Presidential Tribunal: Atiku summons INEC Chairman to appear as witness - NEWS FRONTIER DAILY


Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Presidential Tribunal: Atiku summons INEC Chairman to appear as witness

Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has applied to summon the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, to appear before the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja. 

Atiku, who came second in the presidential election that held on February 25, equally summoned the Secretary of the Commission, Dr. Rose Oriarian-Anton, as well as INEC's National Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye. 

The PDP candidate and former Vice President, said he would formally obtain subpoenas to compel the trio to appear before the court to give evidence and to also tender sensitive electoral documents.

"My lords, for the benefit of the Respondents, so that they will not say that we took them by surprise, we want to state that it has gotten to the stage where we will summon the National Chairman of INEC, the Secretary of the Commission as well as the National Commissioner, to appear in court with documents.

"We had earlier indicated our intention to bring them as subpoenaed witnesses and we have gotten to that stage that they may be required to appear in this matter. 

"We have already indicated that we want them here, but by Thursday, we will make the formal application," Atiku's lead counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the court. 

Atiku and the PDP, who are the petitioners, made their decision to summon the INEC bosses known, after the produced two more witnesses that testified before the court. 

It will be recalled that despite objections from President Bola Tinubu and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel, okayed five ad-hoc staff members of INEC, who participated in the conduct of the presidential election, to testify as witnesses in the case. 

In their separate testimonies before the court, the five INEC ad-hoc staff members, admitted that results of the presidential election were not electronically transmitted.

The witnesses told the court that while results of the National Assembly elections were successfully transmitted through the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, devices, however, the process failed when they tried to upload results of the presidential poll which held on the same day.

According to them, the BVAS malfunction, made it impossible for the presidential election results to be transmitted to INEC's I-Rev portal, in real time. 

Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings on Tuesday, INEC, told the court that it had on May 20, raised an objection to additional witness statements that Atiku and PDP filed in support of their petition

INEC's lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, insisted that the additional statements raised fresh issues that were not contained in the original petition before the court.

The objection came after the petitioners introduced their 19th witness, Dr. Alex Adum Ter.

"We objected to the additional statements on the ground that they were no covered by the petition but contained new facts. 

"Your lordships reserved ruling on that issue and our position is that the evidence of this witness related to those pleadings. 

"Therefore, we will have to object to the depositions of this witness that is sought to be adopted now by the witness. 

"We oppose the further witness statement dated April 20. We reserve our reasons for the objection till our final address stage," INEC's lawyer, Mahmood, SAN, added. 

Whereas counsel for the Petitioners, Chief Uche, SAN, urged the court to discountenance INEC's objection, however,  lawyers that appeared for President Tinubu and the APC, Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, and Mr. Afolabi Fashanu, SAN, respectively, aligned themselves with the position of the electoral body.

President Tinubu, through his lawyer, Chief Olujinmi, SAN, told the court that he equally canvassed similar argument against replies and additional statements that were filed by the Petitioners.

While the Justice Tsammani-led panel reserved ruling on the issue, it however adopted in evidence, INEC's Manual for Election Officials as well as Guidelines for conduct of the 2023 general elections, which were tendered by the Petitioners.

The court marked the two documents as Exhibits PAE-1 and PAE-2.

Afterwards, President Tinubu and the APC said they were vehemently opposed to three video recordings, which Atiku and the PDP applied for the court to admit in evidence. 

Atiku's lead counsel, Chief Uche, SAN, told the court that the three video recordings, were that of INEC's Chairman, Prof. Yakubu, that of INEC's National Commissioner, Mr. Okoye, as well as that the European Union Election Observer Mission to Nigeria. 

Uche, SAN, said the recordings were accompanied with certificates of authenticity as well as their transcripts. 

He told the court that advanced copies were served on all the Respondents to enable them to have a foreknowledge of contents of the videos which were contained in flash drives. 

While INEC said it was not opposed to the admissibility of the video clips, both President Tinubu and the APC said they would in their final written address, adduce reasons why they raised objections against the video evidence. 

The three flash drives, which all had their certificate of authenticity and transcript, were admitted and marked as Exhibits PAF(a) (b)(c), PAF (2) (a) (b) (c) and PAF (3) (a) (b) (c).

In the first video, INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakubu, while addressing a press conference, assured that the BVAS machines would be deployed to all the 176, 846 polling units for the accreditation of voters, adding that there would be live transmission of results from the polling units to INEC's I-Rev portal.

The INEC Chairman, who in the said conference, stressed that Incident Forms would not be deployed for the 2023 elections, restated the commitment of the Commission to ensure that the election was free, fair and credible so as to meet the expectations of Nigerians. 

In the second video, INEC's National Commissioner, Okoye, equally assured that the BVAS would be used to transmit results of the elections in real time. 

Okoye further stated that in any unit where the BVAS failed to function, elections in the area would be postponed till the next day. 

Similarly, in the third video that was played in the open court, representative of the EU Election Monitoring team, lamented that results of the elections could not be accessed from INEC I-Rev portal as promised, insisting that the situation had reduced the level of trust that was placed on the Commission. 

Aside from the three video recordings, the petitioners, through the PW-19, Dr. Ter, also tendered in evidence, screen shots from INEC's I-Rev portal, as of March 18 and 19. 

They noted that as of March 1, results from 9, 403 polling units in the country were yet to be uploaded to INEC's I-Rev portal, about one week after the presidential election was held. 

INEC urged the court to reject the screenshots which it described as "strange", saying it was surprised to see the documents as they were not previously pleaded by the Petitioners. 

Even though all the Respondents opposed the bundle of documents containing the screenshots, the panel, however, admitted it in evidence as Exhibit PAF 4A. 

Under cross-examination, the witness told the court that he is a lawyer and a politician, adding that he was the National Coordinator of the Election Situation Room of the PDP.

He told the court that he was not at the INEC's collation center, but stayed at the Situation Room the party opened in Abuja, all through the presidential election, untill the declaration of results. 

The PW-19 said he had earlier voted at his polling unit, after he was accredited.

"We had agents in all the polling units. We also had party agents in all the wards and collation centers across the country. 

"In some situations, agents reported to us that elections never held. In some polling units violence erupted and voting was disrupted. But in areas where elections held peacefully, our agents signed copies of the results," the witness told the court.

Asked if he is an ICT Expert, the witness answered in the negative, though he told the court that he obtained a degree in Telecom Law. 

"Because we worked together with Statisticians in the Situation Room, I was able to see their results of the election. That was how I got to know the errors in calculation.

"I viewed the CTC of the BVAS Accreditation report. The election was not electronically transmitted," he insisted.

Answering questions from President Tinubu's lawyer under cross-examination, the witness told the court that glitches experienced during the elections were deliberately masterminded by INEC. 

However, he admitted that though results of elections emerged from the polling units, he did not visit any other polling unit on the day the presidential election held. 

He said agents of the party filed reports to him through the Situation Room, though he did not demarcate in his witness statement, facts that were within his personal knowledge and the ones he got from the agents. 

The PW-19 maintained that based on information that was related to him, the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the presidential contest was invalid by reason of corrupt practices. 

After he was discharged from the box, the PW-20, Capt. Olatunji Shelle, retd, who was PDP's collation agent in Lagos State, gave his own evidence.

He told the court that though the Labour Party won in Lagos, there was, however, massive electoral fraud. 

"So many ballot boxes were snatched with many people injured," he witness added.

The panel subsequently adjourned further hearing on the petition till Wednesday. 

Atiku, is among other reliefs, praying the court to declare that he was the valid winner of the presidential election, even as he applied for the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to President Tinubu by INEC.

He had in his 66-paged petition, accused INEC of installing a third-party device he said was used to intercept and switch results of the presidential election in favour of the APC and its candidate, Tinubu.

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