The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja has declined to order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to inspect the central server allegedly used for transmission of the results of the February 23, 2019 presidential election.
It also refused to grant the petitioners’ request to access the data that were captured by all the Smart Card Reader Machines deployed for the poll.
In a unanimous ruling yesterday, the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man panel dismissed the application on the premise that all the parties in the petition challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the contest, had already joined issues on the existence or otherwise of a central server that was used for the collation and transmission of results of the election
It held that acceding to the petitioners’ prayers would amount to delving into the substantive dispute at the interlocutory stage.
According to the panel, allowing the application would lead to prejudging of “fundamental issues already raised by the parties on the substantive matter,” adding that “It will not be expedient that the court should grant prayers contained in the application.”
Justice Garba further held that it would result to “resolving the diluted issue regarding the central server and electronic transmission of results of the presidential election”, at the preliminary stage of the proceedings.
“The scenario will be unpalatable and will create the impression that the court has indeed recognised the existence of a central server and that the result was electronically transmitted.
“The law is settled that the court should ensure caution while dealing with interlocutory application so as not to make any observation that affect the substantive case”, the tribunal held.
In their petitions, the PDP and Atiku prayed the tribunal to allow them to rely on the report of data to be obtained from INEC’s server to prove its case against President Buhari’s re-election.
In their petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, Atiku and his party, insisted that data they independently secured from INEC’s server, revealed that they defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes.
The petitioners alleged that INEC had at various stages of the presidential election, unlawfully allocated votes to President Buhari, saying they would adduce oral and documentary evidence to show that result of the election as announced by the electoral body, did not represent the lawful valid votes cast
Atiku and PDP further alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to them, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned to office.
The petitioners said that they would call evidence of statisticians, forensic examiners and finger-print experts at the hearing of the petition to establish that the scores credited to Buhari were not the product of actual votes validly cast at the polling units.
INEC on its part denied the existence of such central server, insisting that results of the poll were manually transmitted.
The electoral body said that it could not have electronically transmitted the results since the process was not backed by the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
After the ruling yesterday, Atiku and the PDP vowed to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.
INEC Argument curious, Says Obi
Meanwhile, the PDP vice presidential candidate in the election, Mr. Peter Obi, has described the INEC’s behaviour as “outrageous and worrisome.”
Obi said that he had always respected the ruling of courts, even where it’s not favourable, but find it shocking and worrisome in this age that INEC, which ought to be an independent umpire would argue against subjecting itself to scrutiny when ordinary referees in football matches subject themselves to Video Assisted Referee (VAR) and even go further to visit it to enable them make more informed decisions.
He said that with the development, it would be difficult for INEC to convince any discerning mind that it set out to conduct a free and fair poll when it takes strange positions that clearly show otherwise to critical members of the public.
Presidency Hails Rejection Of Atiku’s Application
Also yesterday, the presidency described as a landmark, ruling by the tribunal stopping, “desperate attempt by the PDP to overreach judicial process.”
It said that by the unanimous decision, the long standing principle of law had once again been re-enacted.
In a statement issued by Buihari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, said that the attempt to cause the determination of an issue that constitutes the fulcrum of contention between the parties, at an interlocutory stage, had again been rejected by the tribunal.
According to him, what this means is that justice and fair hearing through due contest by the parties of a major issue for determination remains sacrosanct and remains considerable by the tribunal upon according parties just and fair hearing and not the other way round.
Shehu added that the tribunal unanimously rejected the PDP’s request to inspect a server which existence is being disputed.
“The existence of a purported server is being contested and if a purported inspection had been allowed at this stage, it would have amounted to the determination that it indeed existed even when its existence is being contested.
“The electoral law prescribes manual transmission of results only and this was what NEC did, in obedience to the law as witnessed by real electoral observers,” he stated.
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