The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its Presidential Candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, will appeal against the ruling of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) server.
Naija Buzz News had on Monday reported that the PEPT rejected the request by Atiku and the PDP to compel INEC to grant them access to inspect the commission’s central server.
We had also few weeks ago reported that Atiku and his party had asked the PEPT to compel the electoral umpire to grant them access to card readers used for the February 23 2019 Presidential Election and its central server which INEC says it does not have.
The five-man PEPT panel led by Justice Mohammed Garba unanimously rejected Atiku’s request, saying that granting it would amount to pre-judging the main issue meant for trial during pre-hearing.
The Tribunal noted that since INEC had denied the existence of the server, granting Atiku and PDP access to the alleged server would mean it was deciding on the main issue at the interlocutory stage which will be unpalatable.
Justice Garba-led tribunal noted that granting Atiku’s request would mean; “by implication, mean that the court had indeed recognised and found that there is a central server into which results of the election held on February 23, 2019 were electronically transmitted by the 1st respondent (which is INEC).”
According to the judge, the Supreme Court had on many occasions warned judges against making observations, comments or any pronouncements in its ruling in any application which may appear as prejudging the establishment of the case that will be required to be proved in the substantive matter.
“In other words, the court cannot in an interlocutory application determine the main issue that is meant to be tried during trial,” Justice Garba said.
“This court has chosen to abide by the said admonition of the Supreme Court so as not to be culpable of prejudging the main issue in the petition at the interlocutory stage,” he added.
Consequently, he refused and dismissed Atiku’s request.
“In this regard, I decline to grant the relief sought by the petitioners in their application. The application filed on May 8, 2019 is hereby refused and dismissed,” he ruled.
Atiku had vehemently rejected the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 president poll by INEC, saying that he is the true winner of the election.
The former Vice President alleged that according to the results he obtained from INEC server, he got 18,356,732 votes while Buhari got 16,741,430 votes.
INEC had declared that Buhari got 15,191,847 votes to defeat Atiku who got 11,262,978 votes.
The electoral commission had since rejected Atiku’s result saying that he was circulating a fake result because result collation was not done electronically as he claims but manually. INEC had in its recent response to Atiku’s request to inspect its server noted that the PDP presidential candidate was asking for what it does not have.
Chief Chris Uche and Mike Ozekhome two senior members of Atiku’s legal team had after the PEPT ruling said that it would appeal at the Supreme Court.
Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said that; “the nation was looking forward to this ruling and it’s one that is very pivotal to this matter. The Electoral Act itself empowers the court and indeed all tribunals to grant access such as this to petitioners in order to institute and maintain a petition.
“The court has ruled. But definitely this is a matter we want to take to the Supreme Court to challenge this ruling because we strongly feel that Section 151 of the Electoral Act entitles us to have access to these materials.
“We are not asking the court to decide the issue of whether there is a server or not. The claim about the court prejudging any issue doesn’t arise at all.
“All we are saying is allow us access to inspect materials used by INEC which we are entitled to and INEC is a public institution funded by public finance. So, we are going to challenge the ruling.”
Ozekhome (SAN) in his own statement noted that the PEPT rejection on its request to inspect INEC server is denying the right of the petitioners to access vital materials.
“More importantly, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had maintained again and again before and during the elections that they had a central server and that the results were going to be electronically transmitted to that central server,” Ozekhome said.
“All the electoral commissioners, including Mike Iginni, in Akwa Ibom State, maintained that the stage we were in was a technological stage when things would not be done manually, that anything not done through the PVC, and results not transmitted to the central server would not be valid,” he added.
He further noted that Festus Keyamo, the spokesperson for the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation, had written a petition against the PDP and Atiku that they hacked into INEC’s server.
Ozekhome further asked which server was Keyamo referring to if INEC had no server.
We had published Keyamo’s petition against Atiku and PDP to the Inspector General of Police and the Department of State Services on our sister site. Read it here
“We will appeal against the decision because we believe that it is like tying your hands behind your back and expecting you to fight. We need the materials required under Section 151 of the Electoral Act, we need the central server,” Ozekhome added.
“We want to know what is inside there that they are hiding, we want to find out. The public is interested because budget was made for procurement of the central server in billions of naira and it was approved by the National Assembly and it was disbursed, so where is the money spent? Where is the central server? What is there that you are hiding? You must let us know,” Ozekhome insisted.
Meanwhile, the PEPT had granted request for Buhari to amend his reply to the petition filed by Atiku and the PDP.
Buhari through his lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had on May 14 seek the amendment of his reply to Atiku’s petition as pointed out by the petitioners.
Buhari’s request which was opposed by Atiku was however granted by the PEPT because the amendment would not change the substance of the reply and would not also constitute any injustice or prejudice against Atiku and PDP.
Dr. Livy Ozoukwu (SAN) had asked the PEPT to strike our Buhari’s response to Atiku’s petition because the address of the service of the lawyers who filed the reply was not included as mandated in the Electoral Act.
Yunus Usman (SAN), the counsel of INEC, in his statement after the PEPT ruling yesterday, said that; “the court has said that since issues have been joined, it cannot delve into those issues for now before trial. That is just the ruling.”
The pre-hearing was adjourned to Wednesday 26 June, 2019.
Ogbodo ThankGod is currently the Managing Director/CEO/Group Chief Editor at Naija Buzz News Network. He was the Chief Editor at NaijaBuzz.News before his new top leadership role. Ogbodo has years of experience in the Nigeria Media Industry and has co-founded some media companies. He is the founder of Ogbodo Solution Nigeria and 1Push.Ng. He loves playing football and is a strong supporter of Lionel Messi who he describes as the greatest footballer of all time.