The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) opened her defence at the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja, Tuesday, by calling two witnesses to testify on the conduct of the April 11, 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State.
INEC and the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State were joined as the 3rd and 4th Respondents in the petition, respectively. The All Progressives Congress candidate, Umana Umana, had approached the tribunal challenging the conduct of the election and declaration of Udom Emmanuel as winner.
Lawyer to the Commission, Mr. Alex Ejesieme, called his first witness, Mr. Pius Nwankwo, the head of Information Communication Technology (ICT) Department of INEC in Akwa Ibom State. Nwankwo told the tribunal that his responsibility during the governorship election included oversight on the Card Reader.
Nwankwo told the Justice Umar-led panel that the Card Reader malfunctioned in most of the polling units in the state. On the challenges of the Card Reader, he stated that there were three problems that affected the use of the Card Reader.
Firstly, he stated that the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) has internal micro chips where particulars of voters are stored and also has an antenna that communicates with the Card Reader.
According to him, if the PVC is manhandled, it affects the Card Reader and that will make it not readable. Secondly, he stated that human error equally affected the Card Reader. The witness added that the Assistant Presiding Officers (APO) whose duty it was to handle the Card Readers were not skillful because they were trained for just one day. Thirdly, he stated that the Card Reader itself may not function if there is no Internet. He concluded by saying that although such problems arose during the presidential election, INEC failed to address same before the governorship election.
Nwankwo added that uploading of results of accredited voters from the Card Reader to the master server at the INEC head office in Abuja was a continuous process. He further stated that uploading of information on accreditation was still ongoing and that as at 27th April, 2015 when the Petitioners obtained the certified true copy of the polling unit by polling unit report of accredited voters from the Commission’s head office in Abuja that uploading had not ended and that the head office unilaterally shut down the server 6 or 7 weeks after the election when uploading had not been completed.
However, during cross examination by the counsel to the Petitioners, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, the witness was asked if he served as the Electoral Officer for Mkpat Enin Local Government Area which he said no. At this point, Mr. Akinlaja asked him to take a look at the heading of his statement on oath and read it. The document was entitled, “Statement of the Electoral Officer of Mkpat Enin LGA”. Asked if he was aware that the case of INEC before the Tribunal as contained in paragraph 11 of their Reply to the petition is that “there was no sustained malfunctioning of the Card Reader in Akwa Ibom State” he said that he was not aware.
Akinlaja referred the witness to paragraph 9 of his statement on oath where he had stated that the Card Reader is electronically linked to the INEC head office in Abuja and not Uyo and asked him if he still stood by that position. The witness in reply said, “I am tensed up here”. Mr. Akinlaja ended his cross examination by asking him if he was aware that the Card Reader has a dashboard containing 6 icons relating to the election. The witness kept quiet for a while which prompted Mr. Akinlaja to asked that he be shown an exhibit, the INEC Manuel, and then asked him to read three parts of it. The said parts details how information on accreditation is transmitted from the Card Reader to the INEC master server in Abuja which clearly conntradicted the witness testimony on uploading of accreditation information. He was then discharged.
The second and last witness for the day, Mr. Arukwe Kingsley Chibueze,said that he acted as the Electoral Officer (EO) for Ikot Abasi Local Government Area and also monitored the conduct of election in the area which he said was very free and fair except for issue of malfunctioning of the Card Reader. He further stated that there are 71 polling units in Ikot Abasi and that in most of the units there was complete failure of the Card Reader. He went further to tell the Tribunal that INEC only trained 2 persons to attend to cases of malfunctioning of Card Reader in Ikot Abasi which according to him was not enough for the 71 polling units in the area. He denied the testimony earlier given at the Tribunal by the Petitioners Witness no. 10 that there was neither election nor collation in the local government.
On the press statement issued by the Secretary of INEC, Mrs. Augusta C. Ogakwu, on 2nd April, 2015 which had been admitted and marked as exhibit 322 that only Card Reader should be used for the April 11 governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections in the country, he denied knowledge of such press statement and insisted that no such press statement was ever addressed to him.
However, during cross examination by the Petitioners counsel, Mr. Solomon Umoh, SAN, the witness was asked whether he was the local government collation officer for Ikot Abasi as the Electoral Officer and he said no. “Will you be surprised to see that no agent of any of the political parties signed Form EC8B (the results for all the Wards) for any of the Wards in Ikot Abasi? Umoh asked him, and he said that no agent signed it. Mr. Umoh also referred the witness to paragraph 12B of his statement on oath where he had said that there was no results for some units because the election in those units was disrupted and asked him to look at unit 2 in Form EC8B which shows that a total of 597 votes was recorded for that unit which is one of the units he said that there was no results because of disruption of election. All the evidence you are giving here are not from your personal knowledge? Mr. Umoh asked, and he said yes. This caused laughter in the Tribunal.
Asked if he can see from Form EC8C which is the local government result that only the PDP and INEC signed same he said yes that it is so. Mr. Umoh then ended his cross examination and the witness was discharged. At this point, counsel to INEC applied that the case be adjourned because their remaining witnesses were not available. The application for adjournment was not opposed by any of the parties.
The case has been adjourned to Wednesday 16th September, 2015 for continuation of hearing.