After its meeting on Tuesday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) took two decisions concerning the recent court ruling that ordered it to issue a certificate of return to former Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha, as the Imo West Senator-Elect.
- It will comply with the Justice Okon Abang ruling and issue a certificate of return to Okorocha.
- It will appeal the ruling.
Why it matters, according to INEC. Per a statement signed by its spokesman, Festus Okoye, INEC said:
- First, it is obeying the judgement as further demonstration that it is an institution which consistently complies with court judgments, “including those with which it may have reservations.”
- Second, by appealing the judgment, INEC says it is concerned about the likely consequences of the ruling on the electoral process.
- It said the ruling could embolden those who want to win illegally: “Obviously, persons who seek elective offices could perceive in this judgement an irrelevance of due process and acting within the law,” the statement said. “It is not far-fetched that some of them could in future disregard laid down processes, including voting, arming themselves, and mobilize thugs, and compel Returning Officers to declare them elected, irrespective of the true outcomes of elections. “
- It could also make it difficult for INEC to “convince its officials that they are safe to carry out legitimate functions without fear of being harassed, held to ransom or visited with bodily harm.”
The other side: While INEC’s argument is reasonable, the question (which Justice Abng’s ruling highlighted) is what happens if INEC is allowe sweeping powers to decide whether to issue a certificate of return to a candidate who has already been declared winner by a Returning Officer? Such discretionary powers given to INEC could also be abused.
Backstory: Following the senatorial election in February, Okorocha was declared as winner of the Imo West election. However, the Returning Officer, Prof. Innocent Ibeawuchi later alleged that he was held hostage and forced to declare Okorocha, who was the APC candidate, as winner. “I was compelled to announce the result which was inconclusive. I am a man of integrity and it is not true that the governor slapped me but I was held hostage by agents working for him. I was manhandled and I thank God I came back alive,” he said.