By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to grant President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC, access to all the electoral materials that were used for the February 23 presidential election.
The Tribunal, in two separate rulings by a three-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Abdul Aboki, ordered the electoral body to forthwith, make available to President Buhari and the APC, both used and unused ballot papers it deployed across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, for the purpose of the presidential poll.
Among other documents the tribunal granted the Applicants leave to inspect included all the voters registers.
It held that the Applicants should also be allowed to obtain Certified True Copies of all the documents that were used at the polling units, wards, local governments and state levels.
The tribunal said it was inclined to grant the request pursuant to section 6(6) (a) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, section 137(2) and 151(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act and 47(1) of the Third Schedule to Electoral Act.
President Buhari and the APC had through their lawyers, Adelani Ajibade and Thomas Ojo, prayer the tribunal to order INEC to release the materials to enable them to prepare their defence to a petition the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar intends to lodge against the outcome of the presidential poll.
Buhari told the panel that Atiku had expressed his intention to go to court to challenge his declaration as winner of the presidential contest.
He said he would need some of the electoral materials currently in INEC’s custody, to be able to prove that he legitimately secured the highest number of valid votes ahead of Atiku who came second at the election.
President Buhari noted that the tribunal had on March 6, granted a similar request in favour of Atiku and the PDP.
Meantime, the tribunal which delivered the ruling around 7:30pm on Thursday, declined to order INEC to grant the Applicants access to the Smart Card Reader Machines that were used for the presidential election.
“I am of the view that the prayers sought, ought to be granted”, Justice Aboki held, stressing that the Applicants or their representatives should be granted access to the polling documents.
“The 1st Respondent (INEC) is hereby ordered to forthwith, allow the Applicant or his representatives to inspect all the polling documents used in the just concluded presidential election to allow the Applicant to defend any petition that may arise from his declaration as winner of the February 23 presidential election”, the tribunal held.
It equally granted the Applicants the leave to seek for such reliefs before the pre-hearing session of any petition that may be lodged against the outcome of the presidential election.
In his ex-parte motion that was granted by the tribunal, President Buhari cited INEC, Atiku, PDP and the APC, as Respondents.
While the APC, in its own motion, cited INEC, Atiku, PDP and President Buhari as the Respondents.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had earlier granted the same reliefs to the opposition PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku, who had since expressed their dissatisfaction with the declaration of Buhari as winner of the just concluded presidential election.
The tribunal which is conducting its proceeding at the Court of Appeal headquarters in Abuja, however declined to allow Atiku and PDP to conduct forensic analysis on any of the election materials on the premise that such request was outside the scope of the Electoral Act, as amended.
Justice Aboki who also delivered the lead ruling, held that Atiku’s request for experts to be permitted to conduct forensic audit on the election materials, could not be regarded as “examination”, as stipulated in section 151 of the Electoral Act.
He held that a decided case-law in Hope Uzodinma Vs Osita Izunaso, which Atiku and the PDP relied upon, wherein the tribunal ordered INEC to allow the petitioner to scan and conduct forensic audit on all the election materials, had since been set-aside by the Court of Appeal.
Specifically, Atiku and his party, told the tribunal that the essence of the request was to establish that the presidential election was fraught with manifest irregularities they said included multiple thumbprinting of ballot papers.
They indicated their determination to engage forensic experts to scritinze all materials that INEC deployed for the election.