Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has suffered a major setback in their quest to overturn the election of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the election petition tribunal on Monday refused their request for access to inspect the server and data of smart card reader deployed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
Ruling on their applications, the Justice Mohammed Garba led five-man panel unanimously held that the request could not be granted because both INEC and the petitioners have disagreed over the existence or otherwise of the server.
But in a swift reaction, lead counsel to the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche SAN, expressed the readiness of his clients to challenge the decision of the tribunal at the Supreme Court, adding that Section 151 of the Electoral Act allows them to inspect materials used by INEC for the election.
Besides, Uche 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 to the petition.
Justice Mohammed Garba, in a ruling held that granting of the application would imply that the court had delved into and resolved the contentious issue of the existence of a central server at INEC.
He added that doing so would further create the impression that the tribunal had concluded that there was a central server where results of the February 23 election were received and stored.
Our correspondent recalls that the tribunal had on June 13, reserved ruling in the application filed by Atiku and PDP on May 8, for access to inspect INEC’s central server and smart card reader allegedly used in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
However, it refused to grant the application on the grounds that since parties had joined issues, the tribunal could not at the interlocutory stage, make an order that would affect the substantive issue.
Justice Garba specifically held: “I decline to grant the relief sought; this application is refused and accordingly dismissed.”
The electoral body said it 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.”
Also in his reaction, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, one of the counsels to the petitioners, said: “INEC chairman himself, 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 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 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.
“We are appealing the decision because it is like trying 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.”
The human rights activist added that 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?
According to him, “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.
Meantime, the tribunal has adjourned to Wednesday to continue with its pre-hearing session.