Inspection Of INEC Server, Card Reader: Tribunal Reserves Ruling In Atiku, PDP Request …APC Asks Court To Dismiss Suit

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Atiku Abubakar

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sitting in Abuja, yesterday, reserved ruling on the application filed by Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for access to inspect the server and data of smart card readers used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
The presiding justice of the five-man panel, Justice Mohammed Garba, reserved date for ruling in the application shortly after the counsel in the matter adopted and argued their brief of arguments in the suit.
Garba said the panel would communicate the date of the ruling to the parties’ lead counsel once they are ready.
In moving the motion for inspection of the INEC server and other electoral materials, one of the lead counsel to Atiku and the PDP, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), said the request is essential to their petition challenging the return of President Muhammadu Buhari at the election.
The petitioners had in their petition stated that by the figures obtained from INEC’s server, they and not Buhari and the third respondent, All Progressives Congress (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 polled 16,741,430.
Uche told the tribunal that the inspection of the server and data is necessary in the interest of justice, transparency and neutrality on the part of the first respondent, INEC.
Responding, the lawyer to INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN), vehemently opposed the application for inspection on the grounds that the Court of Appeal had on March 6 refused the prayers of the petitioners to inspect INEC server and smart card readers.
He maintained that the court having refused the prayers lacked jurisdiction to revisit the same application.
Usman therefore urged the tribunal to dismiss the application, adding that: “We do not have server.”
The lead counsel to Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and that of the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), also made similar argument in opposing the application for inspection.
Olanipekun told the tribunal that it lacks jurisdiction to overule 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.
Consequently, Justice Garba announced that the ruling in 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 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 23.
Atiku, who is the presidential candidate of the PDP in the February 23 presidential election and his party are among the three other political parties and their presidential candidates currently seeking the nullification of President Buhari’s victory at the presidential poll.
The forth petitioner, Geff Ojinaka and his party, Coalition for Change (C4C), had without reason on June 10, applied to withdraw their petition against the election of Buhari.
The application, which was not objected to by the respondents in the suit, was accordingly dismissed, leaving that of the PDP, Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and the Peoples Democratic Movement and that of their candidates.
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) yesterday prayed the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to strike out Atiku Abubakar’s petition against President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election because the former vice president “is not a Nigerian by birth.”
Mr Abubakar, a former vice president, contested the February 23 general election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The presidential candidate of the PDP and his party approached the tribunal seeking his declaration as the rightful winner of the election.
Lateef Fagbemi, Counsel to the APC made the call while responding to the petitioners’ motion seeking the striking out of APC’s reply to the petition.
“My Lord, 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 Peoples Democratic Party in the Feb.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,’’ Mr Fagbemi said.
The third respondent (APC) insisted that Mr Abubakar was not a citizen of Nigeria by birth and ought not to have even been allowed in the first place to contest the election.
Counsel for the petitioners, Chris Uche, argued that historic records showed that the former vice president was a citizen of Nigeria by birth.
Mr Uche, therefore, urged the panel to discountenance Mr Fagbemi’s submission by granting the application.
The motion filed by the petitioners seeking access to inspect the server and other election materials used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was also heard.
Mr Uche had told the tribunal to grant the application as doing so would be in the interest of justice and transparency.
Our source reports that the application was vehemently objected to by all the counsel to the respondents.
On his part, Yunus Usman, SAN, counsel for INEC, said 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.
Wole Olanipekun, counsel for Mr 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.
“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,’’ Mr Olanipekun said.
Similarly, Mr Fabgemi, counsel for APC aligned himself to the argument advanced by Messrs Usman and Olanipekun, adding, however, that no provisions in the country’s statute books allowed the request made by the petitioners.
The APC had particularly 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.
The electoral body on February 27 announced the second respondent (Buhari) of the APC winner of the election scoring 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, with 11,262,978 votes.
However, the PDP in an affidavit claimed that its candidate instead polled a total of 18,356,732 votes defeating Buhari who scored 16,741,430 votes.
Justice Mohammed Garba reserved ruling on the motions.
The judge went ahead to adjourn further proceedings on the petition until June 24.
HDP’s case
In another development, nine motions and counter affidavits were adopted and argued in the petition by the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and its presidential candidate, Albert Owuru, instituted against Mr Buhari’s re-election.
Oliver Eya, Counsel for the petitioners had urged the tribunal to cancel the February 23 presidential election on account of alleged deceit by INEC.
Mr 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.
Mr 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.
Mr Usman, counsel to INEC said the motion was incompetent for failing to include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as a party to the suit.
Mr Usman also said that the reasons for the shift in the date of the election was discussed with all stakeholders and approved by them before the commission went ahead to announce it.
Justice Garba adjourned hearing in the petition until June 20.
Also, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has said that an administration that cannot deliver on its promises of change and has rendered the country almost comatose cannot be a true friend of June 12 struggle.
In a statement issued in Abuja to mark Democracy Day, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February election said it is not enough to declare June 12 Democracy Day.
He noted that the significance of the celebration of June 12, 1993, Presidential Election is a reminder of the nation’s history to becoming a democratic country.
His statement added: “On this day twenty-six years ago, Nigeria voted for democracy against the jackboot notion of oppressive totalitarianism.
“The collective decision by Nigerians to elect democracy on that day was not to aggrandize the political elite or to replace the military dictatorship with civilian autocracy. No! The choice of democracy was to restore power to the people.
“Suffice it to state that the idea of June 12 is not merely to declare it as a Democracy Day – much as celebratory and commendable it might seem. The idea behind the event of June 12, 1993, embodies something much more bigger than that.
“It was a threshold moment in our national life that demands of us as democrats to do a soul searching and ask the salient question of all time: how better off are Nigerians?
“It is not enough to declare June 12 a Democracy Day when the government of the day is disrespectful of the rule of law and wantonly disregards court orders on issues that border on fundamental human rights.