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Allegation of duress

Published by The Nation on Mon, 23 Sep 2019


Its unsurprising that Senator Rochas Okorocha, the immediate past governor of Imo State, is happy about his recent victory at the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal. It was another victory for him, after his controversial election as the Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District. But the tribunals judgement in Okorochas favour didnt lay the controversy to rest.The election petitions tribunal had dismissed petitions filed by Jones Onyereri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Osita Izunaso of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), challenging Okorochas victory in the February 23 National Assembly election. The petitioners claimed the Imo West Senatorial District election was characterised by irregularities, including intimidation and violence. But the tribunal held that the petitioners were unable to prove the allegations.When the Returning Officer, Prof Innocent Ibeawuchi, alleged that he was forced to declare Okorocha of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the poll, the allegation stained the winner as well as the win. Ibeawuchi had told reporters that he was held hostage from 7pm on February 24 till 11am the following day. He was quoted as saying: I was compelled to announce the result which was inconclusive. I am a man of integrity and it is not true that the governor slapped me but I was held hostage by agents working for him. I was manhandled and I thank God I came back alive.In an interview published on September 15, Okorocha said: What is good about the judgement is that it has gone a long way to prove my innocence and to tell the world that my victory was not under duress, which was an action intended to paint me bad in the eyes of Nigerians. The tribunal has come to affirm that the election was not under duress; that I did not use force to get the victory as the senator representing Imo West. That for me is good news.According to Okorocha, The Returning Officer had announced the results and I was shocked after four days to hear that the Returning Officer said his child was kidnapped and that he was made to do the announcement under duress. That would mean somebody forcing you to do what you are not supposed to do. He calculated the votes from the wards for more than two hours and confirmed that everything was correct. So, where was the duress' When the court asked him where the duress came from, he could not answer it and that was when the court described him as a dramatist. That was a fabricated story which does not reflect any practical reality.Now contrast Okorochas narrative with this February 25 report: Before reeling out figures at the district collation centre in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Office in Orlu, Mr Ibeawuchi, a professor, said he was being held under duress to announce the results. My name is Ibeawuchi Izuchukwu Innocent, a professor at the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), the returning officer for Imo West (Orlu) senatorial zone, the official said. My area commander, my P.Os; the party agents here present; members of the press; ladies and gentlemen. I have been held hostage here for days so Im trying to ease off and take my life home back to my children and for the sake of that I am calling these results under duress, the returning officer said. He then reeled out the results. Okorocha polled 97,762 votes to win the election, while Onyereri had 68,117 votes and Izunaso got 30,084 votes, Ibeawuchi had announced.Based on the dons account, INEC withheld Okorochas certificate of return. Okorocha controversially got a certificate of return from INEC on June 11, following the order of a Federal High Court in Abuja. Justice Okon Abangs judgement on June 7 favoured Okorocha who had challenged INECs decision to withhold his certificate of return. The judge said:Once a declaration of the results has been made, that decision is final and can only be reviewed by the election petition tribunal and not by INEC Once the declaration is made under section 68(c) of the Electoral Act, INEC has become functus officio (has completed its responsibility) and INEC has no lawful authority to withhold the Certificate of Return for any reason whatsoever.According to Justice Abang, If indeed, it is true that the Returning Officer made the declaration under duress, it is for the defendants who lost in the election to proceed to the election tribunal to challenge the election under section 138 of the Electoral Act INEC has not, in its counter-affidavit, suggested that the plaintiff did not win the election. INEC did not declare the election as inconclusive. INEC did not declare that the election was won by any other person.In response, NEC had highlighted the likely consequences of this judgment for our electoral process in particular and our democracy in general. The commission said in a statement: Obviously, persons who seek elective offices could perceive in this judgment an irrelevance of due process and acting within the law.It is not farfetched that some of them could in future disregard laid-down processes, including voting, arm themselves and mobilise thugs and compel Returning Officers to declare them elected, irrespective of the true outcomes of the elections.Moreover, it may become increasingly difficult for the commission to convince its officials that they are safe to carry out their legitimate functions without fear of being harassed, held to ransom or visited with bodily harm.Does Okorochas victory at the election petitions tribunal mean Ibeawuchis allegation of duress is a fabrication' If it is true that Ibeawuchi had declared Okorocha the winner under duress, why did the petitions against Okorocha fail at the tribunal' Why were the petitioners unable to prove the allegation of duress' Why was Ibeawuchi unable to prove his allegation of duress' What was needed to prove the allegation of duress'The problem of electoral interference by candidates and their backers has various dimensions. A democratic system must not tolerate declaration of election winners under duress because democracy is not about duress. The big question is: If there was no duress, why did Ibeawuchi make an allegation of duress
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