Presidential poll: Tinubu to open defence June 30 as Atiku, Obi close case Friday - NEWS FRONTIER DAILY


Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Presidential poll: Tinubu to open defence June 30 as Atiku, Obi close case Friday

President Bola Tinubu, will on June 30, open his defence to all the petitions that are seeking to sack him from office. 

This came to light as the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, disclosed that all the three petitioners before it, would close their case on Friday. 

Those challenging the declaration of Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, as winner of the presidential election that held on February 25, are; a former Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi, as well as the Allied Peoples Movement, APM. 

While Atiku and Obi are separately claiming that they won the presidential contest, on the other hand, the APM, is praying the court to void all the votes that were scored by Tinubu "in view of his non-qualification."

APM argued that the withdrawal of Mr. Ibrahim Masari, who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC, invalidated Tinubu's candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

All petitioners are seeking the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to Tinubu by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. 

Meanwhile, whereas Atiku, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the court that he would call a total of 100 witnesses to prove his case, Obi, said he would call 50 witnesses while the APM, which said its case was based on documentary evidence, said it would call only one witness to substantiate its case.

The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel had on May 23, consolidated all the petitions, even as it gave the litigants a period of three weeks to present their cases. 

Meanwhile, though on the strenght of a pre-hearing report that was issued by the panel, the petitioners were supposed to close their case on Tuesday, however, the court extended the period by two more days. 

Already, Atiku has called a total of 25 witnesses, while Obi, has so far called only seven witnesses and tendered many documentary exhibits before the court.

When the matter came up on Tuesday, Atiku's lawyer, Uche, SAN, told the court that his client may call five more witnesses to have a round figure of 30 witnesses.

He stressed that some of the documents they seek to tender in the remaining days available to the petitioners, would take care of evidence of the remaining 70 witnesses.

Nevertheless, Uche, SAN, lamented that in spite of the spirit of cooperation that the court had appealed for, INEC, still made it difficult for his client to get Certified True Copies, CTC, of documents he requested for.

According to him, getting documents from INEC was like demanding for weapons from an opponent in a war, adding that his client requested for Form EC8A series, which is polling unit results for all 36 states and the FCT but had gotten only 14 batches so far. 

He told the court that the forms INEC made available to his team were equally not properly sorted out.

Even though the court initially stood down the matter for 10 minutes to allow for the sorting out of the documents, however, when the proceedings resumed, Atiku's lawyer persuaded the court to adjourn the case to Wednesday to enable his team to prepare a schedule for ease of identification of the documents to be tendered in evidence.

Meantime, in Obi's case, the panel gave INEC, President Tinubu and the APC the nod to cross-examine his 7th witness, Mpeh Clarita Ogar, who told the court that she works with Amazon Web Services, AWS, Incorporated, which INEC engaged to provide technical support to it during the general elections.

The witness had in her evidence-in-chief, insisted that contrary to INEC's claim, that there was no technical glitch in the country on February 25 when the presidential election held.

Her evidence countered INEC's position that its inability to electronically transmit results of the presidential poll to its viewing portal, in real time, using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation, BVAS, machines, was owing to technical glitches it experienced on the election day.

However, while being cross examined by the Respondents on Tuesday, the witness, admitted that she was not sent to the court by Amazon. 

Ogar further admitted to the court that contested House of Representatives election for Yala/Ogoja Federal Constituency in the 2023 general elections under Labour Party and lost.

Though the witness insisted that the last time Amazon experienced a technical glitch in its services was on December 10, 2021, she told the court that in the same year, AWS was reported to have suffered more than 21 outages.

Asked if it was not within the realm of common sense that if such glitch occurred before that it could happen again, the witness, said: "Anything is possible. But with the report I produced before this court, there was no such glitch on the AWS service on February 25."

While being cross examined by President Tinubu's lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, the witness, said she had prior to the general elections, sued INEC over her inability to upload her details to its server which she said "crashed".

Shortly after the witness was discharged from the box, Obi's lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, told the panel that the bailiff successfully served two subpoenas dated May 30 and June 13, on INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, on Monday, after many failed attempts.

He told the court that the INEC Chairman sent a representative to tender some of the requested documents in evidence.

On the prompting of the court, the INEC's representative, Mrs Moronkenji Olufimulayo Tairu, mounted the witness box. 

She identified herself as a Deputy Director, Certification & Complaints, Legal Drafting and Clearance Department at the INEC headquarters in Abuja.

The witness said she was in court with respect to the subpoena dated May 30, adding that someone from the ICT department of the Commission would present documents that were requested for in the second subpoena.

She told the court that while some documents that Obi requested for "are not in existence", others could not be easily assembled owing to logistics reasons as they are in various states of the federation. 

"We have to send messages to our staff members in the states to get them ready. We were only served with the subpoena yesterday. 

"However, we came with two of the requested documents, which are listed in paragraphs R and S. The two documents are INEC's Manual for election officials and INEC's Regulations for the conduct of the 2023 general elections. It will take us throughout the week to get the other documents," the witness added.

Her submissions angered Obi's lawyer who accused INEC of deliberately frustrating the case. 

Uzoukwu, SAN, told the court that INEC Chairman refused to receive copies of the subpoena from the bailiff.

On his part, INEC's lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, drew attention of the court to Section 74 of the Electoral Act, which he said mad it clear that an application for such requested documents should be made to Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, in all the states. 

Responding, Obi's lawyer told the court that the INEC Chairman had on many occasions he held a meeting with the petitioners, assured them that he would make all the requested electoral materials available. 

"We also sent lawyers with necessary applications to the states. At the states, we got some documents, but the RECs said they would not release other requested documents without authorization from the headquarters. 

"They told us to go to Abuja. At a point, Secretary of the Commission told them not to release the documents unless they were authorised to do so.

"My application is that INEC having been served with the subpoena yesterday, that this court should order them to produce the documents tomorrow. They created this situation when they refused to accept the subpoena since May 30," Obi's lawyer insisted. 

However, members of the panel intervened by blaming the petitioners' legal team for relying on assurances from INEC Chairman instead of writing formally to the RECs as required by the law.

The panel said it would have wielded the big stick against any REC the refused to produce the needed documents, assuming the petitioners followed the provisions of the Electoral Act in making their demands.

"Truth be told, you left the provisions of the law and pursued something else. There is nothing before us to show that the application was made to the RECs. We are not here to play by sentiments," a member of the panel chided Uzoukwu, SAN.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lawrence Bayode, a Deputy Director of ICT Department of INEC, who also appeared based on the second subpoena on the Chairman of the Commission, told the court that he brought two out of five documents the petitioners requested for. 

The Justice Tsammani-led panel adjourned further hearing on the petitions till Wednesday.

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