The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the de-registration of 22 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The parties were among the 74 scrapped in 2020 by INEC following their dismal performances in previous elections.
In declaring INEC right for deregistering the political parties, the apex court, in a judgment, set aside the earlier judgment of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which nullified the parties’ de-registration.
INEC had approached the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment of the appellate court which held that it did not accord fair hearing to the respondents before deregistering them.
Delivering judgment in the appeal, the apex court held that the lower court on its own (suo motu) raised the issue of lack of fair hearing in favour of the 22 deregistered parties and arrived at a conclusion without hearing from other parties in the matter.
Justice Ejembi Eko, who delivered the lead judgment said, “This appeal by INEC is meritorious and is hereby allowed. The decision of the court below is set aside.”
Eko explained that the Court of Appeal took the issue of fair hearing out of the contemplations of the notice of appeal filed by the political parties but refused to do the needful in order to be fair to others in the matter.
Specifically, the Supreme Court said that the Court of Appeal erred in law by raising the issue of fair hearing in favour of the political parties suo motu and declined to give opportunity to other respondents to address it on the matter in order to arrive at a just conclusion.
He added that the appellate court by going ahead to deliver judgment in the matter ran foul of the pillar of the same fair hearing and as such, its findings and conclusion cannot stand.
“It is not the basic functions 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 held.
INEC had on February 6, 2020 de-registered 74 political parties for failing to win any political office in the last general election.
The Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and 21 other parties sued at the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge their deregistration by INEC.
In a judgment on June 11, 2020, the Federal High Court dismissed the suit on the grounds that INEC was empowered to de-register parties that failed to win elections.
The court held that Section 225(a), (b) and (c) of the Constitution could be construed disjointedly to imply that INEC possesses the power to deregister parties.
On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Abuja, the appellate court, in its judgment in August 2020 said although INEC could de-register parties, it was wrong to have deregistered ACD and 21 other parties while their case was pending in court.