The Supreme Court has affirmed the decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to de-register 22 political parties.
In a judgment on Friday, the apex court upturned an earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which voided the de-registration on the grounds that INEC failed to accord the parties fair hearing and that the electoral body acted during the pendency of a suit by the parties.
The 22 parties are among the 74 de-registered in 2020 by INEC following their dismal performances in previous elections.
Justice Ejembi Eko, in the lead judgment of the Supreme Court on Friday, held that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have, on its own, raised the issue of lack of fair hearing, without hearing from parties in the case, and reached a conclusion that the 22 were not accorded fair hearing.
Justice Eko noted that the Court of Appeal took out the issue of fair hearing out of the contemplation of the notice of appeal filed by the political parties, but refused to do the needful in order to be fair to others in the case.
He added that the Court of Appeal erred by, raising the issue of fair hearing in favour of the political parties on its own, but failed to give opportunity to other respondents in the case to address it on the matter in order to arrive at a just conclusion.
Justice Eko also added that proceeding to give judgment in such a situation, as done by the Court of Appeal, offended the principle of fair hearing, and as a result, its findings and conclusion were flawed.
He said: “It is not the basic functions of any court to raise a fundamental issue suo motu (without the prompting of parties) and come to a conclusion without being addressed by parties in the matter.
“Such action runs foul of the pillar of the fair hearing itself.
“This appeal by INEC is meritorious and it is hereby allowed. The decision of the court below is set aside,” Justice Eko said.
Other members of the panel that heard the appeal agreed with the lead judgment.
INEC had on February 6, 2020 de-registered 74 political parties for failing to win any political office in the last general election.”
The Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and 21 other parties sued at the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge their de-registration by INEC.
In a judgment on June 11, 2020, the Federal High Court dismissed the suit on the grounds that INEC was empowered to de-register parties that failed to win elections.
The court held that Section 225(a), (b) and (c) of the Constitution could be construed disjointively to imply that INEC possesses the power to de-register parties.
On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Abuja, the appellate court, in its judgment in August 2020 said although INEC possesses the powers to de-register parties, it was wrong in the case of the 22 including the ACD, that were already in court to challenged their planned de-registration before INEC announced the de-registration.
INEC then appealed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which judgment the the Supreme Court upturned on Friday in its judgment in the appeal marked: SC/485/2020 filed by INEC.