Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha has said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lacks the power to withhold his certificate of return or reverse his election victory after being declared the winner of the Imo West senatorial election.
The chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum said this in a petition he filed at the commission through his counsel on Tuesday.
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 the winner of the election was made under duress.
In the petition entitled “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
The governor argued that 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.
According to him, if there were issues with the election after the announcement of a winner, recourse ought to be made to election tribunals.
He cited section 285 (1) of the 1999 constitution which 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.”
Further, he argued 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 said by withholding his certificate of return the INEC “is setting a bad precedent which could make it deny anyone it does not approve of electoral victory even when such person is the preference of the voting public.”
Also he said “In the replies filed by INEC to the petitions filed against me by Osita Izunaso, 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.”
Okorocha advised the INEC leadership against 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.