The political party whose appeal led to Monday’s annulment of November 16, 2019, Bayelsa election, is enmeshed in an existential crisis as it was deregistered by the electoral commission, INEC, three months after the election.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Bayelsa election tribunal nullified the victory of Governor Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the basis that INEC illegally disenfranchised the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) from participating in the election.
The ANDP had argued that INEC monitored its primary and election of a candidate for the election and that the electoral commission was wrong to have disenfranchised it by not including its name and logo on the ballot paper for the election.
On Monday, the tribunal agreed with the party and ordered fresh elections within 90 days with the inclusion of the ANDP as a participating party. Mr Diri is, however, expected to remain in office while he and his party appeal the ruling of the tribunal.
However, six months ago – about three months after the Bayelsa election – the ANDP was deregistered by INEC and thus ceased to be a registered political party in Nigeria.
On February 6, INEC deregistered 74 of the 91 registered parties that participated in the 2019 general elections.
The commission said its decision followed a comparative review and court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigation on political parties in the last elections.
It said the political parties performed poorly and failed to win at least a seat in the last general elections. INEC also said the parties breached the requirement for registration of political parties under section 225 of the Nigerian constitution.
In defence, some of the affected parties kicked against INEC’s action, insisting that it acted illegally.
Separate suits were thus filed in court by the aggrieved parties.
One of such parties is the ANDP, which was registered as a political party on August 14, 2018, along with 23 other parties.
Following the suits, there have been contradictory court rulings on the propriety or otherwise of the deregistration.
When a federal high court in June ruled against the deregistered parties and affirmed INEC’s power to deregister them, the 32 affected parties including the ANDP appealed the judgement. Before the June 11 ruling, a separate judge, Taiwo Taiwo, of the same federal high court, had on June 6 given a similar ruling in a suit filed by the Hope Democratic Party (HDP). Justice Taiwo had also in May given a similar ruling in a suit filed by the National Unity Party (NUP).
The NUP appealed the high court ruling and on July 29, the Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court and affirmed INEC’s powers to deregister parties that fail to meet stipulated criteria.
However, a separate panel of the appeal court last Monday ruled in the appeal filed by 22 political parties that INEC failed to follow due process in deregistering the affected parties.
The appellate court, while dismissing the suit, held that INEC had failed to give reasons to the parties on why they could no longer exist.
That new ruling by the appellate court gave a glimmer of hope to the ANDP and the other parties, with some asking to be included in next month’s Edo governorship election.
INEC, has, however, said it would appeal the latest ruling and would defer acting on it because it contradicts the earlier appeal court ruling. The electoral commission said it would await the ruling of the Supreme Court on the matter.
“We recall that on July 29, 2020, the Court Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division in an appeal filed by the National Unity Party (NUP) affirmed the power of the Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties that fail to meet the constitutional threshold in section 225A. Dissatisfied with the judgment the National Unity Party lodged an appeal which is presently pending before the Supreme Court.
“Faced with two conflicting judgements from the same court, the commission is not in a position to pick and choose which one of them to obey.
“Consequently, the commission will approach the Supreme Court for a final resolution of the issues raised,” INEC spokesperson Festus Okoye said in the statement.
However, while waiting to know its status as a registered political party, the ANDP has scored a major victory with Monday’s Bayelsa tribunal ruling.
On Monday, the tribunal, based on the ANDP’s petition, nullified the election of Governor Diri.
ANDP through its governorship candidate, Lucky George, and National Chairman, Charles Ogboli, approached the tribunal seeking the nullification of the governorship election.
They argued that the party was unlawfully excluded from the election.
The party demanded an order for fresh election on the grounds that its name and logo were excluded from the ballot papers used for the election.
The tribunal agreed to its demands.
INEC has, however, expressed its dissatisfaction with the ruling, saying the candidate presented by the ANDP was not qualified, by age, to take part in the election. The commission said it gave the party the opportunity to replace the candidate, an opportunity the party failed to take.
Separate Tribunal Rulings
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the three-member tribunal on Saturday dismissed the three petitions filed by separate parties against Mr Diri and affirmed him the duly elected governor of the state.
Mr Diri did not, however, originally win the November 2019 Bayelsa election.
The election was originally won by David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
This newspaper reported how the Supreme Court, on February 13, sacked Mr Lyon as the governor-elect barely 24 hours to his inauguration.
The apex court based its ruling on the premise that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to INEC in aid of his qualification for the election.
The apex court then ordered INEC to declare the party with the highest number of lawful votes and geographical spread the winner of the election. That ruling allowed Mr Diri to become Bayelsa governor.
Now, Governor Dir may have to rely again on the Supreme Court to retain his seat without a fresh election.