The attention of Nigerians will again shift to the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC from next Monday 3 July as the legal battle over the outcome of the February 25, 2023 polls continue.
On that day, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima who clocked one month in office as President and Vice President on Thursday, their party, the All Progressives Congress, APC will begin the defence of their victory in the election. In the same vein, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which conducted the election is also expected to put facts before the country that it complied with all rules and regulations in declaring Tinubu the winner.
INEC had on March 1 declared Tinubu the winner of the election with a total of 8.8 million votes. The former Lagos governor defeated the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, who scored 6.9 million and 6.1 million, respectively.
Triple Challenge To Tinubu’s Victory
But Atiku and Obi who are Tinubu’s closest challenger in the election with a total of 18 candidates had rejected the results even before the official announcement of the winner.
Atiku and Obi had subsequently filed separate petitions at the PEPC with arguments on why the victory of Tinubu must not be allowed to stand.
The PDP and LP candidates and their parties in their separate petitions are seeking the annulment of the outcome of the election.
They are also individually asking to be declared the winner of the election or for a rerun in which Tinubu will be excluded.
The Allied Peoples Movement (APM) had also filed a petition challenging the victory of Tinubu because his running mate, Kashim Shettma was not qualified to contest having allegedly engaged in double nomination.
The three parties had in the past few weeks sought to justify their demands as they tendered thousands of different documents used for the election while also calling witnesses to justify their pleadings in their petitions.
The PEPC had admitted the documents despite protests from the respondents who had indicated their intention to give reasons for their objects while giving their final addresses.
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Atiku and Obi closed their case before the PEPC on 24 June. In all, Atiku and PDP called 27 witnesses, 63 witnesses less than the 100 they had said they would call at the beginning of the hearing of their petitions by the five-member panel of justices of the court headed by Justice Haruna Tsammani. The APM called only one witness to prove its case.
PDP Atiku’s Case
Some of the witnesses called by the former vice president include ad-hoc staff of INEC who presided over the election.
They had told the court how they were unable to load the scanned copies of the presidential election results into the IREV portal of INEC after the conclusion of the voting, though they seamlessly uploaded the results of the National Assembly election conducted on the same day.
One of the star witnesses of PDP and Atiku, Hitler Nwala who described himself as a digital forensic expert had also claimed that his examination of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines used for the election indicated that INEC deleted the results recorded in the devices.
Nwala said he inspected 110 BVAS machines deployed for the presidential election in the FCT to reach his conclusion.
However, the INEC counsel had faulted his claim with the argument that the number of BVAS he examined was too small for him to conclude. Yet, another star witness of Atiku and PDP was former Senator Dino Melaye.
Led in evidence by the petitioners’ lead counsel, Mr Chris Uche, Melaye who was PDP’s National Collation Agent during the election said INEC failed to utilise the IReV to give credibility and validity to the presidential election with its failure to upload the results as promised.
The witness said the Electoral Act 2022 mandated INEC to electronically transmit election results from polling stations to INEC’s IReV portal as a very important aspect of the election process.
He, therefore, added that with failure to upload results into IReV, the election process cannot be said to have been completed.
He also admitted that he walked out of the National Collation Centre during the collation of the presidential election results, in protest of the alleged malpractices and manipulation of the process to favour the candidate of Tinubu.
The former Senator told the court that the result which INEC acted upon to declare Tinubu winner of the February 25 presidential election was fraudulent going by the activities at the centre.
Melaye also claimed that the PDP rejected the outcome of the poll because the results brought to the national collation centre by state electoral officers were at variance with the results recorded in the states as well as ones computed from copies of the result sheets uploaded on IReV.
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The former Senator added that many agents of the PDP in the presidential election across the country also did not sign the results at various levels. Under cross-examination, Dino declared that “failure of transmission of what has been recorded is an infringement of the law.” However, he failed to state the exact number of votes scored by Atiku at the Tribunal.
Atiku and PDP’s last witness was one Mike Enahoro Ebah, a lawyer. The lawyer tendered INEC Forms EC13 and EC9 (nomination forms) and a letter submitted to INEC by President Tinubu as part of his nomination documents.
He also tendered an INEC-certified Chicago State University certificate, NYSC discharge certificate bearing the name “Tinubu Bola Adekunle” and Tinubu’s certificate of service from Mobil Nigeria Plc as well as particulars submitted to INEC when he ran as Lagos state governor.
Enahoro also tendered the academic records from Chicago State University belonging to Tinubu, a subpoena that was served on the university, a copy of the degree certificate of Chicago State University to Tinubu, his undergraduate certificate from the same in 1977, and a South West College Transcript issued to Tinubu, which he claimed belonged to a female.
Also, the witness tendered a judgement of the US District Court on Tinubu’s alleged forfeiture of funds traced to his bank account suspected to be proceeds of narcotics deals and photocopy of the Guinean passport of the president.
The documents were admitted in evidence by the court despite stiff objections by Tinubu’s lawyers. The documents were presented to prove that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the presidential election.
Obi, LP’s Case
On their part, Obi and his party who said they would call 50 witnesses during pre-hearing could only call 13 witnesses at the close of their case. They, however, tendered thousands of documents used for the election across the country while several documents were tendered and admitted in evidence by the court.
One of the witnesses called by LP and Obi was Tanko Yunusa, its spokesperson. Like Melaye, Yunusa also told the court that the failure of INEC to upload the results sheets of the election was to the detriment of the presidential candidate of his party.
He claimed INEC allocated votes to all the presidential candidates and that he would not oppose the move to annul the votes got by all the presidential candidates in the election.
“If the results were uploaded as required by the law, my party would have gotten more votes than what was allocated to us. We are not satisfied with the outcome of the election. That is why we are here in court. How do we know the actual votes we got when the results are yet to be uploaded on the IReV portal, four months after the election was held,” the witness said.
“We are challenging the entire results of the election and if they are cancelled, it affects results that were allocated to all the candidates, including votes scored by Atiku,” added Yunusa.
Also, LP and Obi called Ms Clarita Ogar who claimed to be a staff member of Amazon, the American company supposedly providing hosting services to INEC. Ogar was called to disprove the claim by INEC that a glitch in its server was what prevented the uploading of the presidential election results on 25 February.
However, it was later discovered that Ogar was not in court on behalf of Amazon Web Services Incorporated as she claimed.
“The subpoena was not delivered to Amazon but delivered to me. I am here as an expert witness. I am not here on the mandate of Amazon and, it is not true that I am here as a Labour Party activist,’’ the witness said. But she insisted that there were no technical glitches on February 25, when the presidential election was conducted.
LP and Obi also called the presiding officers of INEC who confirmed that the BVAS machines they used failed to transmit results on election day. Kefas Iya, one of the witnesses who was INEC’s supervisory presiding officer in Jigawa State told the court that throughout the time he worked, none of the units he supervised was able to transmit results.
LP and Obi also subpoenaed the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood to produce some documents. However, Mahmoud sent two senior officials of the commission to present the documents.
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Yet, another highlight of the hearing of the Obi, LP petition was the tendering of video recordings in which the INEC chairman promised that the results of the 2023 election would be uploaded on IREV from the polling units during the election.
The video recordings contained in flash drives were tendered by a staffer of Daar Communication Ltd, AIT Mrs Ijeoma Osamo who was a subpoenaed witness.
On the other hand, the hearing of APM’s petition was heard in one day and less than three hours.
APM’s lawyer, G. O. Idiagbonya called only a witness, Aisha Abubakar, who described herself as the party’s Assistant Welfare Officer.
However, INEC, APC, Tinubu, Shettima tendered the May 26 Supreme Court judgment and a letter dated June 12, 2022, which notified INEC of the withdrawal of Shettima as a senatorial candidate of the APC for Borno Central Senatorial district.
Indeed, Tinubu and APC had earlier argued that with the Supreme Court judgment, APM should withdraw its petition, but the party refused.
Weeks of Legal Fireworks, Drama Ahead
When the PEPC opens on Monday, Tinubu, APC and his lawyers are expected to respond to all the claims in the petitions of the three parties and the candidates.
During the pre-hearing session, INEC had said it would call five witnesses within seven days to prove that the election it conducted was credible, free and fair.
Also, Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, the second and third respondents, said they would call 21 witnesses in nine days to prove that they won the election fair and square. This was aside from the expert witnesses.
Also, the APC, through its lawyers said it would call seven witnesses in nine days to prove that it won the election.
Surely, Nigerians are in for weeks of more drama and legal fireworks as Tinubu and Shettima try to justify their continued stay in the presidential villa.