By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Friday, gave the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, July 29 to open its defence in the petition challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member panel gave the electoral body the nod to commence its defence, shortly after the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, closed their case after they produced their last witness.
The petitioners who are seeking to void President Buhari’s re-election on the premise that he did not secure the majority of valid votes cast, called a total of 62 witnesses within the 10 days that was allocated to them, even as they tendered result sheets from all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
The tribunal had in a pre-hearing report that was adopted by all the parties, given all the Respondents to the petition- INEC, President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC, six days each to present their defence.
Atiku and PDP had notified the tribunal of their intention to call a total of 400 witnesses.
However, shortly after the last witness was discharged on Friday, counsel to the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, announced decision of his clients to close their case.
“Having called witnesses and having tendered documents, we most humbly, under paragraph 46(5) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, apply to close the case of the petitioners. Today being our last day”, he added.
The petitioners told the tribunal that the last witness it presented, Chief Osita Chidoka, who was former Aviation Minster and the national collation agent of the PDP for the presidential election, was their star witness.
Chidoka who was head of PDP’s Situation Room, mounted the witness box after the tribunal admitted documents that INEC was subpoenaed to produce with respect to the election results.
The documents included presidential result sheets from Zamfara State.
According to Uche, the polling unit results which are contained in Form EC8A, were 3, 721 in number, the Ward results in Form EC8B were 166, while the LG results in Form EC8C were 14.
All the respondents said they were opposed to the admissibility of the documents and would adduce reasons in their final written addresses.
The tribunal admitted the documents in evidence and marked them as exhibits PZF-1001 to 4721, PZF-4722 to 4887 and PZF-4888 to 4901, respectively.
Thereafter, the petitioners tendered the second set of documents that comprised of Form EC8D (Summary of collation of results from the 36 states), One Form EC8D(A) (Summary of collation at national level), 36 copies of Form EC40G (2) (Summary of registered voters of polling units where election did not hold or cancelled.
Other documents that were tendered by the petitioners were: One Form EC40G (3) (Summary of registered voters of polling units where election did not hold or cancelled), Report of Card Reader Accreditation for the 2019 election (One report with 4, 128 pages), Report on all PVCs under in 2019 elections from Card Readers, three receipts with respect to the documents, INEC 2019 presidential election declaration result, as well as the Certificate of Compliance with respect to result for the presidential election that was published on INEC’s website.
INEC said it was only opposed to the result that was allegedly obtained from its website and the Certificate, while both President Buhari and APC said they were opposed to all the tendered documents and would give reasons in their addresses.
All the documents were subsequently admitted and marked as exhibits P-129 to 174.
When he mounted the witness box, Chidoka adopted three statements he made on oath on March 18, April 15, 18 and 26, as his Evidence-In-Chief before the tribunal.
The PW-62 who told the tribunal that he was born in 1971, said he was aware that Atiku was born on November 25, 1946 in Jedda, Adamawa State by Nigerian parents, and therefore a Nigerian by birth.
Asked under cross-examination if it was biologically possible for him to be in a position to know when Atiku was born, he said: “I am also aware that Nigeria got its independence in 1960”.
Asked if he was there when results of the presidential election were transmitted to the server, Chidoka replied in the negative. “I was not there, but I was aware that the results were transmitted”.
“Have you ever seen the server?”, INEC’s lawyer, Yunus Usman, SAN, queried him.
He said: “I have not seen the server, but INEC consistently told us of the server and during the collation, INEC Chairman confirmed the existence of the server”.
The PW-62 said he was there when results were collated by INEC, saying it was done manually.
Asked if he visited Yobe on the election day, he said: “I have been to Yobe State severally, but on election day I was in the Situation Room to receive reports from all parts of the country.”
He said he was in direct contact with 199, 000 polling agents the PDP deployed for the election, saying they gave him reports.
He insisted that the Smart Card Readers transmitted results electronically into the server.
He said the results were also imputed from the Form EC8A directly into the server, in addition to manually taking them from the Wards for collation.
Asked to give particulars of the server, Chidoka said: “My lords I am not INEC official. We referred to the score and numbers the whistle-blower posted on the website. But I don’t have the details and number here”.
When he was asked to read Paragraph 22 of the Manual for the presidential election, which stipulated procedures to be followed, which did not include electronic transmission of results, the witness said: “It is not there, but INEC Chairman made it emphatically clear to us in several meetings that he would treat the election as if the amended Electoral Act was assented to.
“This is also to remind you that the Card Reader was not mentioned in that Manual, but it was used for the election”.
In his statement, Chidoka alleged that the election was characterised by sundry irregularities which included wrong entry of results, especially in 11 states.
Asked if he ever listened to Buhari’s broadcasts during the military era, he said: “Are you referring to the broadcast announcing the coup of a democratically elected government.
“I remember that I was in boarding school in 1984. The only speech I remember was the coup of 1983”.