The former governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has lauded yesterday’s judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue him a Certificate of Return as senator-elect for Imo West Senatorial District, saying “Daniel comes to judgment always.”
Delivering his ruling in a suit filed by Okorocha, Justice Okon Abang, held that only the Returning Officer of the INEC had the constitutional authority to declare a winner of the February 23 Imo West senatorial election.
A statement signed by his media aide, Sam Onwuemeodo, noted that the governor has also forgiven the Returning Officer in the election, Prof. Innocent Ibeabuchi, and others for what they did to him, describing Justice Abang as not only a model, but also one of the exemplary ambassadors of the judiciary in Nigeria.
“He said whatever happened concerning his Certificate of Return was in the plan of God, so that the nation’s democracy can further be strengthened and rights of the citizenry also protected, considering the pronouncement of the court over the seizure of his Certificate of Return.
“In the spirit of his victory in Court, the former governor has equally forgiven Ibeabuchi, who falsely claimed that he declared him (Okorocha) winner under duress and all those who had played one role or the other to cause the ordeal he went through over his Certificate of Return.
“The former governor, in all, dedicated the victory to the people of Imo West senatorial district in particular and Imo people in general for their unflinching support and steadfastness, assuring that he would continue to play politics without malice or bitterness,” the statement added.
The electoral body had said it refused to give Okorocha a Certificate of Return after the Returning Officer for the district said he was compelled to declare the former governor winner.
But Justice Abang held that INEC had no reason not to issue him Certificate of Return, describing INEC’s decision as “lawless and a complete nullity.”
Earlier, Abang held that the Federal High Court had exclusive jurisdiction to decide on the matter, but overruled the submission by candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Jones Onyeriri, and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Osita Izunaso, that the matter ought to be taken to the election petitions tribunal, since it was a post-election matter.
The Judge held that petitions to the election tribunal under Section 133 of the Electoral Act should be made by the losers and not the person declared winner, whether under duress or not.
“The reliefs sought by the plaintiff (Okorocha) does not relate to the validity of the election to warrant him filing petitions at the election tribunal. The tribunal has no jurisdiction to answer questions as to the validity of INEC’s action, the action by INEC not to issue Certificate of Return is unknown to the constitution and the Electoral Act,” the Judge said.
He also awarded the cost of N100, 000 each against all the respondents in the suit.
The respondents had queried the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit on the ground that it was a post-election matter and robbed the court of jurisdiction under Sections 285, 251(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Meanwhile, Onyeriri said he had already filed a petition relating to this matter before the Election Petitions Tribunal and was confident of victory at the tribunal.
Speaking outside the court, Kingdom Okere, Counsel to the candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Precious Nwadike, vowed to appeal the judgment, describing it as “empowerment of illegality to recognise candidates who use thugs during elections,” adding that the judgment was capable of holding electoral officials to ransom to win elections.
INEC, which had insisted that it would only issue the Certificate of Return to Okorocha based on court judgment or decision of an Election Petitions Tribunal, yesterday, in reaction to the court order, through a statement by its National Commissioner and Head of the Committee on Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said it was aware of the judgment and would act accordingly.
Okoye said: “The Commission is currently undertaking state level reviews of the 2019 general elections and all the National Commissioners are either in or heading to their states of supervision to coordinate activities relating to the said review.
“In view of the import and directives of the said judgment, the Commission will meet as soon as practicable to do the needful,” he added.
He said INEC’s decision so far has been based on the overriding consideration of the safety of its ad hoc staff, electoral officers and collation/returning officers, adding: “If electoral impunity is allowed to flourish, any individual can harass, intimidate and put the Commission’s officers under duress, procure a favourable declaration and be rewarded with a Certificate of Return.”