…As tribunal set for judgement, ends hearing today
…By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, yesterday, failed to persuade the Supreme Court to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to grant them access to the controversial server they said was used to electronically transmit results of the February 23 presidential election.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgement by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Datijo Mohammed, declined to set aside a ruling the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal delivered on June 24, which rejected Atiku and PDP’s application to be allowed to inspect INEC’s server.
The judgement came barely 24 hours to the date the tribunal fixed to conclude hearing and fix a date for final verdict on the petition seeking to nullify the outcome of the presidential election.
It will be recalled that the appellants had in their joint petition, marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, insisted that the data they independently secured from INEC’s back-end server, revealed that contrary to result the electoral body announced on February 27, they actually defeated President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at the presidential poll, with over 1.6million votes.
The petitioners alleged that INEC had at various stages of the election, unlawfully allocated votes to President Buhari to ensure that he was re-elected back to office.
They, therefore, applied for leave of the tribunal to enable experts inspect the server which INEC had insisted was non-existent.
However, the application was dismissed by the tribunal, which held that granting the request would prejudge the substantive petition, since the petition had already joined issues on whether such central server existed or not.
Dissatisfied with the decision, Atiku and PDP took the matter to the Supreme Court, urging it to void the ruling and compel INEC to open its server for inspection.
Arguing the appeal, yesterday, counsel to the appellants, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, contended that his clients were still within time to access the server and make use of the evidence to be extracted from it.
He argued that the 180 days meant for the tribunal to hear and determine the petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election, had not expired.
Nevertheless, all the respondents— INEC, President Buhari and APC— challenged the competence of the appeal, asking the apex court to dismiss it for want of merit.
In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Centus Nweze, the Supreme Court, held that Atiku and PDP failed to prove that the tribunal wrongly exercised its discretion against them or that their right to fair hearing was breached.
The apex court said it would have intervened, assuming the appellants proved that the tribunal took an arbitrary decision that was based on wrong principles of law.
The court said it was the duty of the appellants to adduce materials and expatiate on the wrong exercise of discretion by the tribunal.
“The Appellants failed woefully in this ill-advised journey to this court,” Justice Nweze held.
Earlier, the apex court panel also struck out the first appeal marked SC/738/2019, which sought to quash an aspect of proceedings of the tribunal that okayed a motion the APC filed for various paragraphs of the petition challenging President Buhari’s re-election to be struck out.
The tribunal had held that it was satisfied that Atiku and PDP failed to file any counter-affidavit in opposition to the motion by APC.
No cause for alarm over S-Court ruling —Atiku
Reacting to the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, the presidential candidate of PDP, Atiku Abubakar, said there was no cause for alarm over it.
Atiku, who addressed a news conference through his lead counsel, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, after yesterday’s proceedings, said the decision was anticipated and that proactive action had been taken during the hearing of the petition.
He said: “There is no cause for alarm over the decision of the apex court as it relates to our petition at the tribunal.
“The issue of server was aimed at establishing that the election was rigged during the collation of results and this was thoroughly addressed through witnesses and documents tendered and admitted during the presentation of the petition.”