The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) yesterday refused to grant the application filed by Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for access to inspect the server and data of smart card readers used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the presidential election of February 23, 2019. Atiku was the presidential candidate of the PDP in the election.
The five-man panel headed by Justice Mohammed Garba yesterday ruled that granting the application would imply that the court had delved into and resolved the contentious issue of the existence of a central server at INEC.
Garba also explained that doing so would further create the impression that the tribunal had concluded that there was a central INEC server where results and data of the February 23 election were received and stored.
On June 13, 2019, the tribunal reserved ruling in the application filed by Atiku and PDP on May 8, 2019 for access to inspect INEC’s central server and smart card readers allegedly used in the conduct of the presidential election.
In the unanimous decision yesterday, the tribunal declined granting the application on the grounds that since parties had joined issues, the court could not at the interlocutory stage make an order that would affect the substantive issue.
Justice Garba said: “I decline to grant the relief sought. This application is refused and accordingly dismissed.”
The lead counsel to the petitioners, Chris Uche (SAN), said the decision of the tribunal would be challenged at the Supreme Court, adding that section 151 of the Electoral Act allows them to inspect materials used by INEC for the election.
The senior counsel said the nation had been looking forward to the ruling of the tribunal on the petitioners’ application seeking to inspect the electoral materials, which he described as pivotal. Uche claimed that granting the application would in no way prejudice the substantive matter.
According to him, INEC is a public institution and the commission earlier mentioned having a central server. He said he wondered why INEC turned around to say it had 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 inspect as INEC is a public institution funded by public funds. So we are going to challenge that,” he said.
Another counsel to the petitioners, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), in his reaction said: “INEC’s chairman himself, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, maintained before and during the election that there was a central server, that results were going to be electronically transmitted to that central server. And all the electoral commissioners have 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, the results of which 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.”
According to Ozekhome, the public is also interested because a budget was made for procurement of the central server in billions of naira and it was approved by the National Assembly and the money was disbursed.
“So where is the money? What is there that they are hiding? 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.”
Counsel to INEC, Yunus Ustaz Usman, agreed with the decision of the court that the parties were joined in the issue and witnesses had not been called so the matter could not be tried at the level it was in court.