By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, on Wednesday, urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to reject an application the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, brought to be joined in the suit he filed to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue him a Certificate of Return as the Senator- elect for Imo West Senatorial District.
Okorocha, through his lawyer, Mr Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN, opposed PDP’s joinder-application, insisting that it was filed in bad faith.
“My lord the application was brought for the purpose of truncating, delaying and frustrating the prompt hearing of this matter”, Okorocha lamented.
He noted that PDP’s senatorial candidate in the disputed election, Mr. Jones Onyereri, was earlier joined as the 2nd Defendant in the suit.
Okorocha therefore urged the court to disregard what he described as PDP’s antics, and proceed to hear his suit on its merit.
However, counsel to the PDP, Mr. Stanley Imo, asked the court to ignore the Plaintiff’s objection, maintaining that his client is a necessary and desirable party in the matter.
Imo noted that the court had separately joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and its candidate in the election, Chief Osita Izunaso, as 7th and 3rd Defendants respectively.
“It is not in doubt that a political party that sponsored a candidate is an interested party in an action of this nature. Even the Electoral Act was clear that the two people who can challenge the outcome of an election are the political party that sponsored a candidate or the candidate himself”, he argued.
On its part, INEC’s lawyer, Mrs. Wendy Kuku, said she was not opposed to PDP’s bid to be joined in the matter.
After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Okon Abang adjourned the matter till Thursday for ruling.
Justice Abang agreed with Okorocha’s counsel that the case was time sensitive, even as he assured that all parties would be given fair hearing.
It will be recalled that the first Judge that was assigned the case, Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo, disqualified himself from the matter following a petition that was lodged against by candidates of the PDP and APGA who accused him of bias.
Okorocha who vied for Senate on the banner of the All Progressives Congress, APC, had in his suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/296/2019, maintained that INEC lacked the statutory powers to withhold his Certificate of Return, saying he was validly elected to occupy the senatorial seat.
He is praying the court to declare that the electoral body acted in error when it refused to recognise him, even after the returning officer had declared him winner.
The Plaintiff’s bid to secure an interim order against INEC suffered setback due to to multiple applications by candidates that participated in the election.
Those the court earlier joined in the suit were Mr. Nwachukwu Clement of KOWA party, Precious Nwadike of United Progressive Party, UPP, Dr. Uche Ibeh of Labour Party, and APGA.
They all notified the court of their intentions to file preliminary objections to challenge the competence of suit.
The Defendants said they were opposed to the issuance of Certificate of Return to the plaintiff.
INEC had declined to issue Certificate of Return to Okorocha who was the senatorial candidate of the 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, 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 Peoples Democratic Party, who had 68,117 votes.
Ibeawuchi claimed that he announced Okorocha as the winner to save his life and that of his household, insisting however that the election ought to have been declared inconclusive.
Okorocha had prayed the court to order INEC to in the interim, issue him Certificate of Return, pending the determination of the suit.