By Albert OGRAKA:
It is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has on Tuesday issued the certificate of return to former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, who was hitherto denied issuance of the certificate, until the Commission got a court directive to do so.
Recall that INEC withheld Okorocha’s certificate of return and refused to recognise his victory, after he was controversially declared winner of the February 23 Imo West senatorial election to represent Imo West Senatorial zone.
The commission said it took the decision because the presiding officer, Innocent Ibeabuchi, said he made the declaration under duress.
Surprisingly, in a Tuesday night statement signed by INEC’s National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, the commission said it was compelled by an order of the Federal High Court in Abuja to release the certificate and said it will appeal the judgment because of the “likely consequences of this judgment for our electoral system in particular and our democracy in general.”
Meanwhile, during the inauguration of the ninth assembly, Okorocha’s name was missing in the list of eligible senators-elect called by the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori and failed to participate in the the election of the leadership of the senate.
On Friday however, Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja Federal High Court upturned the commission’s decision not to acknowledge Okorocha’s victory, describing INEC’s decision as “lawlessness and a complete nullity,” and ruled that Okorocha remains the winner of the election and his recognition by the commission, “cannot be delayed one minute longer.”
In the Tuesday statement however, INEC said it has “reservations” for the ruling but complied in obedience to the rule of law.
Read INEC statement:
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) met today, 11th June 2019 and considered 14 memoranda involving judgments and orders in pre-election matters relating to the issuance of certificates and or withdrawal of certificates already issued in pre-election matters.
Amongst the memoranda considered is that concerning the judgment on the Imo west senate district by the federal high court Abuja. The commission decided to:
To comply with the court judgement by issuing a certificate of return to the plaintiff, Rochas Anayo Ethelbert Okorocha in compliance to orders of Hon. Justice O.E. Abang.
Appeal against the said judgment.
In arriving to this decision we also took into consideration the orders issued by two high courts in Owerri on May 23th and another issued on June 11th restraining the commission from issuing the certificate. It is noted that both are interim orders issued ex-parte and not final orders of the court.
In obeying the judgment, the commission is demonstrating its longstanding commitment of complying with all orders of the court, including those with which it may have reservation.
However, the commission must put on record its very profound concerns about the likely consequences of this judgment for our electoral system in particular and our democracy in general. Obviously, persons who seek elective offices could perceive in this judgment as an irrelevance of due process and acting within the law.
It is not farfetched that some of them could in future disregard laid down processes, including voting, arm themselves and mobilize thugs and compel returning officers to declare them elected, irrespective of the true outcomes of elections. Moreover, it may become increasingly difficult for the commission to convince its official that they are safe to carry out their legitimate functions without being harassed, held to ransom or visited with bodily harm.
The commission would like to seize this opportunity to restate its commitment to due process and obedience to rule of law in its dealings with all parties and candidates. We assure Nigerians that we will not waiver in our determination to enthrone a credible electoral process in Nigeria.
Festus Okoye, Esq.
National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee (INEC).