The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sitting in Abuja has declined to grant the application filed by Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for access to inspect the server and data of smart card reader said to have been deployed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
Presiding Justice of the five man panel, Justice Mohammed Garba, in a ruling held that granting of the application would imply that the court have delved into and resolved the contentious issue of the existence of a central server at INEC.
The chairman added that doing so would further create the impression that the tribunal has concluded that there is a central server where results of the February 23 election were received and stored.
The tribunal had on June 13 reserved ruling in the application filed by Atiku and PDP on May 8, for access to inspect INEC’s central server and smart card reader allegedly used in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
However the tribunal in a unanimous decision refused to grant the application on the grounds that since parties have joined issues, the tribunal cannot at the interlocutory stage make an order that would affect the substantive issue.
“I decline to grant the relieve sought, this application is refused and accordingly dismissed”, Justice Garba held.
Meanwhile, lead counsel to the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche SAN, said the decision of the tribunal would be challenged at the Supreme Court, adding that section 151 of the Electoral Act allows them to inspect materials used by INEC for the election.
He pointed out that the nation is looking forward to the ruling of the tribunal on the petitioners application seeking to Inspect the electoral materials, which he noted is pivotal, Uche said granting the application would in no way prejudice the substantive matter.
INEC he said is a public institution and had mentioned having a central server and wondered why it turned around to say it has no server. “We are not asking the court to decide whether there is a server or not, so the aspect of the court prejudging in the issue doesn’t arise at all. All we are saying is that the court should allow us access to inspect the materials which we are entitled to as INEC is a public institution funded by public funds.
So we are going to challenge that.
Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, one of the counsel to the petitioners, also reacting said “INEC chairman himself, professor Mahmoud Yakubu has maintained again and again before and during the election that there is a central server, that results were going to be electronically transmitted to that central server. And all the Electoral Commissioners maintained that the stage we are in now is a technological stage where things would not be done manually and anything not done with the PVC which results would be transmitted electronically to the central server would not be valid.
What the court have said today is like more or less that you don’t have the right under section 151 of the Electoral Act to maintain your petition, but we didn’t ask for details, we didn’t ask for content, all we asked for is to allow us access.
So it is not an issue we are appealing the decision because it is like trying your hands behind your back and expecting you to fight. We are appealing the decision because we want to know what is in the central server that they are hiding”.
He added that the public is also interested because budget was made for procurement of the central server in billions and it was approved by the National Assembly and it was disbursed. And INEC said they have done all that. So where is the money, what is there that they are hiding.
This is not just a case between Atiku and Buhari, it is a case that have generated Public interest for electoral transparency, credibility and freedom.- PR Nigeria