…Atiku, PDP head to S’Court to challenge ruling
…Tribunal grants Buhari’s request to amend of argument
Andrew Orolua, Abuja
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sitting in Abuja, on Monday, declined to grant Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) access to inspect the server and data of smart card readers the petitioners claimed were used in collation of election result of the February 23 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Presiding Justice of the five man panel, Justice Mohammed Garba, ruled while deciding on the application filed by Atiku and PDP for permission, held that granting of the application would imply that the court has delved into and resolved the contentious issue of the existence of a central server at INEC.
Justice Garba also added that granting the application would further create the impression that the tribunal has concluded that there is a central server where results of the February 23 election were received and stored.
The tribunal had on June 13 reserved ruling in the application filed by Atiku and PDP on May 8.
The petitioners had asked for access to inspect INEC’s central server and smart card readers allegedly used in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
But, in a unanimous decision, the tribunal on Monday declined to grant the application on the grounds that parties have joined issues.
Justice Garba said the tribunal cannot at this preliminary stage of the hearing of the petition make an order that would appear it has taken decision on the substantive issue as the parties have joined issue on whether INEC have used a central server or not.
“I decline to grant the reliefs sought, this application is refused and accordingly dismissed”, Justice Garba ruled.
Four other members of the five-man panel agreed with the ruling and further hearing of the petition was adjourned to June 26.
However, one of lead counsel to the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), who argued the application on June 13, told journalists after the ruling that the decision of the tribunal would be challenged at the Supreme Court.
He said that section 151 of the Electoral Act allows petitioners to inspect materials used by INEC for an election, and this election cannot be an exception.
He pointed out that the nation is looking forward to the ruling of the tribunal on the petitioners’ application seeking to inspect the electoral materials, which he noted is pivotal.
Uche said that 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 prejudging 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,” he declared.
Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), one of the counsels to the petitioners, also reacting said: “INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmoud 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 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 has 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 added that the public is also 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, “but INEC said they have done all that. So where is the money, what is there that they are hiding? he queried.
“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,” Ozekhome added,
Meanwhile, the Presidential election petition tribunal on Monday granted the application filed by Buhari to amend his reply to Atiku and the PDP petition challenging his victory at the presidential poll held on February 23.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), the counsel to President Buhari, had while responding to the petition on behalf of Buhari (2nd respondent) 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, adding that 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 been adjourned till June 26 for continuation of pre-hearing.