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INEC's De-Registration Of Fresh Democratic Party Nullified

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SAN FRANCISCO, July 29, (THEWILL) – The de-registration of the Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been nullified.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole of a Federal High Court,sitting in Abuja, in a judgment on Monday, held that INEC acted unconstitutionally when it decided to de-register the party without giving it fair hearing as provided for in the constitution.

He also voided the provision of Section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Act 2011, which allows INEC to de-register any party that did not win either National Assembly or State Assembly seat, saying it was inconsistent with the provision of the constitution.

FDP had approached the court challenging its de-registration by INEC last year along with 28 other parties.

In his ruling, Justice Kolawole held that the powers to de-register parties, granted to INEC in Section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Act assumed a quasi-judicial nature when it involved de-registering parties.

He added that this "must not be exercised without giving the party to be de-registered a fair hearing."

The judge maintained that the first plaintiff (FDP) was entitled to be heard by the first defendant (INEC) before taking the decision to de register it. He faulted INEC's defence in the case, saying the electoral body failed to provide any shred of evidence to prove that it accorded the party fair hearing before proceeding to de-register it.

Though he upheld the National Assembly's power to make laws as it related to its enactment of the Electoral Act 2011, he maintained that paragraph 2 subsection 7 of section 78 of the Electoral Act was inconsistent with the constitution.

Describing the provision, as enacted by the National Assembly, as "a legislative mischief that must be addressed," Justice Kolawole held that the electoral process had not matured to the level where it could guarantee free and fair election.

The judge, who also noted that the concern of all should be how to create a credible electoral process, eventually granted nine of the plaintiffs' 10 prayers.

While insisting that INEC breached sections 14, 15(2) and (3) and 17 of the Constitution in exercising its powers to de-register parties, the judge also held that INEC, as established under section 153 of the constitution, could not de-register parties without recourse to sections 221-229 of the constitution.

He however refused to grant the plaintiffs' prayer for N10millon cost as he urged the party to see its effort as a contribution to the growth of the nation's democratic process.

INEC's counsel, Ibrahim Bawa, in his reaction to the ruling, said INEC would appeal the judgment in view of the existence of other contradictory judgments of the Federal High Court on the issue.

According to him, one of such judgements was that delivered by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Lagos on a similar suit by the National Conscience Party (NCP).

Justice Abang had in the judgment, upheld INEC's powers to de-register parties even as he did not see anything wrong in the provision of Section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Act