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 to Run 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 can be farther from the truth. INEC is desperately, shamelessly, and vehemently against the participation of the youth in politics. INEC’s continuous victimisation of the Youth Party; and its refusal to conduct a year-round continuous voter registration from 2017 until 28th June 2021 (which would have made citizens who turned 18 years of age after the last registration process eligible to vote and voted for) speaks volume to the same end. INEC, thus, is morphing into an enemy of democracy. All newly registered voters, predominantly youth (65percent plus), have been banned from voting in the upcoming Local Government poll in Lagos and Ogun States.
Youth Party commenced registration in December 2016, and INEC was against us from the onset. The party had to get a Court Judgment to be considered for registration. Essentially, we had to get a judgment to get an application form. According to the law, a process that should not take three months took more than two 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 election. This late registration of our party affected our ability to perform at the 2019 general election. Meanwhile, INEC was busy sponsoring the amendment of the constitution to empower it to deregister the arty immediately after the 2019 election. Section 225A of the constitution was amended to require parties’ performance at the election without giving any period to allow the parties to grow organically.
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 out of the deregistration list but not Youth Party. INEC, therefore, resorted to self-help, unbecoming of an unbiased electoral umpire. Fortunately, 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 deregister 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 deregistration of the Plaintiff”.
Expectedly, 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, INEC has refused to list our Party’s name on its website as a registered Party. Neither has it allowed us to participate in any election in the country despite all entreaties. INEC is in continuous flagrant breach of the universally and constitutionally protected human rights of our members to freedom of association.
We have since delivered several letters to INEC to allow our Party and its members to participate in several by-elections and local government elections, to no avail. Conversely, the Youth Party was 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 its correspondence.
The Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) is about to conduct local government elections, 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 the Courts. 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 judgments relating to Youth Party’s judgments. It chooses which judgment to obey like it just did with swiftness against Prof. Soludo in Anambra State.
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. 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 our 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 polls whatsoever to the exclusion of the Applicant.
In essence, any election conducted to exclude Youth Party would be illegal, null, and void: an exercise in futility.
But the shamelessness and desperation of INEC are 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. Every lawyer knows that a notice of appeal is not an appeal. An appeal is only entered when the lower court records have been transmitted to the appellate court. Also, an appeal does not amount to a stay of execution. There is nothing to execute in the declaratory judgment, 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. It is also 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 guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration.
Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) is an exercise meant for registering citizens who turned 18years of age after the last registration exercise; or those who could not register in the previous activity for one reason or another. INEC released the modalities for running this exercise all year round through the local government offices in 2017. Still, none was done aside from the token exercise carried out in 2017 before the last election in 2019 (4 years ago).
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 to capture their photographs on 25th July 2021. Lagos local government council elections are fixed for 24th July 2021, a day before your photograph can be captured. How mischievous.
These newly registered voters are mostly youths. A glance at the statistics of registered and registering voters reveals that the youth consists of more than 65percent of the total voters. INEC ensured that no CVR took place before now and ensures that the voters’ register to be used is the pre-2019 registers.
In summary, INEC should be advised to allow the youth to participate in the political space in the country’s interest. It must obey court orders and should start by allowing Youth Party to participate in the upcoming local government election as declared by the court.
INEC should also be advised to stick to its statutory impartial role as an electoral umpire instead of descending into the arena of political contests.
.Akinlotan is a member of Board of Trustees, Youth Party