Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) has reserved ruling on the application filed by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to inspect the server and data of smart card reader used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
The tribunal took the decision yesterday even as the electoral body said it has no server on the 2019 general elections.
Besides, President Muhammadu Buhari and his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) have joined INEC to ask the tribunal to dismiss the application.
In opposing the application to access the INEC’s server, the electoral body, Buhari and APC all attached enrolled order of the decision of the Court of Appeal which had rejected a similar application by the petitioners.
Specifically, the court had on March 6, 2019, refused the requests by Atiku and PDP to be allowed to conduct forensic examination and forensic analysis of the materials, as well as have access to the card reader data and information contained in the smart card reader, cloud and electronic storage used for the polls.
Justice Abdul Aboki had, in his lead ruling, said by virtue of the provisions of section 151 of the Electoral Act on which the applicants’ motion ex parte was anchored, Atiku and his party were only entitled to inspect the electoral materials and the certified true copies of all the materials used for the polls.
The two other members of the panel, Justices Peter Ige and Emmanuel Agim, agreed with the lead ruling by Justice Aboki.
Meanwhile, the presiding justice of the five-man panel of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba said the panel would communicate the date of the ruling to parties’ lead counsels once they are ready.
This was after counsels in the matter adopted and argued their brief of arguments in the suit.
Earlier, moving the motion for inspection of the INEC’s server and other electoral materials, a counsel in Atiku and the PDP’s legal team, Chief Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the request was essential to their petition challenging the return of President Buhari at the election.
The petitioners had, in their petition, stated that by figures obtained from the INEC’s server, they and not Buhari and the third respondent, the APC, won the presidential election held on February 23 this year.
According to the figures allegedly obtained from the server, Atiku said he scored 18, 356,732 votes as against that of Buhari, whom he said scored 16, 741,430.
“The Servers from which the figures were derived belong to the first respondent, INEC. The figures and votes were transmitted to the first respondent’s presidential result’s Server 1, and thereafter, aggregated in INEC_PRES_RSLT_SRV2019, whose physical address or unique Mac address is 94-57-A5-DC-64-B9 with Microsoft Product ID 00252-7000000000-AA535. The above descriptions are unique to the 15th respondent’s Server,” Atiku and his party said.
The spokesperson for the second respondent’s campaign organisation openly admitted that the data in question was in the first respondent’s Server when he wrote and submitted a petition to the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), asking the security agencies to investigate the second petitioner herein for allegedly hacking into the Server of the first respondent and obtaining the data in question.
“Specifically, Festus Keyamo, SAN, the spokesperson of the second respondent claimed in the said petition that it was the first petitioner who smuggled the data into the Server.”
Atiku and the PDP also alleged that the INEC chairman “committed grave errors in the final collation exercise” for the election by “falsely crediting” some persons with political parties, including “Okotie Christopher, Reverend Dr. Onwubuya and Ojinika Jeff Chinze.”
Uche told the tribunal that the inspection of the server and data was necessary in the interest of justice, transparency and neutrality on the part of the first respondents, INEC.
However, lead counsel to the INEC, Yunus Usman, opposed the application for inspection and urged the tribunal to dismiss it, saying, “We do not have server.”
Usman further drew the attention of the tribunal to its enrolled order of March 6, 2019, refusing all the prayers in the said application.
He maintained that the court, having refused the prayers, lacked jurisdiction to revisit it.
On his part, lead counsel to Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun, and that of the APC, Lateef Fagbemi, also canvassed similar arguments to oppose the application for inspection.
Olanipekun told the tribunal that it lacked jurisdiction to overrule itself, while Fagbemi urged the tribunal to be wary of making an order which it is not capable of enforcing, because INEC has said it has no server.
After the adoption of briefs by counsels, Justice Garba announced that ruling on the application is reserved to a date to be communicated to parties, and adjourned the pre-hearing of Atiku and PDP’s petition till June 24.
Earlier, the tribunal heard the motions filed by the INEC, President Buhari and APC urging it to dismiss the petition of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and its presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Oworu for being incompetent and abuse of court processes. Olanipekun in his argument said that there was no petition filed by the party before the tribunal because what was served on the respondents is a petition against referendum which the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain.
The tribunal, however, reserved ruling to a date to be communicated to parties in the suit and adjourned the pre-hearing of the HDP’s petition till June 20.