Deregistration: INEC asks court to dismiss 31 political parties’ application

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INEC

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Wednesday, prayed a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to strike out the prayers of deregistered 31 political parties, saying “their application is frivolous.”

Counsel to INEC, Alhassan Umar, SAN, told Justice Anwuli Chikere at the hearing of the substantive suit challenging the deregistration of political parties.

Our Correspondent reports that INEC had, on Feb. 6, deregistered 74 political parties, leaving 18 others.

However, in a motion on notice with suit number: FHC//ABJ/ CS/444/19 between Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and 32 others Vs. Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and INEC (1st and 2nd respondents respectively) the applicants approached the court for restraining order.

Although 33 political parties filed the matter in court, two of the parties; Labour Party (LP) and African Democratic Congress (ADC) were later dropped from the suit because the parties were not deregistered by INEC.

Justice Chikere had, on May 29, fixed June 3 to hear the substantive matter.

At the resumed hearing on Wednesday, Chinedu Obienu announced his appearance for the party seeking to be joined in the suit.

Obienu told the judge that his client, Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) was also affected by INEC’s action and that they sought to be joined in the suit in order to avoid case multiplicity.

“We have a motion on notice dated and filed on March 4, praying for the order of this honourable court joining the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as a plaintiff which was purportedly deregistered on the 6th day of February, 2020, by the 2nd defendant.

“The prayers of the plaintiffs are the same with the prayers of the applicant and we do this so that there will be no multiplicity of suit.

“We have a 34-paragraph affidavit and 10 exhibits. We have filed a written address for this motion and we urge this court to grant this application in the interest of justice to join others against the 2nd defendant,” he said.

The lawyer told the court that the plaintiffs and the defendant had been served with their motion.

Counsel to the 31 political parties, Kehinde Edun, and INEC’s Lawyer, Umar, did not oppose the application.

When Edun told the court of his intention to take his application on order of interim injunction granted by the court on Feb. 17, restraining INEC from deregistering the parties pending the determination of the matter, Justice Chikere turned down the request, saying: “We are going to substantive suit today.”

According to Edun, the order was to undo what the 2nd defendant has done.

The judge said though she understood the argument of the lawyer, “I cannot treat interlocutory injunction and substantive suit together. Let us go to the substantive suit and address the matter.”

Chikere stated further that part of her ruling on Feb. 17 was to take the substantive suit.

Edun, then, moved his motion on the amended originating summon dated Oct 29, 2019 and filed on Oct 30, 2019.

“My Lord, there are five issues for determination and we are asking for seven reliefs as it appears on the amended originating summon.

“My Lord, we also have a 45-paragraph affidavit in support and we adopt the written address attached,” he said.

Edun also informed the court that a further affidavit was filed on June 1 with 23 paragraphs and a written address to counter INEC’s response.

According to him, we are not saying that the 2nd defendant (INEC) has no power to deregister; our contention is that this power has not accrued.

Quoting the relevant section of the law, Edun said: “You don’t condemn a man unheard.”

He said the political parties had not breached the sections of the law that allowed for the deregistration of a party after all governorship, chairmanship and counsellorship elections must have been heard.

On his part, Umar said INEC filed a counter affidavit to the amended originating summons.

“We filed it on Feb 24 and we rely on all the positions therein. We also filed a written address on Feb. 24 and we rely on this as our argument in the case,” he said.

The lawyer, who described the further affidavit and written address of the plaintiffs as “incompetent,” told the court to discountenance the applications.

He argued that the plaintiffs were served on Feb. 24 but only replied to their counter affidavit on Tuesday.

He said by virtue of Order 13 Rule 50 of the court which gave them 14 days to respond to a counter affidavit, he urged the court to discountenance the application.

He argued that the plaintiffs neither asked for an extension of time to file their application nor proffered their facts in accordance with Section 115(2) of the Evidence Act.

Umar reminded the court that Justice Taiwo Taiwo, in a judgment delivered on May 18 in a suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/211/2020 between National Unity Party (NUP) and INEC, had settled the matter.

“Your learned brother, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, has settled this issues in a very recent decision,” he said.

He said that Justice Taiwo overruled the NUP in its argument that the power of the electoral umpire to deregister them was not exercisable.

He said that there was no provision in the constitution for INEC to communicate its intention to any political party that did not meet the requirements.

“My Lord, their applications are frivolous and lack merit. They have no material at all.

“We urge this honourable court to dismiss the application. It is a distraction to the electoral process,” Umar remarked.

Responding, Edun, though admitted that the further affidavit was filed behind scheduled time, argued that INEC also filed its counter affidavit behind scheduled time.

“Once your own is granted, ours too should be granted,” he stated.

Justice Chikere, after listening to the counsel, adjourned the matter until June 11 for judgment.

The affected parties are Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) All Blending Party (ABP) All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP) Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP) Democratic People’s Congress (DPC) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Green Party of Nigeria (GPN)  among others

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