Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, 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, yesterday, refused their request to inspect the server and data of smart card readers said to have been deployed by the 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 issues had been joined by parties over the existence or otherwise of the server.
In 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 was looking forward to the ruling of the tribunal on the petitioners’ application seeking to inspect the electoral materials, which he noted was pivotal to the petition.
Justice Garba, in the ruling, held that granting the application would imply that the court has delved into and resolved the contentious issue of the existence of a central server at the INEC.
He added that doing so would further create the impression that the tribunal has concluded that there was a central server where results of the February 23 election were received and stored.
The tribunal had on June 13 reserved ruling on the application filed by Atiku and PDP on May 8 to inspect INEC’s central server and smart card readers allegedly used in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
However, the tribunal refused to grant the application on the grounds that, since parties have joined issues, the tribunal could not, at the interlocutory stage, make an order that would affect the substantive issue.
Justice Garba specifically said: “I decline to grant the relief sought. This application is refused and accordingly dismissed.”
Atiku’s counsel, while reacting, said: “We are not asking the court to decide whether there is a server or not; so the aspect of the court prejudging on 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 was a central server and 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 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 being hidden.”
The human rights activist added that the public is also interested because budget was made for procurement of the central server, which was approved by the National Assembly and money disbursed. He said: “And INEC said they have done all that. So, where is the money; what is there that they are hiding?”