COURT ORDERS INEC TO ISSUE OKOROCHA CERTIFICATE OF RETURN; FAULTS SEIZURE.
A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Friday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to immediately issue the certificate of return to the immediate past Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, as the senator elect for Imo West Senatorial Zone.
Justice Okon Abang stated this while delivering his judgment on the suit filed by Rochas Okorocha challenging INEC’s decision to withhold his certificate of return after he had been declared the winner of February 23, 2019, National Assembly election in the Imo West Senatorial District.
INEC had delisted Okorocha from the list of senators elect on the premise its Returning Officer for that election had complained that he was made to declare the results under duress.
Justice Abang described INEC’s action as lawless and arbitrary, stating that Okorocha having been declared the winner of the election, INEC no longer had any legal authority to withhold the certificate of return due to him.
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.
“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.