BY EDMOND ODOK, ABUJA – After about four months legal contestation, respite has come the way of former Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) releasing his withheld Certificate of Return as a Senator-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But the electoral umpire insists it is not yet uhuru for Okorocha as the High Court judgment will soon be tested at the Appeal Court for equity and fair-play.
Missing out of the National Assembly’s inauguration on Tuesday morning, Owelle Okorocha was at the INEC office late in the day to receive his certificate of return the declared winner of Imo West Senatorial District election held on February 23, 2019.
The Senator-elect, who lauded the Commission for eventually issuing him the certificate, described the development as God’s time, adding that commendation also goes to the judiciary for doing the needful.
Maintaining that the judiciary has again proved to be the last hope for the common people and those feeling oppressed, the former Imo State Chief Executive said; “I also want to thank INEC for taking this bold step against all odds by issuing my certificate of return, which goes a long way to confirming that the allegation of duress was unfounded by a delay tactic by my detractors to slow down the process.”
According to him; “I believe this is God’s time and I take it as God’s time. I am happy that finally the matter is resolved.”
However, in a statement by the its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee on Tuesday in Abuja, Mr Festus Okoye, said INEC was unhappy with the Federal High Court, Abuja Court’s order compelling it to issue the certificate to Okorocha.
He said INEC took the decision on Tuesday after a meeting to consider 14 memorandums involving judgments and orders in pre-election matters that relate to issuance of certificates and or withdrawal of certificates already issued in pre-election matters.
The INEC chieftain further explained that; “Amongst the memoranda considered, is the one concerning the judgment on the Imo West Senatorial district by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
“The Commission decided to comply with the court judgment by issuing a certificate of return to the plaintiff, Rochas Okorocha in compliance with the judgment and Orders of Hon. Justice Okon Abang.”
According to Okoye, INEC, in taking the decision, also considered the orders issued by two High Courts in the Owerri Judicial Division, noting that the orders were issued in suits No. HOW/ 596/2019 issued on May 23, 2019 and another dated the June 11, 2019 in suit No. HOW/663/2019, restraining the Commission from issuing certificate of return in respect of the contentious senatorial district polls
He noted that both were interim orders issued ex parte and not final orders of court, adding that in obeying the judgment, INEC is demonstrating its wide-acknowledged commitment to the rule of law and compliance with all court orders, including those it might have reservations.
Barrister Okoye also said; “However, the Commission must put on record its very profound concerns about the likely consequences of this judgment for our electoral process in particular and our democracy in general.
“Obviously, persons who seek elective offices can perceive in this judgment an irrelevance of due process and acting within the law.
“It is not far-fetched that some of them can in future disregard laid down processes, including voting, arm themselves and mobilise thugs and compel Returning Officers to declare them elected, irrespective of the true outcomes of elections.
He said if adequate measures are not put in place, it may become increasingly difficult for INEC to convince its officials of their safety “to carry out their legitimate functions without fear of being harassed, held to ransom or visited with bodily harm.”
The National Commissioner pledged INEC’s resolve to enthrone a credible and transparent electoral process in the country going forward