A civil society group, Citizens’ Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER), has threatened to, in conjunction with the people of Imo West senatorial district, organise a 1,000-man protest in Abuja if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fails to issue a certificate of return to Governor Rochas Okorocha as the Senator-elect for Imo West senatorial district within seven days.
The Abuja-based group stated this in a letter dated May 2, 2019, and addressed to the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu.
Although the election’s Returning Officer, Professor Francis Ibeawuchi, had declared Okorocha winner of the Imo West senatorial election held on Saturday February 23, he later said the declaration was made under duress, thus INEC has refused to issue Okorocha a certificate of return.
However, CASER posited that Okorocha, having been declared winner in the election, should have been issued the certificate of return alongside other elected members of the National Assembly.
The letter, signed by Andrew Korna on behalf of the Executive Director, stated that “the act of withholding the certificate of a declared winner in an election is not just a clear case of abuse of constitutional powers by INEC, but it has become a painful denigration of a supposedly independent, impartial and unbiased electoral umpire that has now become embroiled and tainted with the corrupt vestiges of partisan politics.”
CASER stressed that INEC, being a creation of the laws of the land should be guided by the laws at all times, adding that “It is strange and highly despicable that on the basis of mere hearsay, INEC will withhold the certificate of return of Okorocha after being declared winner by a Returning Officer appointed by the same INEC.”
The group also said that by withholding Okorocha’s certificate of return, INEC risked jeopardising its hard-earned credibility.
According to CASER, “It is a highly dangerous precedent, the cost of which will be monumental if INEC decides to sacrifice its integrity on the cheap altar of political expediency that is driven by unscrupulous persons who do not care about the need to preserve the legal order regarding the conduct of elections in Nigeria.”
CASER added that no part of the 1999 Constitution or the Electoral Act vested in INEC the power to withhold a certificate of return after a winner has been declared in an election, saying the only option open is for aggrieved particpants in the election to seek redress in an election tribunal.
According to the body, the refusal by INEC to issue Okorocha the certificate of return is an attempt to deprive the people of Imo West senatorial district representation at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, which, it stated, is in contravention of Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria which provides that “Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law.”
CASER cautioned INEC against allowing itself to be manipulated by politicians to foist chaos and confusion on the polity. It also advised the commission not to lend credence to the belief in international community that Nigeria had been reduced to a banana republic where the wish of a few people override the will of the majority by allowing itself to be pushed into thwarting the expressed will of the people of Imo West senatorial district.
CASER, therefore, enjoined INEC to toe the path of honour by issuing a certificate of return to Okorocha within seven days of receiving the letter.