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The Supreme Court, Political Parties and Internal Democracy

The Supreme Court, Political Parties and Internal Democracy

The recent Supreme Court judgment which has invariably distorted the political situation in Zamafara State and done incalculable damage to the fortunes of the State Chapter of the APC understandably came as a shock to many observers of the Nigeria political scene. While many saw it coming way back, many never believed such a situation could manifest, and even many more never envisaged or contemplated such an improbable political macabre dance of the absurd. But like the saying goes, anything is possible in politics.

The circumstances leading to this dramatic turn of events is not only in the public domain but has become well understood by political watchers.

Two contending groups within the Zamfara State Chapter of the APC had major disagreements on the outcome of primary elections conducted to select candidates who will fly the flag of the Party for various positions in the just concluded elections. This situation ended up in court and could not be resolved before the expiration of the time stipulated by INEC for submission
of the list of candidates. It was finally laid to rest last week by the Supreme Court when it unanimously and resoundingly held that the APC had no candidates in the just concluded elections, having not conducted valid primary elections as required by law.

Coming exactly twenty years since the return to civil and democratic rule in our country Nigeria the Supreme Court judgment is probably a very unfortunate development indeed and a fitting testimony to the low quality of democracy practiced in Nigeria after twenty unbroken years. But even more than that, this situation calls for sober reflection on the part of political parties and all lovers of democracy and the democratisation process.

While the scale and magnitude of the casualties in the Zamfara imbroglio may be unprecedented, the circumstances giving rise to this unfortunate development are not particularly new.

Since the general election that ushered in democratically elected leaders at various levels in 1999 the conduct of various political parties, particularly pertaining to party primaries, has left a lot to be desired. The Supreme Court, at some point or other, has had to intervene and wield the big stick just like it did in the Zamafara matter, and hand down punitive decisions that ordinarily should serve as a deterrent, but that desired deterrence hardly ever gets to fruition. The Omehia/Amaechi matter in Rivers, the
Hembe/Mato matter, the Boko/Nungwa are just a few of such instances.

In a relatively recent decision of the apex court – APGA vs. Anyanwu, their Lordship of the august seem to have been slow to any form of intervention in what is referred to as the domestic affairs of a political party. This is how Kekere-Ekun, JSC captured it: “membership of a political party is the domestic affair of the party concerned, and the courts will not be involved in deciding who the members of a political party are… In Lado vs. CPC (2012) 12 WRN 1, this court observed that with the introduction of section 34 of the Electoral Act, the absolute powers of political parties had been curtailed slightly but emphasised the fact that the provision did not in any way alter or modify the principle that the question as to who is a candidate of a political party for any election is a political question within the domestic jurisdiction of political parties and consequently not justiciable”
It is a different ball game entirely when in exercising this right conferred on political parties they are in palpable violation of their constitution, guidelines and regulations.

however, indicate that where it is established that a political party has violated its constitution and guidelines, then the matter ceases to be within its domestic realm, and can be inquired into by the courts. See Aghedo vs. Adenomo (2019) WRN 1 at 54 where Kekere-Ekun, JSC had this to say: “the law is settled that a political party has a duty to obey its own constitution and guidelines See Hope Uzodinma v. Senator O. Izunaso (No 2) 2012 2 WRN 1; (2011) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1275) 30. Therefore, in respect of its own constitution and guidelines, the court will not allow a political party to act arbitrarily or whimsically… Put differently, a political party is not allowed or permitted to operate above or outside its own laws – its constitution and guidelines, and indeed the constitution and the electoral act”. Clearly, the point that is being made by the apex court is that a political party is at liberty to make whatever law it chooses or pleases, but once that law is made, it has to be obeyed hook line and sinker.

And this is precisely what happened in Uzodinma vs. Izunaso (2012) 2 WRN 1 where the apex court per Rhodes-Vivour, JSC had this to say: “where the Political Party nominates a candidate for an election contrary to its own constitution and guidelines, a dissatisfied candidate has every right to approach the court for redress. In such a situation the courts have jurisdiction to examine and interpret relevant legislations to see
if the political party complied fully with legislation on the issue of nomination. The courts will never allow a political party to act arbitrarily or as it likes”.

Although the subject matter of Uzodinma vs. Izunaso (supra) had to do with nomination of candidates for an electoral contest, it nevertheless gives us an insight into the attitude of the court to situations of breach of the law, guidelines and constitution of political parties under the guise of domestic matters.

It is our hope and expectation, therefore, that the Zamfara case and several other cases referred to here and the seemingly changing attitude of the Supreme Court as the policy court of the land, will combine with the gradual consolidation of our democratic process and form the basis for which political parties will not only operate on the basis of internal democratic principles but will equally serve as a constant reminder for them to respect their constitutions and guidelines.

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