…..as tribunal directs Buhari to open defence Tuesday
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Monday, said it would not call any witness to defend the petition the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, filed to challenge the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member panel tribunal had on July 19, ordered the electoral body to open its defence to the petition.
The panel gave INEC six days to call its witnesses and tender evidence to defend the return it made on February 27, which declared President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the winner of the disputed presidential poll.
The petitioners had since closed their cases after they called a total of 62 witnesses and tendered over 40, 000 documents they urged the tribunal to rely on and nullify President Buhari’s re-election.
However, when proceeding resumed on Monday, INEC, through its lead counsel, Mr Yunus Usman, SAN, told the tribunal that it had no defence.
The commission said it resolved to rely on response of all the petitioners’ witnesses during cross-examination.
It argued that evidence the petitioners presented was enough to sustain the declaration it made after the election, saying there was no need to waste judicial time of the tribunal.
“My lords, we have painstakingly reviewed the evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses and also painstakingly studied petitioners’ witness evidence under cross-examination, which supports our defence and denial in consonance with our pleadings.
“We do not see the need to waste the time of the tribunal in repeating the same thing.
“In the circumstance, we will not call any witness to help them prove their case. We therefore rely on the petitioner’s witnesses under cross-examination”, Usman, SAN, stated.
Following the development, President Buhari’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, said his client was ready to kick-start his defence on Tuesday.
“In view of this development, the 2nd respondent will most honourably be asking that we kick-start calling our witnesses by 2pm tomorrow. We assure the tribunal that when we start, we won’t ask for an adjournment”, Olanipekun added.
On his part, counsel to the petitioners, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, said he was “profusely” thankful to INEC for not calling any witness to defend the case of his clients.
Consequently, the tribunal granted President Buhari’s request to be allowed to open his defence on Tuesday.
Meantime, speaking to journalists after the proceeding, INEC’s lawyer, said the Commission saw no reason to enter any defence since expert witnesses that were produced by the petitioners admitted that they never saw any sever through which results of the presidential poll were transmitted.
He said the witnesses also confirmed that purported presidential election results the petitioners tendered before the tribunal were not documents that were downloaded from INEC’s server.
Usman, SAN, further argued that the petitioners failed to analyse any document to prove they scored majority of lawful votes at the presidential poll.
“The witnesses confirmed that the Electoral Act does not empower INEC to electronically transmit results. So it is not our duty to prove their case for them”, he added.
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, closed their case within 10 days that was allocated to them.
They tendered result sheets from all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
Among the petitioner’s witnesses included the former Aviation Minister and National Collation Agent of the PDP for the presidential election, Chief Osita Chidoka.
Chidoka who was described as the star witness, told the tribunal that eventhough he never saw INEC’s server, he said the Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had before the election, assured all the parties that it existed.
He insisted that result of the election that was obtained from a whistle-blower in INEC, confirmed that the petitioners won the election.
Before Chidoka mounted the witness box, an Information Communication Technology, ICT, expert from Kenya, Mr. David Njorga, told the tribunal that INEC transmitted results of the presidential election to a central server.
Njorga, who was subpoenaed to appear as a witness, said he conducted analysis and findings on result of the election as was electronically transmitted to the server.
He said results from the server was directly copied to a website he gave as www.factsdontlieng.com, which he said was created by an official of INEC that acted as a Whistle-blower.
The Kenyan who testified as the PW-59, tendered a copy of the subpoena that was issued for him to appear before the tribunal.
Under Cross-Examination, Njorga, who was described as an “Expert Witness”, said confirmation from a global ICT tool, WHOIS.com, revealed that the website that contained data from the server, began to function on March 12 when the domain name was registered.
Asked if the essence of the website was to ensure that people had access to election results as they were being transmitted, the witness said: “If you look at information explicitly put on the website by the author who is an INEC official, those were data from the server.
“The INEC official is anonymous. It is a whistle-blower”, he added.
Atiku and PDP, had in their joint petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, alleged that information they independently secured from INEC’s back-end server, revealed that they defeated President Buhari at the election with over 1.6million votes.
They alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to them, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to office.
INEC had since denied the allegation, saying it was not in possession of any central server that was used for the presidential poll.