NASS: Okorocha Laughs Last But…………..

 By Elizabeth Chukwuma

The last may not have been  heard about the Imo West Senatorial district  election in south east Nigeria. between last  February  and now,  the election  had been under dispute on who  is the real winner.  Rochas Okorocha,  a former governor of the state, who many believed had ruled the state for eight years as an Emperor , claimed  he won the election and ought to have been  issued his Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to join other elected  Senators who had been issued their Certificates in the hallowed. Chamber. At least he would participated  in casting his one vote to decide who becomes the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

Note that Innocent Ibeabuchi, a Professor, and the Imo West Senatorial district Returning Officer, had petitioned Mahmood Yakubu, a Professor and the Chairman of the Commission that he had declared  the former governor as the winner duress.  According to him,” he had showed up  at the collation centre  and said  that he must be declared the winner , threatening they will not leave  the place until it is  done”. The Professor had expected the security agencies personnel who were at the scene to intervene to  save the situation from degenerating but  he disclosed that  ”they simply did not do anything” as the electoral umpire officials have no option but  to choose between their own lives  and the governor’s victory and they subsequently choose the later.

Muhammed Tanko: Acting CJN

He had  forwarded the photograph of the attach on the INEC officials to the Headquarters, which was said to have been investigated and found to be true. It was not surprising why the Commission refused to the former the Certificate of Return but declared Jones  Onereri, the People’s Democratic Candidate in the election in the  election as the winner. The Commission may not have given the Certificate to the PDP, Cadidate because of a Court ruling in Owerri, the state Capital , that enjoined the government agency not to isuue the Certificate to any of the Candidates claiming victory in the election.

This may have strengthened the resolved of the Commission not to issue the Certificate to any of them. Rochas Anayo Ehelbert Okorocha,  which was the name used in contesting  the election may have resorted to plan  B when it became obvious that he may not get the Certificate by taking the case to a Federal High Cour in Abujat , presided over in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, presided over by Justice Okon Abang. He got it right. This is because the Court  on Friday, June 7, 2019, the Court ordered  INEC to issue  a Certificate of Return  to him, having been declared the winner of the February 23, 2019,  Senatorial election in Imo West.

The Commission may have been hesitant to respond to the Court immediately  because of its insistence tht the governor engaged in akward actions to obtain the favourable results based on the photograph before it which Okorocha had described as fake.

Yakubu, the INEC, may have known the implication of not complying with  the Federal High Court order that  he quickly called for a Management meeting  on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, to take a decision on the Court order and the next line of action to be followed on the matter. The Commission  had yielded to the Court order  and quickly presented   the former Imo state  governor  his Certificate of Return as Senator -elect of Imo West Senatorial district. Another decision that was said to have been held at the top level INEC meeting was  to appeal against the Abang Judgment, an indication that the case may drag on to the Supreme Court as did the case of Zamfara state where all the APC elected  NASS, state House of Assembly members and  the governor  elect were disqualified on the ground that there was no valid election and victory awarded to PDP and other parties Candidate who came second during the election.

The Commission may have bowed to the Court order to issue the a Certificate of Return  to Okorocha but expresses concern about  the   likely consequences of  the Abang judgment  for the country electoral process  and nascent democracy ”as” people who seek elective offices could perceive the Judgment an irrelevance of due process and acting within the law” . The Commission fears that ”’ some of them could in the future regard laid down process, including voting arm themselves and mobilise thugs and compel  Returning officers to  declare them elected, irrespective of the true outcomes of the election”.

The major worry of Yakubu and his management team was that the Court Judgment has made it increasingly difficult for the Commission to convince its officials that they are safe to carry out their legitimate functions without fear of being harassed, held to ransom or visited with bodily harm. Although, INEC, has bowed to Court orders to present Okorocha  a Certificate of Return as Senator-elect, Imo West, despite the weight allegations of wrong doing  against him at the Collation Center,”  it has restated  it commitment  to due process and obedience to the rule of law in its dealings with all parties  and Candidates, an indication that the former governor’s stay in the Senate will be short-lived if it wins its appeal in the Supreme Court. ”We will not  waiver in our determination to enthrone  credible electoral process in the country”, the Commission insists.

An elated Okorocha has said that INEC, issuing him a Certiicate of Return as Senator-elect, Imo West Senatorial district was an indications that the allegations against him was untrue. The former governor who could not hide his feelings  says he has ”forgiven  Ibeabuchi, the  Imo  west Senatorial district Returning officer in the February 23, 2019, National Assembly election in the state, who had alleged that he declared him winner under duress.

He may have shot himself on the leg when he thanked  the Court for the favourable Judgment, as he had  described  Abang as ”one of the exemplary ambassadors of the Judiciary in Nigeria for” reaffirming his victory in the election” . Judicial watchers believe that if he had lost in the Court,  he may have been singing  a different tune to discredit the nation’s Judiciary. This is where Mohammed Tanko, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, may have to intervene to restore order in the nation’s Judicial system to avoid the Judgments on the same case from different  High Courts and Appeal Courts in different parts of the country. Take the Imo west Senatorial district case alone, there were about three Judgements from three different Courts. The latest being the Abuja Appeal Court Judgment, which gave  victory to OKorocha.

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