By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja has refused to order the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to allow the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to inspect the central server they said was used to transmit results of the 2019 presidential election.
The tribunal equally declined to grant the petitioners’ request to be granted access to data that were captured by all the Smart Card Reader Machines that were deployed for the February 23 presidential Poll.
In a unanimous ruling, the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man panel dismissed the application on the premise that all the parties in the petition challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner, have already joined issues on the existence or otherwise of a central server that was used for the collation and transmission of results of the presidential election.
It therefore held that acceding to the petitioners prayers would amount to delving into the substantive dispute at the interlocutory stage.
According to the panel, allowing the application would lead to prejudging of “fundamental issues already raised by the parties on the substantive matter”.
“It will not be expedient that the court should grant prayers contained in the application”, Justice Garba held, saying it will result to “resolving the diluted issue regarding the central server and electronic transmission of results of the presidential election”, at the preliminary stage of the proceedings.
“The scenario will be unpalatable and will create the impression that the court has indeed recognised the existence of a central server and that the result was electronically transmitted.
“The law is settled that the court should ensure caution while dealing with interlocutory application so as not to make any observation that affect the substantive case”, the tribunal held.
The petitioners had prayed the tribunal to allow it to rely on report of data to be obtained from INEC’s server, to prove its petition against President Buhari’s re-election.
In their petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, Atiku and his party, insisted that data they independently secured from INEC’s server, revealed that they defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes.
The petitioners alleged that INEC had at various stages of the presidential election, unlawful allocated votes to President Buhari, saying they would adduce oral and documentary evidence to show that result of the election as announced by the electoral body, did not represent the lawful valid votes cast
Atiku and PDP alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to office.
The petitioners said they would call evidence of statisticians, forensic examiners and finger-print experts at the hearing of the petition to establish that the scores credited to Buhari were not the product of actual votes validly cast at the polling units.
Meanwhile, INEC denied the existence of such central server, insisting that results of the presidential Poll were manually transmitted.
The electoral body said it could not have electronically transmitted results since such process was not backed by the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.
Meanwhile, the petitioners have vowed to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court, even as the tribunal fixed Wednesday to continue pre-hearing of the petition.