24th June, 2019
**News Analysis by PMNEWS editor
What will now happen to the election petition filed by Atiku Abubakar and Peoples Democratic Party against President Muhammadu Buhari?
The question is germane as the petition appears to have hit Mount Everest, with the game changing ruling by the presidential election tribunal on Monday, dismissing Atiku and PDP’s application seeking access to inspect what is turning out to be a phantom server belonging to INEC.
The ruling is undeniably a big setback for Atiku and his party as they seek a judicial overturn of Buhari’s victory.
Giving ruling in the interlocutory motion filed by Atiku’s lawyers, Justice Mohammed Garba, Chairman of the tribunal held that granting such application at this stage would prejudice the main petition.
Garba explained that the court was yet to keep abreast of testimonies of witnesses and documentary evidence from all parties in the matter, adding that granting the request at this stage would pre-empt the proceedings.
Dr Levi Uzoukwu SAN, Counsel for the petitioners/applicants, in an interlocutory application, urged the tribunal to grant his clients access to inspect the server used for the general election.
Uzoukwu submitted that the application relied on Section 151 of the Electoral Act which mandated the electoral body to allow candidates who contested an election organized by it to inspect the electoral materials.
Mr Yunus Usman SAN, Counsel for INEC, objected to the application, because INEC did not use or maintain server in the Feb.23 general election.
Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, Counsel for President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Lateef Fagbemi SAN, Counsel for All Progressive Congress (APC), also raised objections against granting the application.
Chief Chris Uche SAN, co-counsel for the applicants (Atiku and PDP), while speaking with newsmen after the session said the decision of the tribunal would be challenged at the Supreme Court.
Uche said his clients had relied on Section 151 of the Electoral Act to file the application, adding that the provision mandated INEC to allow candidates access to its materials for inspection when the need arose.
Atiku and his lawyers on 13 June prayed the Presidential tribunal to order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to grant them access to inspect the commission’s saver.
The PDP also prayed the tribunal to give it permission to inspect other electronic gadgets used by INEC in the Feb. 23 presidential election.
But even before the tribunal’s ruling today, events outside of it assailed the plausibility of the request.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) virtually knocked the bottom out of the request, when it said it was unaware of any server used by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Briefing newsmen in Abuja on the EU EOM’s report, the Deputy Chief Observer for the EU, Hannah Roberts said the mission knew nothing about INEC server that was allegedly used to transmit results of the 2019 general elections.
She said the Mission relied on results that were released by INEC. She categorically said the mission was unaware of an INEC server by which results were transmitted during the election.
A few days after, at an INEC retreat in Osogbo, Osun State, an INEC national commissioner debunked the existence of a server.
Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, national commissioner in charge of South West region said INEC did not transmit results of the 2019 General Election electronically through its server due to circumstances beyond its control.
“For some reasons, the Commission did not adopt ‘that option’ for 2019 election. It can only tell you that we are not ready for that technology because we were sure it would not be successful,” Soyebi said.
Soyebi said while INEC experimented with the server in states like Anambra and Osun, it did not adopt it for this year’s general elections.
“We piloted the use of transmission of election results electronically in Sokoto, in Anambra, even in Osun. What happened was that we were trying to pilot to see the desirability of such technology in our electoral process.
“First, our budget came out very late, there was also issue (with) the Electoral Act. For these and some other reasons, the commission did not adopt that option. 2019 elections were conducted according to Law.”
Soyebi’s view was consistent with that expressed by INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, just before the election, when he said elections could not be transmitted electronically because some parts of Nigeria are not covered by the networks.
“As for the reason we are not transmitting electronically, we recall we had some discussions with the Nigerian Communications Commission and through the communications commission we had meetings with the telecom service providers and we identified blind spots in Nigeria, spots that are not covered by any of the networks. How do you effectively transmit results from those blind spots?
“In order to address the issue of the blind spots we also had a meeting with the Nigerian Communication Satellite, we have not concluded our discussion with the Nigerian Communication Satellite in that respect.
“There are twin issues, the first one is communication, with several blind spots, how do you communicate? Secondly, the percentage of the country that is covered by 2G, let alone 3G or 4G network and we have no 5G in Nigeria, how do you in addition to sending results from the polling units, raw results meaning figures which is just like sending a text message and also sending copies of the EC8A because sending figures is different from sending images, so we have challenge in the area of communication but secondly and equally importantly we have a challenge in the area of security, particularly in this era of cyber insecurity. I think we need to do a lot more before we can deploy technology for the purpose of transmitting results nationwide”.
In the court, Atiku has mainly anchored his case on the existence of a server, which he claimed showed that he got more votes than President Muhammadu Buhari.
Atiku and PDP have promised to take their case in pursuit of the server to the Supreme Court.
At the tribunal, the case continues on June 26.
But for now, from all indications, Atiku and his party appear pursuing a phantom server.