The 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 the Imo West Senatorial District.
Justice Okon Abang made this order in his judgment on the suit filed by Okorocha to challenge INEC’s decision to withhold his certificate of return after he was declared the winner of February 23, 2019, National Assembly election in the Imo West Senatorial District.
INEC had based its decision to withhold the certificate of return on the grounds that its Returning Officer who presided over the election complained to it that he declared the results under duress.
But the judge, who described INEC’s action as lawless and arbitrary, held in 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.
He, therefore, ordered, “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.