The ECOWAS Court of Justice on Wednesday, dismissed a suit by Obinna Umeh and three others, challenging the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which bars independent candidacy in election contests.
A three-member panel of justices presided by the court’s President, Justice Edward Asante, held that Nigeria did not breach any convention or charter.
The case was brought before the court in November 2018 by Obinna Umeh, Kenneth Roberts, Dr Matthew Oguche and Emmanuel Agada.
They urged the court to compel Nigeria to allow independent candidates to contest in elections.
They argued that the mandatory membership of political parties as pre-requisite to contest elections infringed on their right to vote and be voted.
They further argued it also infringed on their human rights as enshrined in the African Charter and Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a signatory.
However, Nigeria argued that the ECOWAS Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit which has direct bearing on its constitution.
The community court said that it had examined all treaties and protocols that Nigeria is signatory to and it were clear the country had not erred in its laws.
“I looked at the international laws which are very clearly stated that the rights to vote and to be voted for are all rights enshrined in all the enactments. Protocols, declarations and conventions as alluded to by counsel for the plaintiff.
“But all those rights are subject to a rider and the rider is subject to law. Subject to law means subject to laws made within the country.
“In our view, Nigerian Constitution as well as the enactment on election complies fully with the international obligations to conduct elections.
“The rider here is that they should belong to political parties,’’ Asante said.
The presiding judge also said that it was only a matter of common sense that giving the population and diversity of Nigeria, allowing for independent candidacy will be almost impossible to handle.
“Law also in a way goes with common sense. It is clear that a country with a population of over 200 million, if in an election, 400 people decide to contest the presidency, you are going to have a ballot paper of over 50 pages.
“That is why the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the Electoral Laws thought it wise to make people belong to such groups.
“Therefore, we think that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria, putting within their laws that parties should belong to grouping before they can contest elections.
“It has not infringed in any way in our view on their rights to contest election,” he said.
On jurisdiction to hear the matter as argued by the Nigerian legal representatives, the sub-regional court held that it has the jurisdiction to hear the matter.
“We adjudge that we have jurisdiction to hear the matter, the action is admissible, though on the merits we dismiss the entire action as unmeritorious.
“That is the decision of the court,” he said. (NAN).