The Court of Appeal in Abuja has granted the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, as well as his counterpart in the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar access to all the sensitive materials the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) used for the conduct of the February 25, 2023 presidential election. A panel of the appellate court led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh made the order after it heard two separate ex parte applications the two aggrieved presidential candidates filed alongside their political parties.
Listed as respondents in the matter were INEC, All Progressives Congress, and its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was declared the winner of the election and is now the President-elect. Both applications were predicated on Section 146 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022, Paragraph 47 (1, 2 & 3) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act of 2022, as well as under the inherent jurisdiction of the court as referenced by Section 6 (6) A & B of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
While Peter Obi in his application moved by his team of lawyers, led by Mr Alex Ejesieme (SAN), sought six principal reliefs, Atiku’s lawyer, Adedamola Faloku, sought seven prayers from the tribunal. Specifically, the applicants urged the court to compel INEC to allow them to obtain documents it used for the presidential election. They maintained that the requested documents would aid their petition against the outcome of the presidential contest.
They asked for “an order directing the 1st Respondent, that is, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to allow the applicants to inspect all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on the 25th day of February, 2023.
Peter Obi and Atiku ran to court immediately they got the information that INEC is planning to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) which was used in the presidential election before deploying the machines for the March 11, 2023 governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls.
However, some IT experts told our source that granting the order would prevent the electoral body from tampering with the evidence and compromise the pending litigations on the controversial presidential poll, and further worsen the credibility of the entire process. The IT experts believed INEC did not need to reconfigure the BVAS ahead of the gubernatorial and House of Assembly polls.
The presidential candidates of PDP, Atiku Abubakar, and Labour Party, Peter Obi, had in their challenge of the outcome of the presidential election, recently, obtained the order of the court to inspect materials used in the conduct of the poll, including the BVAS.
INEC had declared the APC candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, winner of the presidential election, which was marred by technical challenges. Following the order obtained by both parties to inspect the election materials, INEC on March 4, 2023 approached the court of Appeal for an order giving it the go ahead to reconfigure the BVAS used for the presidential and federal legislative elections.
INEC explained that the reconfiguration was to enable it deploy the BVAS for the forthcoming governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls. INEC, through its lawyer, Mr. Inuwa Tanimu, in urging the court to grant its request, told the court that the defendants had nothing to fear, since the information that would be wiped out during reconfiguration would be stored and kept save in its server in the cloud.
Tanimu noted that time was not on INEC side and pointed out that if the earlier order was not varied, it might affect the conduct of the March 11 governorship election. However, in their opposition to the request for countering the order, Chief Onyechi Ikpeazu and Chief Emeka Etiaba both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN’s), representing Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, respectively, argued that if the order was approved vital information needed in proving their case would be wiped out.
Ikpeazu said the real number of accredited voters could only be gotten from the BVAS, adding that if the BVAS devices are tampered with in the name of reconfiguration, vital information would be lost. In addition, the senior lawyer argued that the March 11, 2023 elections could be postponed if situation warrants so. He urged the court to dismiss the application of the commission.
Meanwhile, Ikpeazu prayed the court to grant his clients permission to conduct a physical/digital forensic inspection of the presidential electoral materials as well as an order directing INEC to issue him a Certified True Copy of registered voters and polling units’ results. He argued that the request was to ensure that the evidence was preserved before they are wiped out, noting that information on the INEC server vary from day to day.
He said it was not until information was gotten from the BVAS that Peter Obi and Atiku were able to prove that there was no incidence of over-voting in the election. The presidential poll had been rejected by the two leading opposition parties and had been criticized by international observers and civil society organizations.
Tinubu, a former Lagos State governor, was said to have polled a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat his closest rival and presidential candidate of PDP, Atiku, who scored 6,984,520 votes, and Peter Obi of Labour Party, who polled 6,101,533 votes, in an election that INEC failed to ensure instantaneous transmission of results to its portal at the conclusion of voting at polling units as originally planned for the 2023 general election.
Dissatisfied with the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the presidential election, both Atiku and Peter Obi vowed to ventilate their grievances at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which is the court saddled with the responsibility of hearing and determining cases surrounding the conduct of presidential election.
While they were yet to file their respective petitions, Atiku and Peter Obi in separate motions ex parte had sought for an order of court permitting them to inspect the materials used for the February 25, 2023 presidential election. The order according to them was to enable them gather evidence needed in proving allegations of non-compliance and rigging of the poll.
Both Atiku and Peter Obi are claiming that they secured the highest number of votes cast in majority of the states and ought to be declared winner, accusing INEC of manipulating the process to favour the ruling APC and its candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
After listening to their respective applications, Justice Ikyegh made an order permitting Atiku and Peter Obi to inspect All the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on February 25, 2023.”
The court also permitted them to do electronic scanning and/or make photocopies of Voter’s Registration and ballot papers used in the presidential election. In addition, both Atiku and Peter Obi were by the order permitted to carryout digital forensic inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25, 2023 presidential election.
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