By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
President Bola Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress, APC, on Thursday, kicked against the invitation of five ad-hoc staff members of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, 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.
President Tinubu, who is the 2nd Respondent in the petition that is seeking to nullify his election victory, said he did not have fore knowledge of contents of statements the witnesses deposed on oath before the court.
Arguing through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Tinubu, maintained that the law made it mandatory that such vital statements must be front-loaded ahead of time so as give other parties the opportunity to prepare adequately.
Relying on plethora of decided case laws, President Tinubu, said it was not right for Atiku and the PDP, who are the joint petitioners, to spring a surprise by producing statements of subpoenaed witnesses, midway into the hearing of their case.
Consequently, he urged the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja to reject the evidence of the five subpoenaed witnesses and not accord any probative value to their testimony in the matter.
On its part, the All Progressives Congress, APC, which is the 3rd Respondent in the matter, aligned itself with President Tinubu’s position.
The APC, through its team of lawyers led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, argued that Atiku ought to have included the written statements of the witnesses at the time the petition was filed.
Similarly, the head of INEC’s legal team, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, said he was equally opposed to the court allowing the five subpoenaed witnesses to testify in the matter since their statements were not part of the proof of evidence the petitioners adduced ab-initio.
However, Atiku’s lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, urged the court to dismiss all the objections and okay the witnesses to proceed with their evidence.
Uche, SAN, argued that issues the Respondents raised in their objections were misconceived, stressing that it would not have been possible to front-load the written statements of the subpoenaed witnesses since they were not summoned as at the time the petition was filed.
The Petitioners’ lawyer insisted that the witnesses we’re special since their appearance in the matter was based on a summon from the court.
Meanwhile, though the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel initially stood down the matter to prepare a ruling, however, it subsequently reconvened and gave the petitioners the nod to call the witnesses.
The court said it would reserve the ruling and deliver it on a later date.
Though five INEC’s ad-hoc staff members who participated in the conduct of the disputed presidential election were subpoenaed to appear before the court, however, only two of them were able to testify on Thursday, with three others reserved for Friday.
The two that testified on Thursday, Egumah Friday and Grace Timothy, told the court that they served as Presiding Officers in Abia and Bauchi, respectively, during the general elections.
The witnesses told the court that on the day of the presidential election, all efforts they made to upload polling unit results to INEC’s I-Rev portal, using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines, failed.
The witnesses said they were however surprised that though results of the presidential election failed to upload through the BVAS machines, they were able to upload results of the National Assembly elections that held on the same day.
The subpoenaed INEC ad-hoc staff members who are ex-corps members, said they however snapped pictures of the results with the BVAS machines.
Though President Tinubu and the APC did not oppose the evidence of the second subpoenaed witness, Grace, they however accused the first witness, Friday, of being an impostor.
They told the court that the name of the Presiding Officer that was at the polling unit that Friday claimed that he served on the election day, was Faga Kehen.
The Justice Tsammani-led panel adjourned further hearing on the case till Friday.
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.
In his 66-paged petition, Atiku 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 APC and its candidate, 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 that was 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.