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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has agreed to obey the court order directing it to issue certificate of return forthwith to the winner of Imo West Senatorial District election Chief Rochas Okorocha.
Okorocha’s certificate of return had been with the electoral body after the returning officer claimed that he declared Okorocha the winner of the election when his life was at risk.
“I declared Okorocha as the winner under duress” the INEC returning officer had said.
The action made the immediate past governor of Imo State to approach a Federal High Court in Abuja praying the court orders INEC to give him his certificate of return, the court presided over by Justice Okon Abang granted his prayers.
The judge held, “Once the declaration is made under section 68(c) of the Electoral Act, INEC has become functus officio and INEC has no lawful authority to withhold the certificate of return for any reason whatsoever.
“Therefore the issue of duress is unknown to both the Electoral Act and the Constitution.”
The court ruled that Okorocha remained elected subject to the outcome of the ongoing proceedings of the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal.
He, therefore, ordered, “INEC shall forthwith publish and circulate the name of the plaintiff as the senator-elect representing Orlu Imo West Senatorial District.
“It is hereby ordered that INEC shall forthwith issue a certificate of return as the senator-elect representing senator-elect representing Orlu Imo West Senatorial District.”
The judge awarded the cost of N200,000 payable by INEC to the plaintiff, and awarded N100,000 payable to the plaintiff by each of the other seven defendants to the plaintiff.
A total of N900,000 cost is to be paid by defendants to Okorocha.
The judge ordered the defendants to pay the costs personally to Okorocha before taking any further steps in the case.
He held that the plaintiff ought not to have applied to be joined in the case, adding that the cost awarded against INEC would serve as a deterrence from taking any future unlawful action.
INEC in a press statement signed by the National Commissioner & Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye
where he grudgingly accept the court order said the lives of its staff might be at risk in future elections.
The attention of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been drawn to the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, presided over by the Hon. Justice Okon Abang, directing the Commission to issue a Certificate of Return to Rochas Okorocha as the Senator-elect for Imo West Senatorial District.
The Commission is also aware of and has been served with the Order of a High Court of Imo State, presided over by Hon. Justice Njemanze, directing the Commission not to issue a Certificate of Return to any of the candidates that contested the Imo West Senatorial District election. The Order from the High Court of Imo State was issued on 23rdMay 2019 and the suit has been further adjourned to 26thJune 2019.
The Commission is aware that the judgement delivered by the Federal High Court, Abuja is the latest in time and determined the rights of the parties in relation to the subject matter of the Certificate of Return, in respect of the Imo West Senatorial Election.
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 judgement, the Commission will meet as soon as practicable to do the needful.
As a law-abiding institution, the Commission will continue to obey judgements of all courts of competent jurisdiction.
However, the Commission’s overriding consideration is the safety of its ad-hoc staff, Electoral Officers and Collation/Returning Officers and is worried that 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.
Recalled that a few minutes after the court order, Okorocha said he had forgiven the INEC returning officer Prof Innocent Ibeawuchi who said he announced result under duress.