body.

He pleaded that the apex court should invoke the doctrine of Liz Pendes to save the HDP from INEC’S axe but the pleadings were not honoured.

Instead, Justice Okoro directed the counsel to go and avail himself with the previous decisions and orders of the Court on the power of INEC to axe any party that runs foul of the 1999 Constitution.

When it became obvious that he would not have his way, the Appellants’ lawyer announced withdrawal of the suit so as to avoid incurring the anger of the Court.

Justice Okoro while dismissing the appeal, warned lawyers against bringing frivolous and vexatious matters before the apex court.

He specifically counselled them to always advise their clients on when to face reality and stop disturbing courts with irritating cases.

INEC had in February 2019 de-registered 74 parties for “failing to meet the criteria provided for by section 225(a) of the 1999 constitution (as amended)”.

Some of the parties later jointly filed a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/444/2019 before a Federal High Court in Abuja asking the court to determine whether INEC has the constitutional power to deregister them.

However, on June 11, 2020, Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court in Abuja, agreed with INEC and dismissed the suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case.

But on August 10, 2020, the high court judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Abuja which held that INEC took the action while a case the political parties filed against it was still pending in court.

The Court of Appeal held that “INEC acted arbitrarily and thereby denied the parties fair hearing in utmost contempt and disregard for the due process of law and the court.”

The court had ordered that the parties should be listed as political parties in the country.

Dissatisfied with the decision, INEC appealed to the Supreme Court.

Delivering judgment in INEC’s appeal marked SC/485/2020, the apex court, in its lead judgment read by Justice Ejembi Eko, reinstated the judgment of the Federal High Court.

Justice Eko said it was the Court of Appeal that, on its own, raised the issue of fair hearing in favour of the proscribed political parties and arrived at a conclusion, without also hearing from other parties in the matter.

He said the Court of Appeal erred in law by raising the issue of fair hearing in favour of the political parties and declined to give opportunity to other respondents to address it on the matter in order to arrive at a just conclusion.

“It is not the basic function of any court to raise a fundamental issue suo motu and come to the conclusion without being addressed by parties in the matter. Such action runs foul of the pillar of the fair hearing itself,” Justice Eko said

He subsequently held that the appeal brought before the Supreme Court by INEC was meritorious and thereby set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and upheld that of the Federal High Court.

Section 225(a) of the Nigerian Constitution provides specifically that a party is liable for deregistration if it fails to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election, or one local government of the state in governorship election, or failure to win at least one ward in chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election or one seat in the councillorship election.

The affected 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), People’s 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).

Supreme court affirms INEC’s deregistration of Hope Democratic Party

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