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INEC: Conflicting rulings divide lawyers over Okorocha’s Senate seat CoR

Friday’s ruling of an Abuja Federal High Court which tends to dwarf an earlier ruling by an Owerri High Court has raised some levels of confusion on the correct decision to be taken by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on which particular ruling to obey in handling the withheld certificate of return for Senatorial seat of Imo West Senatorial District.
Recall that there had been a confession of the INEC’s returning office for the election in Orlu Zone of Imo State, saying he was forced under duress to declare former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha as the winner when the true result did not reflect so.
Trouble started last week Friday, when Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja, ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return (CoR) to Okorocha having declared him the winner of the said election.
However, earlier a State High Court of coordinate jurisdiction, had restrained the same INEC in giving CoR to Okorocha pending the determination of the substantive suit before it.
Accordingly, the two conflicting judgment are currently raising serious issue of which ruling should be obeyed by the election umpire from today.
Whereas the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in Imo West, Jones Onyeriri, has accused Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, of bias in the judgement in which he ordered the INEC to issue Rochas Okorocha certificate of return, lawyers have started looking at the matter according to the eye of the law.
In his argument, Barr Emeka Iroha explained to Business Hilights that “State and Federal High Courts have coordinate jurisdiction. A federal high court cannot serve as an appellate court over decision of a state high court. Only the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to do”.
“To that extent, the decision of the federal high court Abuja on the issuance of CoR to Rochas Okorocha, can stand only as a very good academic exercise in so far as the order of Justice Njemanze of the High Court of Imo state, which barred INEC from issuing a CoR to Rochas or any candidate involved in the Senatorial election for Orlu zone, subsists.
Also speaking in a telephone interview with our correspondent, Lagos lawyer and public affairs analysts, Barr Monday Onyekachi Ubani said “First of all, INEC reserves the right to decide on which ruling to obey in this matter and may go ahead to obey the later judgement considering the possibility that during the course of proceedings in Abuja, happenstances at the Owerri High Court may have been either mentioned or referenced in one way or the other before the trial judge arrived at his decision after all.
Already, the INEC had shortly after the Abuja ruling issued a statement, saying “The attention of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been drawn to the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, presided over by the Hon. Justice Okon Abang, directing the Commission to issue a Certificate of Return to Rochas Okorocha as the Senator-elect for Imo West Senatorial District”.
“The Commission is also aware of and has been served with the Order of a High Court of Imo State, presided over by Hon. Justice Njemanze, directing the Commission not to issue a Certificate of Return to any of the candidates that contested the Imo West Senatorial District election. The Order from the High Court of Imo State was issued on 23rdMay 2019 and the suit has been further adjourned to 26thJune 2019.
“The Commission is aware that the judgement delivered by the Federal High Court, Abuja is the latest in time and determined the rights of the parties in relation to the subject matter of the Certificate of Return, in respect of the Imo West Senatorial Election.
“The Commission is currently undertaking State level reviews of the 2019 general elections and all the National Commissioners are either in or heading to their States of Supervision to coordinate activities relating to the said review.
“In view of the import and directives of the said judgement, the Commission will meet as soon as practicable to do the needful.
“As a law-abiding institution, the Commission will continue to obey judgements of all courts of competent jurisdiction.
According to Festus Okoye, National Commissioner & Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee at INEC, “The Commission’s overriding consideration is the safety of its ad-hoc staff, Electoral Officers and Collation/Returning Officers and is worried that if electoral impunity is allowed to flourish, any individual can harass, intimidate and put the Commission’s officers under duress, procure a favourable declaration and be rewarded with a Certificate of Return”.