– Helen Attah
Without the rule of law, we have no democracy. We have been on this journey for four years. Despite having the Constitution and several judgments from the court on our side, we have been victims of a commission that lacks respect for the rule of law and has chosen to play God. For what is a society where public institutions created by statutes have scant regard for the rule of law and the courts that uphold them? Little wonder RJ Intindola, the famous poet, philosopher, and writer, once claimed that, “If we do not have justice for the rule of law, then society shall be broken.”
The Youth Party commenced registration in December 2016 but was not registered until 14th August 2018, just days before the commencement of primaries for the 2019 general elections. This was despite a judgment of the Federal High Court delivered in October 2017. This undue sabotage from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) affected our ability to perform at the 2019 general elections. Nonetheless, we fielded 11 candidates for the House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly all over the country in those elections.
In late 2019, INEC threatened to deregister the Youth Party without due process or recourse to the Constitution’s provisions. To forestall the threatened deregistration, we commenced a court action against INEC in January 2020 at the Federal High Court, Abuja and judgment was delivered in our favour on 12th October 2020. Subsequently, INEC appealed against the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and the Court of Appeal ruled through a unanimous judgment delivered by Hon. Justice T.Y. Hassan, that our purported deregistration was illegal, null, and void.
It, therefore, defeats logic that despite the judgment from the Appeal Court, INEC initially refused to list our party’s name on its website as a registered party or allow us to participate in any election. INEC’s flagrant disregard of the court’s ruling is a breach of the universally and constitutionally protected human rights of our members to freedom of association. The assault on our judiciary by INEC cannot continue if we intend to preserve our democracy. Perhaps it was this dissent to the chaos that Justice I.E Ekwo decided to avert when he boldly declared in his ruling against INEC that:
“… the Defendant is not above the law. No person or parties to an action is allowed to resort to self-help when an action is pending in court. The claim that the Defendant has power pursuant to S,225A(b) & (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to deregister a political party does not justify the action of the Defendant while this action is pending. The Defendant must understand that the constitution is not an author of confusion. I condemn the action of the Defendant as a wrong exercise of might. Therefore, the deregistration of the Plaintiff during the pendency of this action by the Defendant is illegal, null and void, and liable to be set aside. Consequently, I hereby make an order setting aside the deregistration of the Plaintiff.”
Also, in a unanimous judgment by the Court of Appeal delivered by Honourable Justice T.Y. Hassan, J.C.A., the court frowned at INEC’s notoriety, declaring that:
“This court will not hesitate to sustain the decision of the lower court which pulled down and dismantled the edifice that the Appellant built on self-help when it deregistered the Respondent not only during the pendency of the Suit but when it had been served with and had reacted to the motion for an interlocutory injunction seeking to restrain the Appellant from the very act it helped itself to actualize extra judicially. To say the least, we find the Appellant’s action very reprehensible. The Lower Court, as any court of law would have done, acted correctly by setting aside the deregistration of the Respondent. We have no reason to interfere with the order made by the Lower Court and same be sustained.”
It is essential to point out that this party has never contested INEC’s powers to regulate the affairs of political parties. We have only argued that such powers must be exercised within the ambits of the law and that same be guided by the Constitution. We have further recommended to the National Assembly that the power to deregister a political party should only be exercised by INEC after obtaining a judgment from a competent court.
The Youth Party will continue to challenge the Commission’s role in inadvertently creating a two-party system where the choices for Nigerians are grossly limited. We, therefore, encourage INEC to revert to its statutorily imposed duty of neutrality as a regulator.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Lagos State Electoral Commission (LASIEC) threatened to take sides with INEC in clear breach of the Constitution and the Appellate Court’s rulings. Justice Ayotunde Phillips, the Chairperson of LASIEC, is a retired judge and should seek to protect the integrity of the men and women of the bench by ensuring that the Commission she now leads shows respect for the rule of law. The Youth Party contested in Saturday’s local government elections.
We will not be deterred or discouraged because we are fighting a good cause. We are fighting for a country that works for all Nigerians and not the one that works for a select few. We are fighting for a country where the rule of law is respected irrespective of social status or position. We are fighting for the soul of our nation, and God is on our side.
- Helen Attah is the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Youth Party.