The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) Monday rejected the application filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate in the 2019 polls, Atiku Abubakar, to inspect the server and data of smart card readers used by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in the 2019 presidential election.
The duo are challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the election.
In a ruling, the five-man panel, led by Justice Mohammed Garba, held that the tribunal would not grant the application, saying doing so might imply the court had delved into the issue at interlocutory stage of the panel’s sittings which could amount to making an order that would affect the substantive issue.
The presiding judge also said granting such request could further create the impression that the tribunal had concluded that a central server where results of the February 23 election were received and stored actually existed.
It ruled further: “The Supreme Court had on many occasions warned judges to desist from making observations, comments or pronouncements in its rulings with any likely effect of pre-judging the main issue that can be regarded as the issue to be tried in the course of trial.
“I decline to grant relieve sought, this application is refused and hereby dismissed,” Justice Garba held.
Reacting to the ruling, lead counsel to the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, said the decision of the tribunal would be challenged at the Supreme Court.
The silk said section 151 of the Electoral Act allows them to inspect materials used by INEC for the election.
He said the nation was looking forward to the ruling of the tribunal on the petitioners’ application seeking to inspect the electoral materials, which he noted was pivotal.
Uche said granting the application would in no way prejudice the substantive matter.
INEC, he said, is a public institution and had mentioned having a central server and wondered why it turned around to say it has no server.
“We are not asking the court to decide whether there is a server or not, so the aspect of the court pre-judging in the issue doesn’t arise at all. All we are saying is that the court should allow us access to inspect the materials which we are entitled to as INEC is a public institution funded by public funds. So, we are going to challenge that.”
Also reacting, one of the counsel to the petitioners, Mike Ozekhome, SAN said: “INEC chairman himself, Professor Mahmood Yakubu has maintained again and again before and during the election that there is a central server, that results were going to be electronically transmitted to that central server.
“And all the electoral commissioners maintained that the stage we are in now is a technological stage where things would not be done manually and anything not done with the PVC which results would be transmitted electronically to the central server would not be valid.
“What the court have said today is like more or less that you don’t have the right under section 151 of the Electoral Act to maintain your petition, but we didn’t ask for details, we didn’t ask for content, all we asked for is to allow us access. So, it is not an issue.
“We are appealing the decision because it is like tying your hands behind your back and expecting you to fight. We are appealing the decision because we want to know what is in the central server that they are hiding.”
He said, “The public is also interested because budget was made for procurement of the central server in billions and it was approved by the National Assembly and it was disbursed. And INEC said they have done all that. So where is the money, what is there that they are hiding?
“This is not just a case between Atiku and Buhari, it is a case that has generated public interest for electoral transparency, credibility and freedom.”
Blueprint reports that the tribunal had on June 13 reserved ruling in the application filed on May 8 by the petitioners, for access to inspect INEC’s central server and smart card readers said to have been used in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
The PDP and Atiku had through their lawyers, led by Levy Uzoukwu, SAN, asked the tribunal to compel INEC to grant them access to the server and smart card readers used in the conduct of the election.
But in a counter affidavit, counsel representing INEC, Yunus Usman, asked the court to dismiss the application.
He argued: “They are asking us to bring something we do not have,”
Arguing further, Usman called the tribunal’s attention to its judgment of March 6 granting PDP access to inspect only election materials without the server.
Earlier, the tribunal had granted the application by Buhari to amend his reply to Atiku and the PDP’s petition against his victory at the presidential poll last February.
Buhari’s counsel, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, had while responding to the petitioners’ claim that Buhari (2nd respondent) lacked the prerequisites qualification to contest for the office of the president of Nigeria, failed to include his name and National Identification Number (NIM) on the process as required by law.
The application to amend the reply to reflect the name and NIM on the process was however opposed by the petitioners on the grounds that failure to do so when the reply was filed had rendered the reply incompetent.
“An incompetent process cannot be amended. There is nothing to amend once time for filing of the reply has expired. Further amendment cannot be done”, Uzoukwu had submitted.
However, Olanipekun in urging the tribunal to allow the application for amendment submitted that the application was harmless as it does not affect the response of the 2nd respondent in anyway nor prejudice against the petitioners.
He said failure to supply address of the 2nd respondent does not affect the process.
In its ruling the tribunal in a unanimous decision however agreed that allowing the amendment would do no harm to the petition.
“The omission of name and address does not make the reply incompetent, the order to amend is hereby granted. The 2nd respondent is granted three days from now to file his amendment”, the tribunal held.
The matter has since been adjourned till June 26 for continuation of pre-hearing.