Imo State governor and Imo West senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the last National Assembly elections, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has said that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) erred in law by its decision to withhold his certificate of return after he had been declared winner of the Imo West senatorial election.
According to him, no part of the 1999 Constitution or the Electoral Act 2010 as amended conferred such powers on INEC.
This was contained in a petition filed at the commission by Okorocha on Tuesday.
The petition titled “Need to Avert Abuse of Office and Political Corruption by my Political Opponents with the Active Collaboration of INEC’s Leadership in Clear Violation of the Law” was addressed to the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu.
INEC had refused to issue a certificate of return to Okorocha despite being announced the winner of the election because the Returning Officer for the election, Professor Francis Ibeawuchi, said the declaration of Okorocha as winner of the election was made under duress.
But according to the governor, going by the laws governing elections in the country, since the election had been concluded and a winner announced, INEC had no right not to issue him a certificate of return.
He added that if there were issues with the election after the announcement of a winner, recourse ought to be made to election tribunals.
According to him Section 285 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, states that, “There shall be established for the Federation one or more elections tribunal to be known as the National Assembly Elections Tribunal which shall, to the exclusion of any court or tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether (a) any person has been validly elected as a member of the national Assembly.”
He also pointed out that Section 133 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides that “No election and return at an election under this Act shall be questioned in a manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or an undue return presented to the competent tribunal or court in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act, and in which the person elected or returned is joined as a party.”
Okorocha then asked where INEC derived the power to withhold certificate of return after a winner in an election had been announced.
The Imo State governor stressed that by toeing this line, INEC “is setting a bad precedent which could make it to deny anyone it does not approve of electoral victory even when such person is the preference of the voting public.”
Arguing that the step taken by INEC is not known to law, Okorocha advised the commission to seek redress in the law court rather than taking laws into its own hands.
Okorocha also stated that INEC, in its counter-affidavit to the suit he filed at the Federal High Court to compel it to issue him his certificate of return, did not mention any allegation to the fact that his declaration was made under duress.
According to him, “In the replies filed by INEC to the petitions filed against me by Osita Izuanso, Jones Onyeyeri, Peoples Democratic Party and Uche Onyeoma Ibeh at the Election Tribunal in Owerri, INEC actually stated that my election was duly conducted and that the declaration and return made in my favour by the Returning Officer was voluntary and not due to any duress or coercion exerted on the Returning Officer.”
While urging the commission to release his certificate of return to him, Okorocha counseled INEC leadership to refrain from reducing the commission to a willing tool in the hands of political manipulators, advising the chairman and national commissioners to preserve the sanctity of the commission as a way of strengthening the nation’s democratic process.