BY SUNDAY ISUWA and KUNLE OLSANMI, Abuja
Legal fireworks on the outcome of the February 23, 2019 presidential election began yesterday as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) took up the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar on their demand for a purported electronic server used for the poll.
INEC told the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja that the said server which the PDP and Atiku seek to access and inspect was not in existence.
In its reply filed on April 10, 2019 opposing the PDP and Atiku’s petition pending before the five-man tribunal, INEC denied the existence of such server in its office.
The petitioners are challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last presidential election.
INEC, Buhari and the APC who are the respondents in the case asked the Justice Mohammed Garba-led panel to dismiss the petitioners’ request.
The three respondents, through their counsel, reminded the tribunal that the Court of Appeal had on May 6, 2019 (before the petition was filed on May 18), dismissed a similar application filed by the PDP and Atiku.
Through its lead counsel, Mr. Yunus Usman (SAN), INEC said that the application by the petitioners amounted to asking the commission to produce what does not exist.
Usman said: “We attached as Exhibit 1 the enrolled order of this honourable court made on May 6, 2019 refusing all the prayers of the petitioners in this application. They said we should bring what we don’t have.”
INEC had declared the APC and Buhari the the winners of the February 23 election with 15,191,847 votes to defeat the PDP and Atiku, who polled 11,262,978 votes.
But the PDP and Atiku in their petition filed on March 18 challenged the outcome of the pol and contended that “from the data” obtained from INEC’s server, “the true, actual and correct results” showed that they polled a total of 18,356,732 votes to defeat the APC and Buhari who allegedly scored 16,741,430 votes.
By the calculation, the PDP and Atiku claimed that they won the election by 1,615,302 votes.
Their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Ozoukwu, who filed the application on May 8, 2019, sought an order of the tribunal to allow them access and inspect the INEC’s server into which the results and other data were allegedly transmitted during the February 23 election.
A senior member of the petitioners’ legal team, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), moved the application on yesterday.
Uche urged the tribunal to grant the application in the interest of justice, transparency and neutrality, arguing that it was necessary for his team to be able to sustain the petition.
He said: “The application in summary asks for access to and inspection of the server of the INEC and the smart card readers used in the conduct of the presidential election. We have addressed the issues in our counter-affidavit, written address and reply on points of law and we urge your lordships that the application be granted as prayed in the interest of justice, transparency and neutrality.
“The application is necessary for the maintainance of this petition,” he said.
In his reaction, Usman (INEC counsel), referred the tribunal to his client’s counter-affidavit filed on May 23 in opposition to the application.
He argued that since the Court of Appeal had earlier refused a similar application, it should not be granted.
Usman averred that the application was dead before arrival, adding that the electoral body did not collect the results of the election through a server.
“My Lord, the commission did not deploy such technology infrastructure in the last general election,’’ he said.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to Buhari said the application was laughable, adding that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had ruled against similar application brought to it by the same parties.
He said: “We also wanted such information if the technology was used, but our application demanding access to the server was dismissed. We have attached the enrolled order in our reply.’’
The APC prayed the tribunal to strike out Atiku’s petition against Buhari’s re-election because he is not a Nigerian by birth.
Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), counsel to APC made the call when he responded to the petitioners’ motion seeking the striking out of APC’s reply to the petition.
He said: “My Lords, I am opposing this application on the qualification of the first petitioner (Abubakar). I am standing by the proof we have supplied in our reply.
“The candidate of the PDP in the February 23 presidential election was not qualified to contest the election in the first place. I therefore, pray the tribunal to strike out the petitioners’ application for lacking in competence and merit,’’ Fagbemi said.
The APC insisted that Atiku was not a citizen of Nigeria by birth and ought not to have even been allowed in the first place to contest the election.
Uche who adopted the application, argued that historic records showed that the former vice president was a citizen of Nigeria by birth.
He, therefore, urged the panel to discountenance Fagbemi’s submission by granting the application.
The APC faulted the claim by the petitioners that they obtained the authentic results of the election from a server maintained by INEC showing that they won.
Justice Mohammed Garba reserved ruling on the motions and adjourned further proceedings on the petition till June 24.
In another development, a total of nine motions and counter affidavit were adopted and argued in petition the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and its presidential candidate, Albert Owuru, instituted against Buhari’s re-election.
Mr. Oliver Eya, counsel to the petitioners urged the tribunal to cancel the presidential election on account of alleged deceit by INEC.
Eya explained that shift in the date of the election from February 16 was a clear ploy by the commission to encourage electoral fraud.
He also submitted that the petitioners had conducted a nationwide referendum on February 16 and won the election.
Eya, therefore, prayed the tribunal to grant the motion and go ahead to also declare his clients as winners of the election.
The application came under heavy fire by counsel to the respondents.
Similarly Justice Garba adjourned hearing in the petition till June 20.
…Blames 8th Assembly For 2019 Polls Lapses
Also yesterday, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, blamed the leadership of the 8th National Assembly for the lapses that occurred during the 2019 general elections.
Yakubu said that the controversy that trailed the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which made President Buhari to decline his assent to the bill contributed to the challenges faced in the election.
He spoke in Abuja when a delegation led by Mohammed Ibn Chambas, visiting representatives of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General for West Africa, visited him.
He said that the commission was conscious of the need for electoral reforms ahead of the last general elections and submitted detailed proposals for the amendment of the electoral laws to the National Assembly.
Yakubu, however, claimed that the process for the amendment of the Electoral Act was delayed by the lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly.
He said: “We look forward to any suggestions that you may have for improving the electoral process in Nigeria as we prepare for future elections. In particular, we need to focus attention on the electoral legal framework among several areas of reform. Indeed, long before the 2019 general elections, the commission submitted detailed proposals for the amendment of our electoral laws in the light of our experience from the 2015 general elections and numerous off-season elections.”
“We had a useful interaction with the 8th National Assembly. We also submitted extensive proposals for the improvement of the electoral legal framework for its consideration. We were assured by the leadership of the last National Assembly that work on the electoral legal framework will be concluded by December 2016.
“Unfortunately, the process dragged on for so long and became even more difficult to conclude as the general elections approached. I want to assure Nigerians that, as always, we will start early,” Yakubu said.
In his remarks, Ibn Chambas, who is also Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, expressed concern over the number of political parties in Nigeria.
He said that the number of political parties in Nigeria and the West Africa sub-region was a serious challenge as it hinders the electorate from taking informed decision, just as “it distracts from the quality of the process.”
About 73 political parties fielded presidential candidates for the last general elections.
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