Struggle for Registration:
By Peluola Adewale
Members of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) held a protest march on Monday, October 24, 2016 to the Lagos office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the non-registration of the party despite having fulfilled all legal and constitutional requirements, including onerous ones like payment of one million naira and having members of National Executive Committee in 24 states and Abuja.
The protest, which had about 50 members of the party from across the country, took off at Sabo Bus Stop, Yaba, with a rally that attracted the interest and support of the bystanders and passersby some of whom came to enquire about the party. In addition to the English language, speeches were delivered in Yoruba and Hausa languages in order to effectively communicate with the people
The protesters later marched about 400 meters to the INEC office where a demo was held and addresses were given by the leaders of the party including Chinedu Bosah (National Secretary), Tijani Mikailu Mohammed (the North West Deputy National Chairperson, DNC), Alfred Adegoke (Legal Adviser) and Dagga Tolar (SPN NEC member and acting General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). Mr. Abiodun Amosun, INEC Operation Officer, who led other officers of the electoral body to meet the SPN protesters, promised to deliver the SPN message demanding immediate issuance of certificate of registration to the INEC national headquarters.
The Joint Action Front (JAF) was represented at the demo by its Deputy Chairperson Achike Chude, while the JAF Chairperson, Dr. Dipo Fashina, sent a solidarity message in which he among other things "calls for a sustained solidarity struggle of the socialist and popular organizations to ensure the registration of the SPN" (See the full solidarity statement below)
Four media organisations (Sahara Reporters, Premium Times, Galaxy Television, Inspiration FM) covered the protest. Inspiration FM, a radio station and Galaxy Television have aired reports at least twice during their main news bulletins.
It is instructive that the protest rally was held in the area which is a stronghold of Buhari and APC, especially ahead of 2015 elections, without any hostile reception. Indeed, chants that lampooned Buhari and APC over the degeneration of the capitalist economic crisis under their watch, without also sparing the PDP, were well received by the ordinary masses. This was also reflected in an impressive sale of 23 copies of Socialist Democracy (SD), paper of the DSM, with lead articles on economic recession and planned sale of national assets at a small rally organized by a single organization. Also a number of people happily gave us their phone numbers with the agreement that they would like us to visit them later for more discussions and invite them to future activities of the party. We might not have got such warm reception say a year ago.
All this underscores the growing disillusionment in Buhari by the masses and also the potential of a pro-working people political alternative to gain support of the poor masses. The capitalist ruling elite through the INEC are obviously in mortal fear of such potential which explains their refusal to allow the emergence of the pro-masses parties like SPN that offer anti-capitalist alternative.
This is also why despite being already in court challenging the undemocratic action of the INEC, we hold political actions that seek the intervention of the general public, labour movement and pro-masses' organizations that could ensure that the INEC is compelled to respect our right to form a political party. We plan to hold another protest action on October 31 in Abuja which is the day our matter against INEC will again come up for a hearing at the Federal High Court.
If you wish to find out more about the SPN or support the campaign for its registration, please contact the following: Tel: 08098284000 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Blog: www.socialistpartyofnigeria.blogspot.com
About 1,500 copies of the SPN leaflet articulating the demands of the party were circulated.
Below are the SPN statement issued to media and the solidarity message by the JAF chair:
SPN Press Statement
INEC REFUSAL TO REGISTER THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF NIGERIA (SPN) DESPITE FULLFILLING ALL LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REQUIREMENTS IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND UNDEMOCRATIC
WE DEMAND OUR CERTIFICATE OF REGISTRATION NOW
We members of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), together with civil society and pro-democracy activists, hold this protest march today Monday, October 24, 2016 to demand the immediate issuance of our registration certificate by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) having fulfilled all legal and constitutional requirements for registration as a political party.
As it could be seen from the chronicle of events below, we can only conclude that the refusal of the INEC to register us is politically motivated and not unconnected to the resolve of the ruling elite to prevent the emergence of pro-masses' parties like the SPN that offer anti-capitalist alternative. This is why despite being already in court challenging this undemocratic action of the INEC, we strongly hold that only the intervention of the general public, labour movement and pro-masses organizations can ensure that INEC is compelled to respect our right to form a political party. Indeed, we have been in court for the past two years without the matter proceeding to hearing as it has been afflicted with many adjournments arising from the tardiness of the judiciary as well as the deliberate attempt by INEC to frustrate the case.
Below is a chronicle of events and exchanges between us and INEC:
- The SPN was formed in April 2012 and held its national convention in Lagos on Saturday November 16, 2013 which elected 27 NEC members representing 24 states and Abuja as enshrined in section 223 (b) of the 1999 constitution.
- In January 2014, through a letter dated January 9, 2014, the SPN wrote to INEC requesting it to furnish us with requirements for the registration of a political association desiring to become a political party. INEC replied us through a letter dated January 27, 2014 stating that we must pay a non-refundable administrative fee of N1 million before application documents and forms would be made available.
- On March 20, 2014, SPN paid the N1 million into INEC's Bank account. INEC issued official receipt for the payment on April 8, 2014.
- SPN also set up its national secretariat in Abuja, specifically at No 42, Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Wuse II, Abuja in line with section 222 (f) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
- On April 14, 2014, INEC wrote a letter to the SPN in which it specified the documents and items SPN must make available in pursuit of our application for registration. This includes filling of Form PA1 with names, states of origin, residential address, signatures etc., by all SPN NEC members in 50 copies; 50 copies of SPN logo and flag; 50 copies of tenancy agreement and receipt of payment of rent of our national secretariat; affidavit in support of form PA1 in 50 copies sworn to by National Chairperson and National Secretary; 50 copies of SPN constitution and manifesto; evidence of payment of N1 million.
- We duly submitted our application for registration to INEC on June 12, 2014 with all the requested items were made available in 50 copies each. In fact, the filling of form PA1 was to comply with Section 222 (a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended which specifies that "the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission."
- INEC initially refused to properly acknowledge the application in line with Section 78 (2) of the 2010 Electoral Act. It took the protest of SPN through a letter dated June 16, 2014 before INEC acknowledged the application through a letter dated July 2, 2014.
- After one month and exactly on the 35th day that INEC had refused or failed to reply our application, the SPN wrote a letter to INEC to issue it its certificate of registration since the 30-day timeline for INEC to consider our application had lapsed. This request was in line with Section 78 (4) of the 2010 Electoral Act as amended which stipulates that a political association should deem to have been registered if it does not get reply from INEC 30 days after submission of its application.
- In an effort to thwart the registration of SPN and in flagrant violation of the above-cited Section 78 (4) of the 2010 Electoral Act, INEC wrote a letter dated Thursday July 31, 2014 but delivered on Friday August 1 requesting all SPN NEC members to be present in Abuja for 'verification' on Monday August 4, 2016 and also to verify the national headquarter of the party. Not only that this administrative process is not backed by law, this process is cumbersome, expensive and a time-wasting tactic. This is besides being in practice impossible to arrange at just four days' notice.
- Undeterred, SPN replied through a letter dated August 4, 2014 which presented the following arguments: (1) verification is out of tune with the registration process as enshrined in the 1999 constitution and 2010 Electoral Act, (2) the time has lapsed for any verification if any is desirable and justified to take place by virtue of section 78 (4) of the Electoral Act.
- Surprisingly, INEC wrote a letter dated August 12, 2014 stating that SPN's "registration is "terminated." It is strange that INEC could terminate a registration process when it had clearly breached the time-limit set by section 78 (4) of the Electoral Act for consideration of the SPN's application for registration as a political party.
- In line with Section 79 of the 2010 Electoral Act, SPN had to file a case in court on September 10, 2014, within 30 days of INEC's refusal to register it as a political party, at the Federal High Court in Abuja. The suit Number is FCH/ABJ/CS/630/2014 and specifically Court 5. Unfortunately, the slow pace of Nigeria's justice system has further helped to perpetuate INEC's violation of our rights. For example, between November 19, 2014 and the next adjourned date of October 31, 2016, the matter has had 11 adjournments, out of which the matter was mentioned only 4 times.
- On March 3, 2015, the matter came up for hearing, INEC's lawyer requested an out-of-court settlement and we agreed. Despite the fact that the Solicitors (Citipoint Chambers) representing SPN wrote a letter to INEC dated March 19 2015 suggesting two dates (23rd or 28th of April 2015) for a meeting to concretize the settlement, INEC did not only fail to reply, it ignored this proposal.
- However, on March 1, 2016 (about a year after INEC had requested for out-of-court settlement), INEC wrote us a letter that all SPN NEC members should be in Abuja on March 9, 2016 for verification as well as submitting other documents/materials earlier submitted on June 12, 2014 to INEC. This was after both parties agreed to the verification at a meeting that held on February 3, 2016 at INEC office in Abuja.
- In the spirit of amicable resolution of the dispute we bent backwards and mobilized 17 NEC members that were available for the exercise to Abuja for the meeting including the administrative secretary despite the huge financial implication for the party and its members. Another NEC member made it to INEC office 14 days later thereby making it 18 NEC members who made it to Abuja for the so-called verification exercise. SPN NEC members are ordinary Nigerians who toil daily to earn a living. As such not all of them could leave their duty posts or afford the enormous cost of travelling to Abuja. In view of this, the party ensured that authentic proof of identification of the few NEC members who could not physically make the verification exercise including one of the NEC members currently studying abroad were submitted at the verification meeting to the INEC officials present while apology was equally tendered on their behalf.
- It is our view that the physical verification exercise does not have any place in the electoral act or the 1999 constitution. Even if it is an administrative procedure, INEC is making the SPN pay the price of their own inefficiency despite the fact that INEC is costing the Nigeria tax payers as much as tens of billions of Naira yearly. This not to talk of the one million non-refundable processing fee the SPN paid. Like we made clear to INEC officials at the March 9, 2016 meeting, the 8 remaining NEC members can be verified at the INEC offices in states where they are resident. Again, this offer was rejected by INEC as well as the due apology tendered on their behalf. Despite SPN readiness to resolve this matter amicably, INEC wrote another letter dated August 30, 2016 insisting arrogantly that the remaining NEC members must appear in Abuja for verification within 2 weeks.
- We also want to make the point that the N1 million non-refundable fees charged by INEC was undemocratic and aimed at stopping small and pro-masses political parties who would not accommodate money bag politicians in their party.
- The so-called verification exercise that entails that the SPN and its members spend huge sums of money to be in Abuja is unnecessary and aimed at frustrating the party from getting registered. The is similar to the administrative backwardness of different ministries that force old pensioners to periodically travel long distance for verification exercises wherein some of the pensioners not only waste money but also die in the process.
- More importantly, we hold that INEC has since lost right to determine our application for registration having failed to verify our claims within 30 days of the submission of our application. Therefore, the INEC should issue us our certificate of registration as stipulated by law.
Going by the chronicle of our engagement with INEC over the last 3 years, it is clear that INEC has treated the SPN and its desire to be registered as a political party unjustly. We therefore appeal to the general public and the working masses of this country to join us to demand that INEC release to us our certificate of registration so that the SPN can play active role in the forthcoming electioneering process with a view to presenting Nigerians with a pro-masses alternative political platform that can rid Nigeria of the prevailing crisis of mass poverty and underdevelopment. We strongly believe that in a 'democracy' everybody and groups have a right and the freedom to organize socially and politically free from orchestrated bias and discrimination. This policy of INEC that makes registration and party formation highly expensive encourages corruption in governance, something that SPN is opposed to.
We aver that the SPN has met all relevant registration requirements as spelt out in the 1999 Constitution as amended and the 2010 Electoral Act as amended. Therefore, there is no reason for INEC not to have registered the SPN. This is one of those test cases at freeing up the political space that is dominated by pro-establishment political parties and winning the respects of the rights of the masses to organize socio-politically. Should this right be taken away, the process to deepen the democratic space is lost.
Hence, we are appealing for the intervention of the general public, labour movement and pro-masses organizations on this matter to aid and give voice against these undemocratic policies of INEC. Your intervention could take the form of issuing public statements, writing official letter(s) to INEC and organizing mass protest in support of democratic rights of political parties like the SPN.
STATEMENT BY JAF CHAIRPERSON at the SPN Protest Rally to INEC held in Lagos, 24th October, 2016
1. In full recognition of the constitutionally guaranteed right of all Nigerians to form and join a party of their choice,
2. Noting that the SOCIALIST PARTY OF NIGERIA has fulfilled all known requirements for registration,
3. Being clear that the Constitution of Nigeria does not forbid socialist parties,
4. Affirming that the continued refusal to register the SOCIALIST PARTY OF NIGERIA is arbitrary, and will deprive Nigerians of their freedom of political choice
5. Calling on all Nigerians to rise against crass class injustice, JAF EXPRESSES SOLIDARITY WITH THE SPN and calls for a sustained solidarity struggle of the socialist and popular organizations, to ensure the registration of the SPN. WE ask: .WHO IS AFRAID OF SPN? WHO IS AFRAID OF SOCIALISTS? Not the people, not the workers, not the peasant farmers, not the unemployed, not the poor WE NO GO GREE.SPN MUST BE REGISTERED.IT IS A DEMOCRATIC ALTERNATIVE TO RULERS PARTIES.
For and on behalf of JAF