‘You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul’
CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer and legal adviser to the Fresh Democratic Party, Chief Fred Agbaje has petitioned the Senate over its plot to give legal backing to deregistration of political parties that failed to win a seat in election.
In a strongly-worded petition dated June 20, 2014 and forwarded to the National Assembly’s move, arguing that is not in the overriding interest of the larger Nigerian community.
Entitled, “Re-proposed Amendment to the Already Amended 1999 Constitution to Wit: Deregistration of Political Parties that Failed To Win A Seat in Election,” the letter addressed to the Senate President, Senator David Mark read:
“We have carefully studied your above proposal and are highly worried as to the constitutional and moral philosophy behind our move. With due respect, we are not opposed to the move of the National Assembly in proposing to amend the constitution with respect to electoral powers, however, such amendment must be in the overriding interest of the larger Nigerian community.”
Agbaje further argued that, “The proposed amendment from all indications is intended to annihilate political, democratic and constitutional rights of Nigerians to freely associate and promote their interest. Hence, we see the proposed amendment as having great collateral damage to Nigerians. Moreso, where the proposed amendment is deliberately seeking to obliterate the hard won victory by our client in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/800/2012 Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) & 2 Ors. V. INEC & 3 Ors., delivered on Monday, 29th July, 2013, by Justice G. O. Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division.”
In essence, Agbaje added, “the ultimate beneficiary of your proposed amendment to deregister political parties that fail to win any seat in election not only flies in the face of the referred judgement (above) but clearly intended to deprive our client, Fresh, the fruits of their labour arising from the judgement. Hence, we dare say that the only ultimate beneficiary of your proposed amendment will not be the people of Nigeria, nor is it intended to promote or deepen democracy, the principles of constitutionalism but the losers in the Fresh Democratic Party’s case, i.e. the FG represented by AG’s office, the National Assembly and INEC itself!”
Chief Agbaje went on to cite constitutional provisions that negate the Senate move to propose a law to empower INEC to deregister political parties.
He raised the point that the present Nigerian constitution is based on the concept of popular participatory democracy with its bias for the universal Adult Suffrage System as boldly proclaimed by the Supreme Court in Musa v. INEC (2003) FWLR (Pt. 145) 729.
He reminded the Senate President that sovereignty under the Nigerian Constitution does not lie with the National Assembly but with the people of Nigeria from whom all sources of powers (including the National Assembly) derive legitimacy.
Fresh legal adviser equally faulted the basis of deregistering political parties simply because they couldn’t win an election.
“If a political party fails to win an election now, what is the guarantee that such a party will not win in subsequent elections? Unless our Almighty National Assembly has now become political soothsayers, always gazing at its crystal balls to know in advance that a party can never win any seat in an election or future elections. In that case, the National Assembly is no longer legislating but stargazing! The sovereignty constitutionally vested in the people of Nigeria must be allowed to materialize in theoretical and terms and effects.”
Related to this, Agbaje pointed out, is the rights of Nigerians to accept and vote for a political party of their choice or reject a political party. He said it is only through a popular participatory democracy that this right could be constantly guaranteed.
Agbaje buttressed his point with global democratic practices, like in America and the UK where numerous political parties exist alongside the Democrat and Republican (US), Labour and Conservative (UK).
Agbaje who advised the federal government to withdraw its funding grants if it feels threatened by the numerous political parties again accused the National Assembly of a sinister plot to give the federal government a victory they never got in court. He, therefore, accused it of being fraudulent and assaulting the principles of constitutionalism and judicialism even as it violates the concept of freedom, equity and justice.
Another silent point Agbaje raised in the petition the Senate President acknowledged receiving on July 1, 2014, is the fact that the proposed deregistration will affect the offices and persons working at the various offices of the affected parties in the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
In conclusion, Fred Agbaje advised the National Assembly to stop politicizing the current attempt at amending the constitution.
“Constitution should not be amended on flimsy, mundane or pedestal reasons that are deep rooted in self-aggrandizement, but on the need to strengthen our democracy, true federalism, fiscal federalism, devolution of powers to the federating units and the need to preserve the rights of Nigerians based on the Rule of Law and Justice.”
He also asked the Federal lawmakers to pay attention to soaring unemployment and suffocating corruption rate in the country and not to seek an amendment of a court judgement through legislation.
Constitutional amendment, Agbaje further said, should be aimed at clamping down on corrupt officials and the need to ensure the security and welfare of every Nigerian, not amendment “that are directed at frustrating judicial decisions as if the nation was back to the military era as notoriously characterized in the Lakanmi v. A-G Western Region (1974) 4 ECSLR 713, when decrees were not only used as Statement of Defence but also to annul Judicial Decisions.”
Agbaje prayed that the National Assembly should prevail on INEC to immediately obey and implement the judgement of the Federal High Court that was delivered in favour of Fresh instead of the proposed selfish and self-centred INEC-sponsored constitutional amendment whose sole aim is to ridicule the judiciary.
He warned the National Assembly to desist from aiding and abetting the violation of an existing order of a competent court. It was in this respect Chief Agbaje implored the Senate President, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Minister of Justice and Attorney General and Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission to jointly prevail on INEC to show good example by complying with the judgement of the Federal High Court in the Fresh Democratic Party’s case which was delivered about a year ago, instead of the needless amendment to the constitution in order to elongate the culture of impunity and gross disrespect to judicial order by public authorities.
A copy of the said judgement made available to ENCOMIUM Weekly reveals that the Fresh Democratic Party, Rev. Christopher Okotie and Adefela Binutu were plaintiffs in the matter presided over by Justice G. O. Kolawole of the Federal High Court. The defendants were the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attorney General of the Federation, the National Assembly and the Inspector-General of Police.
Led by constitutional lawyer and Fresh legal adviser, Chief Fred Agbaje, the case was filed on December 11, 2013, while judgement was delivered in Fresh’s favour on June 29, 2104.
Rev. Okotie’s party which challenged its deregistration by INEC convince the court to nullify the electoral umpires’ decisions in a landmark which judgement held that INEC has no powers to deregister a political party in Nigeria.
Almost one year after the court ruling, INEC, which failed to appeal against the judgement is yet to obey the order.
And in another twist, the Senate had rather proposed an amendment of some sections of the constitution related to party formation and registration, with a view to giving INEC the powers to deregister any political party that fails to win a seat in the National Assembly.
Expectedly, the Fresh Democratic Party, through its National Legal Adviser, Chief Fred Agbaje is challenging the proposed amendment, insisting it wants to rob it of its judicial victory. It further argued that amendment would amount to gross violation of fundamental constitutional rights of their members in particular and Nigerians at large. Fresh went on to advise the National Assembly to promote laws that principally intend to promote socio-economic well being of citizens and combating crime and corruption, not an amendment of a court judgement through a sinister and selfish legislation.