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 Govenor 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 the February 23, 2019 National Assembly election in the 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 of the election under duress.
But the judge, who described INEC’s action as lawless and arbitrary, agreed with Okorocha’s lawyer, Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN), that the plaintiff having been declared the winner of the election, INEC had ceased to have power or legal authority to review the declaration.
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.”
He said only the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal which has begun its sittings on the petitions filed by the defendants had the power to review whether the results were declared under duress.
Justice Abang ruled, “Once a declaration of the results has been made, that decision is final and can only be reviewed by the election petition tribunal and not by INEC.
“Therefore it is mandatory for INEC to include the name of the plaintiff as the winner of the election to the Orlu Senatorial District.
“Under the Electoral Act, INEC has no authority to decide to withhold the certificate of return on the basis that the results were declared under duress.
“It is hereby ordered that INEC shall forthwith issue certificate of return as the senator-elect representing senator-elect representing Orlu Imo West Senatorial District.”
A total of N900,000 cost is to be paid by the defendants to Okorocha.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Friday, INEC said it would meet as soon as practicable to do the needful.
Okorocha, in his reaction, said he had forgiven those who encouraged INEC to withhold his Certificate Of Return as the senator -elector for Imo West.