Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, has asked the Abuja division of the Federal High Court to grant an order compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue him a certificate of return as the senator-elect for Imo West senatorial district.
Okorocha is claiming to have won the February 23 Imo West senatorial election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress.
He was however not been presented with a certificate of return by the electoral body as his name was not listed by the Independent National Electoral Commission among those who were presented with their certificates by INEC.
The commission claimed the winner of the Imo West senatorial district election was announced under duress. It, therefore, did not list anyone as the winner.
The returning officer for the election, Prof Francis Ibeawuchi, declared Okorocha as the winner of the poll, having polled 97,762 votes ahead of his closest rival, Mr Jones Onyereri of the People’s Democratic Party, who had 68,117 votes.
However, both the PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance protested against the declaration of Okorocha as the winner of the election.
Ibeawuchi later claimed he was forced to declare Okorocha as the winner to save his life.
He said that he feared for his life and was forced to announce the result of the poll in favour of the governor whereas it was inconclusive.
But determined to claim his mandate, Okorocha had in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/296/2019, filed by his counsel, Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) seeking a court order compelling the INEC to issue him a certificate of return as the validly elected senator for Imo West senatorial district.
In the suit, he listed the electoral body as the sole defendant; Okorocha contended that having declared him the winner of the election, INEC had no power to withhold his certificate of return.
Meanwhile, when the case came up for hearing, the court by the agreement of counsel, joined the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Jones Onyeriri and that of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Senator Osita Izunaso as the 2nd and 3rd defendants in the suit.
It was a give-and-take decision on the part of counsels in the suit who traded their legal tricks in favour of an accelerated hearing of the matter.
While the plaintiff’s counsel traded his right to object to the applications brought by parties seeking to be joined in the suit as interested parties for an abridgement of time, counsel to the parties seeking joinder, on the other hand, forfeited their objections for abridgement of time.
Following the mutual agreement, the applications seeking to be joined in the suit by the PDP and APGA candidates were withdrawn and struck out by the court.
While Prince Nwafor Orizu appeared for Senator Izunaso, Chief Emeka Etiaba (SAN) appeared as counsel to Onyeriri.
Counsel to the INEC, Mrs. Wendy Kuku, also consented to the mutual agreement.
Having joined the interested parties, Justice Taiwo .O. Taiwo, commended the action taken by counsel to parties to the suit as a healthy development aimed at fast-tracking the hearing of the case.
“Your action is in line with the ethics of the legal profession and it will help the court to timely adjudicate on the matter. This court also has powers under Order 9 Rules 14 (3) to suo muto joined the applicants.”
He consequently ordered counsel to the plaintiff, to amend his originating process to reflect the new parties.
Justice Taiwo also ordered the defendant’s to file and exchange their process within ten days, while the plaintiff’s counsel was given three days to respond to the processes.
The matter was then adjourned to April 5 by 2 pm for the hearing of the originating motion and all pending applications.