On Friday, 6th June 2019, news broke that the Federal High Court in Abuja had granted the request of the former Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return to the APC chieftain for winning the Imo West Senatorial election.
INEC was as well ordered by the Justice Okon Abang presided court to pay the sum of N200,000 to Okorocha for withholding his Certificate of Return.
Though he was earlier declared as the winner of the election, his Certificate of Return was withheld by the electoral umpire after the Returning Officer for the senatorial election, Prof. Innocent Ibeabuchi, claimed that he had announced Okorocha as the winner of the polls under duress. Thus began the whole saga.
Okorocha had gone back and forth accusing powers that be of trying to end his political career but maintained that he would win in court as he did no such thing as was claimed by the INEC Returning Officer.
The battle has been fought and won by the former Imo State Governor, but is the war really over?
This may not be the case as there are still some obstacles he would have to overcome if he is to successfully head to the red chambers. Let’s consider why Rochas Okorocha may not be handed his Certificate of Return even after winning in court.
Contradictory Court Order
On the 23rd of May 2019, Hon. Justice Njemanze of the Federal High Court sitting in Imo State gave a ruling which had barred INEC from issuing a Certificate of Return to any of the candidates who had contested in the election.
This includes Rochas Okorocha who had run for the position under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Justice Njemanze had declared that the status quo be kept until June 26, when the court will resume sitting on the case.
This ruling is in stark contradiction with the new ruling by Justice Okon Abang of the FCT Federal High Court which had directed INEC to compensate Okorocha and give him the Certificate of Return.
The technicalities of both cases are different though, as the case of the Federal High Court in Imo State was instituted by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. James Onyeriri, in the Imo West Senatorial District elections.
Onyeriri had approached the court to challenge the victory of the former Imo State Governor at the senatorial polls, especially as the INEC Returning Officer had claimed that he announced Okorocha as the winner of the polls under duress.
The contradiction in both rulings may make it very complicated to hand over the Certificate of Return to Okorocha until all legal implications must have been considered.
INEC’s Body Language
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has given a response to the Federal High Court judgment directing it to hand the former Imo State Governor his Certificate of Return for winning the Imo West Senatorial election.
Festus Okoye had in a statement released on behalf of the nation’s electoral umpire, said that the then commission was determined to do the needful and obey the ruling of the court. But INEC had also said that it will have to meet to consider the ruling of the court, while as well stating that, its National Commissioners were currently occupied with the nationwide State level reviews which currently was the focus of electoral umpire.
This entails that Okorocha may have to wait a bit longer before he can be issued with the certificate of return if INEC comes to that conclusion eventually.
While stating that it was ready to abide with the court ruling, INEC in its statement had also made a reference to the Imo Federal High Court ruling which had restrained the commission from giving any of the Imo West Senatorial candidates a Certificate of Return for now.
This will surely be considered by INEC as it meets to take its final decision and may eventually not favour Okorocha, depending on the technicalities of the case.
In any case, it is clear that INEC is reluctant to hand Okorocha the Certificate of Return.
What It Means For Future Elections
INEC had as well raised another concern in its statement regarding the safety of its officials in future elections. The commission had said that their electoral officers could be placed on a high level of risk as any politician could just force them to do their bidding and then go to the courts to claim victory.
It is obvious that while Okorocha may have won at the Federal High Court, he still has his work cut out for him, as his Certificate of Return may not be coming anytime soon.
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