Independent National Electoral Commission says it has left the determination of the legitimate candidate of the All Progressives Congress and winner of the Imo North Senatorial Bye-Election held last Saturday to the court.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, made the position of the electoral umpire known on Friday.
INEC’s declaration of the APC as the winner of the election without returning a candidate in the Imo North Senatorial Bye-election has continued to generate controversy.
Recall that the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri had sacked Ifeanyi Araraume as the APC candidate.
Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam, who delivered the judgment, had declared Frank Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC just before the election.
But the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday also disqualified Ibezim as the APC candidate for the bye-election.
Okoye, however, said on Friday that the Commission declared APC the winner of the election without a candidate because of the conflicting court judgments, adding that the situation would be resolved in the court.
The INEC commissioner, who spoke on a television programme in Lagos, said, “Three things may likely happen in the Imo North Senatorial Bye-election. One of the candidates is already in the Supreme Court and the issue in the Supreme Court is whether the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to entertain the matter in the first place and whether the matter was decided first within the domestic realm of the party.
“If the Supreme Court determines that the court of first instance has jurisdiction over the matter, the implication is that Senator Ifeanyi Araraume becomes the candidate of the party and will now be returned as duly elected.
“If on the other hand, the Supreme Court determines that the Court of Appeal was right in striking out the matter and that the court of first instance does not have jurisdiction over the matter, that means that Senator Ifeanyi Araraume is out of the contest.”
Okoye further said, “In relation to the Federal High Court Abuja, if the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court make a determination that Frank Ibezim was not qualified to contest the election, the implication is that the APC does not have a candidate in the election. That will now leave the Commission with no option than to declare the party with the next highest number of lawful votes as the winner of the election.
“But if on the other hand, the matter filed in the Federal High Court Abuja goes up to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court makes a determination that Frank Ibezim was qualified to contest the election, the implication is that the Commission will now declare Frank Ibezim as the winner of that election.
“Ultimately, it is the court that will determine this particular matter because if you look at the list of candidates, for the APC, we only left the name and logo of the party there with a caveat; ‘By Court Order’. So, it is very clear to us that the court will have the final say in relation to who is the candidate of the party.
“Because of the timelines we have in the determination of electoral matters, the Court of Appeal has 60 days to make a determination and the Supreme Court has 60 days to make a determination. I believe very soon, the people of Imo North Senatorial District will know who their true representative is.” Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in the election, Emmanuel Okewulonu, has called on INEC to disqualify the APC over the discrepancy and declare him the winner of the election having polled 31, 903 votes, the second-highest votes in the election after APC’s 36, 811 votes