Political Travails: Who Is Afraid of the Youth?

Political Travails: Who Is Afraid of the Youth?

Any unsuspecting member of the public would mistake the lowering of the age of eligibility to contest for public office through the passing of the “Not Too Young Bill” as an act or sign of encouragement or inclusion in political participation of the Youth by the Federal Government through its agency, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Nothing could be further from the truth. INEC is desperately, shamelessly and vehemently against the participation of the youth in politics. It is a fact: INEC’s continuous victimization of the Youth Party; the dodgy clause 78(7) in the Electoral Bill where it seeks to restrict the democratic space to two big parties; and its refusal to conduct a year round continuous voters registration since 2017 until 28th June, 2021, which would have made citizens who turned 18 years of age after the last registration process (April, 2017) eligible to vote and voted for, speaks volume to the same end. INEC is morphing into an enemy of democracy. Currently, all new registered voters who are largely youth (65% plus) have been banned from voting in the impending the Local Government Polls in Lagos and Ogun States by administrative fiat. And, they have already been disenfranchised from all the local government elections conducted since the last registration.

Youth Party

Youth Party commenced the process of registration in December 2016, and INEC was against us from the onset. We had to get a Court Judgment to be considered for registration at all. Essentially, we had to get a judgment to get an application form. A process that should not take 3 months according to the law took more than 2 years with dire consequences. Eventually, our Party was not registered until 14th August, 2018, just a few days before the commencement of primaries for the 2019 general elections. This was despite a judgement of the Federal High Court delivered on 20th October 2017 directing INEC to register the Party. This late registration of our Party affected our ability to perform at the 2019 general elections. Meanwhile, INEC was busy sponsoring the amendment of the Constitution in a manner that would empower it to deregister the Party immediately after the 2019 election. INEC sponsored the amendment of Section 225A of the Constitution, whilst delaying our registration. The said Section 225A was amended to require performance of parties at election, without giving any period to allow the parties to grow organically.  Nonetheless, we fielded 11 (Eleven) candidates for House of Representatives and States Houses of Assembly all over the country in those elections. 

Immediately after the 2019 election, INEC threatened to deregister our Party.

Consequently, we commenced a court action against INEC in January 2020, at the Federal High Court, Abuja. All other political parties that sued INEC were left off the deregistration list and the Commission cited pending litigation but not Youth Party.

INEC resorted to self-help unbecoming of an unbiased electoral umpire.

Subsequently, judgment was delivered in our favour on 12th October, 2020. 

The dictum of Honourable Justice I.E. Ekwo of the Federal High Court in his judgment, in Youth Party v. INEC, is profound, where he held 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 de-register 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 de-registration of the Plaintiff”.

Subsequently, INEC appealed against the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja and the Court of Appeal held, through a unanimous Judgment delivered by Hon. Justice T.Y. Hassan,J.C.A., that our purported deregistration was illegal, null and void, holding 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 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 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”

Despite the subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court that was upheld on appeal, which has neither been set aside nor stayed, INEC has refused to list our Party on its website as a registered Party or allowed us to participate in any election in the Country.  INEC is in continuous flagrant breach of the universally and constitutionally protected human rights of our members to freedom of association.

We have delivered several letters to INEC to allow our Party and its members participate in a number of bye-elections and local government elections, to no avail. Specifically, we were illegally and unfairly excluded from the bye elections in Lagos, Abia, Zamfara and Bayelsa; and the LG polls in Ondo, Sokoto, Bayelsa, Ekiti and Oyo States. INEC’s disgust for the Youth Party extends to rejecting any letter from them. 

Currently, the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) is about to conduct local government elections in Lagos States State and our Party wishes to field candidates and participate in the election. However, INEC has refused to confirm the status of our Party to LASIEC despite the judgments of Courts. Thus, Youth Party and its members are being denied the right to freely participate in the said upcoming local government elections in Lagos State. Most importantly, INEC’s actions are contemptuous and if allowed to continue, erodes public trust and belief in the Country’s electoral and judicial system as it now sits on appeal on Court’s judgements relating to Youth Party’s judgements. It chooses which judgement to obey like it just did with swiftness against Prof. Soludo in Anambra State. Fairness and justice are important for the progress of our Nation. 

Consequently, our Party, again, approached the Federal High Court in its bid to ensure participation in the forthcoming Lagos Council Election fixed for 24th July, 2021, and compel INEC and LASIEC’s to respect the rule of law, particularly obedience of judicial decisions. This Country belongs to all of us.

The Federal High Court, Lagos, in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/625, before His Lordship, Honourable Justice Akintayo Aluko, granted an order of injunction in a case filed by the Youth Party on Monday, 12th July, 2021. The Court ruled and granted our prayers after the application was argued eloquently by Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, S.A.N., wherein he narrated the “travails of the Youth”, that:

‘INEC and LASIEC are restrained whether by themselves, their agents, privies, employees, officers or anyone whosoever acting for them and on their behalf from conducting the forthcoming Lagos State Local Government elections scheduled for 24th July, 2021 or any other elections whatsoever to the exclusion of the Applicant.

In essence, any election conducted to the exclusion of Youth Party would be illegal, null and void: an exercise in futility. 

But the shamelessness and desperation of INEC is unabated. INEC filed a notice of appeal and application for stay of execution at the Supreme Court on Thursday, 15th July,2021, after it has refused to obey the judgment. Now, every lawyer knows that a notice of appeal is not an appeal. An appeal is only entered when the records of the lower court has been transmitted to the appellate Court. Also, an appeal does not amount to a stay of execution. Most importantly, there is nothing to execute in the judgment as it is declaratory in nature and an application for stay is manifestly inapplicable

It is noteworthy that until the judgment against INEC is set aside, the position of the law is that Youth Party remains a registered political party in Nigeria and it is entitled to all the rights and privileges of a registered political party in Nigeria. Most importantly, INEC’s position is in flagrant breach of our members’ fundamental right to freedom of association as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and as guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration. 

Disenfranchisement of the Youth through the Belated Continuous Voters Registration

Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) is an exercise meant for the registration of citizens who turned 18years of age after the last registration exercise; or those who for one reason or another could not register in the previous exercise. INEC released the modalities for running this exercise all year round through the local government offices in 2017 but none was done aside from the token exercise carried out in 2017 before the last election in 2019 (4 years ago).

Now, INEC opened up the registration process again on 28th June, 2021, where people can register but THEY CANNOT VOTE. They are to register online and come in for the capturing of their photographs on 25th July, 2021. Elections are happening in Lagos and Ogun States and it is only people registered before the 2019 elections that can vote. Lagos local government council elections are fixed for 24th July, 2021-a day before your photograph can be mischievously captured. 

These new registered voters are mostly youth. A glance at the statistics of registered and registering voters reveals that the youth consists  of more than 65% of the total voters. The newly registered voters have been precluded by devious administrative fiat. INEC ensured that no CVR took place before now and ensures that the voters’ register to be used is the pre-2019 registers. 

Section 78 (7) of the Electoral Bill is the Death of Any Youth Focused Party  

The proposed provision which INEC is desperate to push through to kill the organic growth of political parties in Nigeria and subject everyone to the whims and caprices of APC and PDP requires a new party to win the presidency, governorship, national or State House of Assembly seat to continue existing. A party would not need to crawl before it walks? How would any newly registered party fulfil this requirement? How? They should just state that they are banning registration of new parties and deleting the constitutional provision for freedom of association instead of registering parties with the sole aim of deregistering them afterwards in bad faith.

Also, the desperation extends to breaching the extant constitutional provision on de-registration of Parties.

It will suffice to state that Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Amendment), gives INEC the powers to deregister a political party for-

  • Breach of any of the requirement for registration;
  • Failure to win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in-
  • One state of the Federation in a presidential election;
  • One local government of the state in a governorship election.

(c) Failure to win at least-

  • One ward in the Chairmanship election;
  • One seat in the National or State House of Assembly election; or (iii) One seat in the Councillorship election.

The conflict between the constitutional provision above and the said Section 78 (7a) of the Bill is easily resolved in favour of the Constitution. But INEC based on its antecedents would deploy the illegal law and ask people to go to Court, which they have no respect for anyways.  Furthermore, limiting required winning to the Presidency, Governorship, National or State House of Assembly seat is bad policy as it will constitute a further restriction of the democratic space.

Also, deregistration of political parties which fail to meet constitutional requirements should be done through the Court. Not through an agency run by people appointed by their opponents. Deregistration is like taking life of a political association and it should not be done casually. Only a court can withdraw a banking license, not the Central Bank of Nigeria. We cannot complain that most political parties are an assembly of strange bed fellows, and at the same time discourage the organic growth and development of serious political parties that are committed to growing over a reasonable period of time. What is the issue with allowing political parties at least 5 years to win a seat?  Why is INEC reducing the functions and performance of Parties to ONLY winning elections? And we complain about desperate politicians when their regulator is creating the atmosphere. The functions of  political Parties include developing policies and ideas to move the country forward and acting as an effective opposition to the government of the day. Government is only as good as its opposition. 

Right to freedom of association is a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human right pursuant to Section 40 of the Constitution. It should not be taken away without fair hearing as required by Section 36 of the Constitution. Failure to adhere to the spirit and letters of the aforesaid constitutionally-guaranteed rights would not only continue to restrict the democratic space but lead to avoidable and needless litigations. People with different political ideologies are being systemically forced to merge or die as they are not allowed to grown on their own, if INEC is allowed to have its way. For  

Whilst the number of political parties in Nigeria, which stood at 91(Ninety-One) at the last election, generated a lot of concern,  it is noteworthy that more advanced electoral systems have similar  numbers, for instance South Africa has 93, Brazil 33, USA 32, Ghana 24 and even the UK has 18 political Parties. The number of Parties is not a problem but the lack of proper and unbiased oversight. For example, many of the parties registered by INEC did not have verifiable offices as required by law and their officers were place holders. Similarly, many of the parties don’t file their financial records as required by law. We would not have had many unworthy parties, if INEC was carrying out its oversight role diligently. Waging war against the Youth is a bad omen for the Country and INEC should be called to order. 

In summary, INEC should be advised to allow the youth to participate in the political space in the interest of the Country: obey court orders by allowing Youth Party to participate; allow the youth to vote after registration; and, withdraw Section 78(7) of the Electoral Bill. The resort to tokenism of lowering the age of eligibility or asking for quotas in the bigger parties can only help, if there is a level playing field. INEC should also be advised to play its statutory impartial role as electoral umpire instead descending into the arena of political contests. On our part, we are committed to democratic processes and the respect for the rule of law. Most importantly, we believe in the expansion of the democratic space, where plural voices are encouraged. Sadly, the converse is the case today in Nigeria.