By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA-Five ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, have been okayed to testify as special witnesses in the petition that a former vice president and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, filed to challenge the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
The INEC ad hoc staff, who participated in the conduct of the disputed presidential election results, were subpoenaed to appear before the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC.
Atiku, who came second in the presidential contest that held on February 25, had in the joint petition he filed with his party, alleged that the election was rigged in favour of President Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The former vice president in his 66-page petition, accused the electoral commission of installing a third-party device he said was used to intercept and switch results of the presidential election in favour of the APCand its candidate, Bola Tinubu.
He further alleged that INEC had prior to the election, redeployed its in-house ICT expert, Mr. Chidi Nwafor, and replaced him with an IT consultant that helped it to install the third-party mechanism.
According to Atiku, the said IT consultant, Mr. Suleiman Farouk, ensured that the device intermediated between the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and the IRev Portal, known as Device Management System, DMS.
He told the court that the DMS was the software that allowed INEC’s IT Security Consultant, Mr. Farouk, to remotely control, monitor and filter data transmitted from the BVAS devices to the electronic collation system and the IRev platform.
“The 1st Respondent, INEC, engaged an appointee of the 2nd Respondent (Tinubu) to man and oversee the sensitive ICT department of the 1st Respondent for the purpose of the election.“”The petitioners contend and shall lead evidence to show that contrary to the original design of the BVAS machine to upload data directly to the electronic collation system and the IReV portal, the 1st Respondent contrived and installed an intervening third-party device (Device Management System) which, in its ordinary usage, is meant to secure and administer the 1st Respondent’s technological ecosystem for the elections but as it relates to the presidential election, was used to intercept the results, quarantine and warehouse same, and filter them before releasing same to the IReV portal.
“The 1st Respondent used the said Device Management System to manipulate the Election results in favour of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents.
“The petitioners state and shall lead expert evidence to show the critical components of the 1st Respondent’s Information and Communications Technology, ICT, including but not limited to the BVAS which is an Android Device manufactured by Emperor Technologies China and supplied to the 1st Respondent by Activate Nigeria Limited,” the petitioners added.
“Consequently, at the resumed proceedings in the petition yesterday, lead counsel for the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the court that his clients had subpoenaed five INEC ad-hoc staff members that were part of the conduct of the election to appear as witnesses and to also tender sensitive materials in evidence. He added that of the five witnesses, three of them were in court.
However, immediately the first subpoenaed ad-hoc staff was called into the courtroom and he mounted the witness box, lead counsel for the INEC, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, raised an objection.
INEC’s lawyer, Mahmood, SAN, told the court that he was only served with statement of the witnesses, few minutes before the proceedings commenced, insisting that he would need time to go through the documents to be able to effectively cross-examine the witnesses.
Besides, INEC’s lawyer said there was also the need for him to go back to the Commission to verify and confirm the identities of the witnesses so as to ascertain if they indeed served as ad-hoc staff during the election.
Both Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, who appeared for President Tinubu, as well as counsel for the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, aligned themselves with the position of the INEC.
The respondents maintained that the would need time to study statements of the witnesses that was served on them by the petitioners.
Even though the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel initially opted for a 30 minutes stand down to allow the respondents to study the statements, however, it subsequently deferred further proceedings in the matter till Thursday to enable INEC’s counsel to conduct his internal enquiry.
Earlier in the proceeding, counsel for the petitioners tendered certified copies of results of the presidential election from 10 Local Government Areas, LGAs, of Kogi State, even as he presented the Chairman of the PDP in Anambra state, Mr. Ndubuisi Nwobu, to testify as the 11th witness in the matter.
Nwobu told the court that he served as state collation officer for the PDP during the election, adding that in about 30 polling units that he visited, results of the election were not uploaded to INEC’s I-Rev portal in real-time.
The witness told the court that he was forced to sign the result of the election by INEC officials that threatened that they would not give him a copy, unless he signed.
According to him, “Every effort made to upload the results to the I-Rev portal failed. It was at the ward level that magic started happening,” the witnesses stated, adding that it if not for his swift intervention, some of INEC officials would have been manhandled by angry electorates.
While being cross-examined by APC’s lawyer, Fagbemi, SAN, the witness, said he wrote a letter after the election to complain about all the anomalies he observed, as well as the manifest non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
“My complaint was not about the BVAs, but that results were not uploaded to the I-Rev portal as we were promised extensively by the INEC chairman,” the witness added.
Atiku, is among other reliefs, praying the court to declare that he was the valid winner of the presidential election, even as he applied for the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to President Tinubu by INEC.