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Fresh Party, lawmakers and citizens’ rights

After 14 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – led democracy, the rule of law seems to be taking a beating with every passing…

After 14 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – led democracy, the rule of law seems to be taking a beating with every passing day. For evidence, you do not need to look too far: the impeachment of the Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako and the looming threat on his Nassarawa State counterpart, Tanko Al-Makura says it all.
The urgency with which the Senate re-amended the Electoral Act 2010, despite the fact that the Federal High Court judgement by Justice G. O. Kolawole voided the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) de-registration of the Fresh Democratic Party, makes such a question germane. This is because, if this action stands it will become a legal aberration which elements of subversion will resort to in frustrating the rule of law in the future.
INEC, seeing that the window for an appeal of the judgement had been closed due to the lapse of 90 days as provided by law, sought to subvert the course of justice by seeking refuge in the re-amendment of the Electoral Act. It is obvious that INEC is not a solitary party in the genesis of de-registration concept as the National Assembly took no time in passing the latest electoral law to cover a broad range of electoral issues.
In an article by President Goodluck Jonathan, titled, Nothing is more Important than Bringing Home Nigeria’s Missing Girls, which was published in The Washington Post on June 26, 2014, he was quoted as saying: “…We are also committed to ridding our country of corruption and safeguarding human and civil rights and the rule of law.” But his body language is saying something different. Let us leave this for the moment, and return to the issue of party de-registration.
In an interview published in the January 3, 2013 edition of the ThisDay newspaper, former national deputy chairman of PDP, South West, Chief Olabode George said: “… Some of these parties that cannot meet INEC conditions will die naturally. But when you say you want to deregister, it sends a very different signal to the outside world. Democracy is about people. Look at India, do you know how many political parties they have? People can say, in this village, this is the party we want. Then, they will win on that platform. By saying you want to deregister them is like sending a wrong signal to the world.”
In the case of India, in July 2012, the Times of India website wrote in an article titled, EC Cannot de-register Political Parties: “The Union government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that “there was no statutory provision or authority empowered to de-register a political party.” Solicitor-General R F Nariman told this to a bench of justices.
He said the apex court had in 2002 decided the question declining to empower Election Commission (EC) with the power to deregister a political party. The Supreme Court judgement had ruled, “De-registration of a political party is a serious matter as it involves divesting of the party of a statutory status of a registered political party. We are, therefore, of the view that unless there is express power of review conferred upon the Election Commission, the commission has no power to entertain or enquire into the complaint for de-registering a political party for having violated the constitutional provisions.”
There are examples from other lands. Between 1948 and 1991, South Africa’s apartheid government banned more than 1,600 men and women, who endured severe restrictions on movement. They were prohibited from participating in political parties or to publish in newspapers. This was intended to silence their opposition to the government’s apartheid policies and stop their political activities.
Banning political opponents – along with forms of repression such as indefinite detention, imprisonment, torture, and political assassination – were weapons the apartheid government used. Yet the system crumbled.
Leading up to the elections of 2007 in which I contested, I said there was something fundamentally wrong when we subject ourselves to the devious diabolisms perpetrated against our people daily. There is something despicably wrong with a heart that remains impervious to the cries of the people. There is something desperately wrong when we are content to fold our arms hoping for a change, which is the paradigm shift we need. I look forward to that day when election of leaders will be benchmarked by accountability.
The world waits with bated breath. If Nigeria falls, Africa falls, if Africa falls, then the world fails. The ruling government needs to allow a conducive environment and a level playing field for all parties. It is time the people had the assurance that they have handed their affairs to duly elected people who are not only aware of the problems, but will entrench foundations of faith, responsibility, equality, security, hope and the rule of law. They need to know, by their own experiences, that politicking is not a gang-up by a far removed clique working against the interest of the society, but a working together of the leaders and the people to forge a society where trust and equity are non-negotiable.
History does not support political exclusion anywhere in the world. Nigeria is tethering on the verge of putting itself in history’s bad books with this unholy act called de-registration. Senate President
David Mark must, at this auspicious time, draw the attention of the presidency and chairman of the Constitution Review Committee to Fresh Party’s demands for INEC to respect the rule of law. An extant court judgement exists, which INEC and even the Senate must obey. The rights of Nigerians to freedom of association, which is enshrined in Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, must be respected in due course, if our democracy is to succeed. Nigerians must be able to go to sleep every night and wake up the next morning, knowing that they have not been re-amended out of the Nigerian constitution.
Ochei Akhigbe, former gubernatorial aspirant in Edo State under Fresh Party, wrote from Benin.

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