By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has fixed Friday for judgment on the suit former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, filed for an order to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue him a Certificate of Return as the Senator-elect for Imo West senatorial district.
Trial Justice Okon Abang okayed the matter for judgment after all the parties, including candidates of some political parties that participated in the election, adopted processes they filed for the suit to be dismissed.
The candidates, who through their lawyers, persuaded the court to join them as interested parties, said Okorocha’s suit lacked merit and deserved to be thrown out.
They separately contended that the high court lacked the jurisdiction to order INEC to recognise Okorocha as the winner of the disputed senatorial seat.
Those the court joined in the suit are candidates of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Osita Izunaso; Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Jones Onyereri; KOWA Party, Mr Nwachukwu Clement; United Progressive Party, UPP, Precious Nwadike, and Dr Uche Ibeh of Labour Party, LP.
Justice Abang had, on May 22, suspended proceedings on the matter following an appeal Izunaso filed with respect to the suit.
Izunaso had gone before the appellate court to challenge the decision of the high court to assume jurisdiction in the case.
In his six grounds of appeal, Izunaso argued that by hearing and granting joinder applications that were brought by all the candidates that participated in the polls, the court exercised jurisdiction it does not have.
He argued that the court should not have taken any step until it had determined whether or not it has jurisdiction to entertain Okorocha’s suit.
Meanwhile, following a nod from the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, Justice Abang subsequently heard all the parties and reserved the case for judgment.
Specifically, Okorocha had in his suit prayed the court to, among other reliefs, order INEC to issue him a Certificate of Return to enable him to proceed to the Senate.
It is part of Okorocha’s position that INEC lacked the statutory powers to withhold his Certificate of Return, insisting that he was validly elected to represent Imo West in the Senate.
The plaintiff’s bid to secure interim order against INEC suffered setback owing to multiple applications by candidates that were part of the polls.
Okorocha had prayed the court to order INEC to, in the interim, issue him Certificate of Return, pending the determination of the suit, a request refused by Justice Abang.
Recall that the first judge that was assigned the case, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, withdrew from the matter following a petition that was lodged against him by candidates of PDP and APGA, accusing him of bias.
The election, result
INEC earlier declined to issue Certificate of Return to Okorocha, who was the senatorial candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, after the returning officer alleged that he was forced to declare him winner under duress.
The Returning Officer for the election, Professor Francis Ibeawuchi, had declared Okorocha the winner of the poll, having polled 97,762 votes ahead of his closest rival, Mr Jones Onyereri of PDP, who had 68,117 votes.
However, Ibeawuchi claimed that he announced Okorocha as the winner to save his life and that of his household, insisting that the election ought to have been declared inconclusive.