By Andy Chukwu
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has explained why it decided to appeal the court ruling directing it to issue a certificate of return to embattled ex-governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha.
Despite its stance, the commission on Tuesday issued the certificate to Okorocha who was controversially declared winner of the February 23 Imo West senatorial election.
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.
The commission, however, 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.”
INEC released Okorocha’s certificate, barely hours after 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, for swearing at the Senate’s inauguration.
Though Okorocha was declared winner of the Imo West Senatorial zone, INEC withheld his certificate of return and refused to recognise his victory.
The commission said it took the decision because the presiding officer, Innocent Ibeabuchi, said he made the declaration under duress.
On Friday however, Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja Federal High Court upturned the commission’s decision not to acknowledge Okorocha’s victory.
The judge described INEC’s decision as “lawlessness and a complete nullity.”
In the Tuesday statement however, INEC said it has “reservations” for the ruling but complied in obedience to the rule of law.
The commission also explained why it decided to appeal against the judgment.
Read the full statement below:
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).