Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, have assembled a team 20 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) and 400 witnesses as they filed their petitions challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 presidential election.
While the National Legal Adviser for the PDP, Emmanuel Enoidem, spoke on behalf of the party after completing the filing process, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) spoke on behalf of the Atiku legal team.
The PDP National Legal Adviser expressed confidence that the party had all the necessary evidence that would overturn the result of the election.
“We are here to present our joint petition for our party, the PDP, and candidate our party.
”The last day for the petition was actually tomorrow, but we decided to file today.
“We asked the tribunal that our candidate who won the election massively across the country be declared the winner of that election.
“In the alternative, we also asked that it should be set aside on the grounds of irregularities which were very apparent across the country.
“We have a pool of 20 SANS who are tested in election petition matters and other senior lawyers who are also working with them. So we are very ready for the petition. The petition is well packaged; the depositions are well put together and more than 400 witnesses are going to testify in this petition.
“Nigerians are at home with what happened on February 23 in this country – the sham they called election.
“Of course, we are going to re-present the facts to Nigerian as the facts are already in the domain of Nigerians. We are not going to manufacture facts.”
On his part, Ozekhome described Atiku’s petition as solid, strong and unassailable.
He expressed optimism that the true owner and keeper of the people’s mandate will soon be declared by the tribunal.
Ozekhome, however, lamented lack of corporation from INEC to the order granted his client and the PDP to inspect election materials.
Others lawyers in the legal team who were at the tribunal at about 7:41 pm were Emeka Etiaba (SAN) and Dr. Maxwell Gidado.
The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal had on March 6, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to grant access to the People’s Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to inspect the electoral materials used for the February 23 presidential polls.
However, the three-man panel led by Justice Abdul Aboki unanimously refused to grant other reliefs by the applicants seeking orders permitting them to, among others, photocopy and scan the electoral documents.
Specifically, the tribunal rejected their requests to be allowed to conduct a forensic examination and forensic analysis of the materials on the grounds that it was outside the scope of Section 151 of the Electoral Act.
Besides, the tribunal further refused to grant the applicants request to have access to card reader data and information contained in the cloud and electronic storage used for the poll.
Justice Aboki who delivered the unanimous ruling held that by virtue of the provision of Section 151 of the Electoral Act on which the applicants’ motion ex parte was predicated, they were only entitled to inspection of the electoral materials and the certified true copies of all the materials used for the poll.
Other members of the panel, justices Peter Ige and Emmanuel Agim, agreed with the lead ruling.
The ruling came after arguments were canvassed by Chief Chris Uche (SAN), who moved the ex parte motion on behalf of the applicants even though the legal team was led by Mr. Livy Ozoukwu (SAN).
The motion marked CA/A/P/EPT/1/2019, is seeking for leave of the tribunal to allow them to inspect the Voters Register, the Smart Card Reader Machines, Ballot Papers and other vital documents that were used in the conduct of the presidential election.
They equally prayed the tribunal to compel the electoral body to allow their agents to scan and make photocopies of vital documents used in the conduct of the election, for the purpose of establishing alleged irregularities.
The motion is asking the electoral body to release to the intending petitioners for scrutiny are the Voters Register, the Smart Card Reader Machines, as well as information stored in INEC’s back-up server. He said the first prayer in the motion paper was for leave of the tribunal permitting Atiku and the People’s Democratic Party to file the action before the pre-hearing session of the tribunal, as prescribed by the Electoral Act. The Applicants (Atiku and PDP) urged the tribunal to direct INEC to allow their agents to scan and make photocopies of vital documents used in the conduct of the election, for the purpose of establishing manifest irregularities they said led to President Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence as the winner of the presidential election. They maintained that the six reliefs sought against INEC were for the purpose of filing and maintaining an election petition they intend to lodge against the outcome of the 2019 presidential election.
Chief Uche, SAN, said his clients decided to approach the tribunal with the motion, in view of the fact that the Electoral Act stipulated that filing of the petition must not exceed 21 days after the election result was announced.
“Because of the limited time, the applicants who intend to file a petition, want to go and inspect, to be able to secure some documents that will be relied upon to maintain the petition.
“We are urging your lordships to grant us this order so that if we are inspecting, we can make copies by way of scanning or photocopying.
“The entire process will be conducted in the presence of INEC officials, and even the respondents if they so wish,” Uche submitted.
However, the tribunal chairman, Justice Aboki queried Uche on why his clients would not simply apply to be issued with Certified True Copies of the requested items, and if the extant electoral law permits a litigant to scan election materials.
The tribunal panel stressed that the opinion of forensic experts might not be admissible in evidence under the existing Electoral Act which it said specifically okays the admittance of certified documents.
A member of the panel, Justice Agim, noted that some of the requests by Atiku and the PDP were “outside the precincts of Section 151 of the Electoral Act.” However, in his reply, Uche argued that the court had in a plethora of decided cases, held that the sort of evidence his clients were seeking to secure, could be admitted if it were obtained with the leave of court. He said it would be practically impossible for INEC to certify over 80million ballot papers that were used in over 172, 000 polling units in the country where the presidential election took place.
According to Uche, with leave of the tribunal, forensic experts would be brought to testify and give evidence during the eventual hearing of the petition.
“My lords, if they are not allowed to secure the evidence and testify, it will deprive us of the ability to identify those abnormalities when we find them. “Besides, if one individual thumb-printed over 500 ballot papers, the certified copies cannot reveal it. That is why we want to scan them and send for expert analysis.
“That is why we need INEC to allow us access to scan the required documents. Going by Section 72 of the Electoral Act, all the materials are in the custody of INEC.
“The information we want is just to help us to package our complaint; at the end of the day, INEC will also have the opportunity to confirm the authenticity or otherwise of the items we tender in evidence before the tribunal.
“In essence my lord, no one will be prejudiced if our requests are granted. “We make this application, knowing the very limited time and very disadvantaged position of any petitioner so far as gaining access to the election infrastructure is concerned,” Uche added.
After it had listened to the motion, the panel stood-down for one hour to deliver its ruling, even as it directed Atiku’s counsel to supply it with the said court decisions that allowed the granting of the reliefs sought by applicants.