ABUJA—Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, ordered Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to grant President Muhammadu Buhari and All Progressives Congress, APC, access to all the electoral materials used for the February 23 presidential election.
The tribunal, in two separate rulings by a three-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, ordered the electoral body to forthwith, make available to President Buhari and APC both used and unused ballot papers it deployed across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory for the purpose of the presidential poll.
Among other documents the tribunal granted the applicants leave to inspect included all the voters registers.
It held that the applicants should also be allowed to obtain certified true copies of all the documents used at the polling units, wards, local governments and state levels.
The tribunal said it was inclined to grant the request pursuant to section 6(6) (a) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, sections137(2) and 151(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act and 47(1) of the Third Schedule to Electoral Act.
President Buhari and APC had through their lawyers, Adelani Ajibade and Thomas Ojo, prayed the tribunal to order INEC to release the materials to enable them prepare their defence to a petition the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, intends to lodge against the outcome of the presidential poll.
Buhari told the panel that Atiku had expressed his intention to go to court to challenge his declaration as winner of the presidential contest.
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Tuesday, okayed hearing on a suit seeking to invalidate the election victory of President Muhammadu Buhari over allegation that he violated section 91(2) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.
He said he would need some of the electoral materials currently in INEC’s custody to be able to prove that he legitimately secured the highest number of valid votes ahead of Atiku who came second at the election.
Buhari noted that the tribunal had on March 6, granted a similar request in favour of Atiku and the PDP.
The tribunal, which delivered the ruling around 7:30pm, yesterday, declined to order INEC to grant the applicants access to the smart card reader machines used for the presidential election.
“I am of the view that the prayers sought, ought to be granted,” Justice Aboki held, stressing that the applicants or their representatives should be granted access to the polling documents.
“The 1st Respondent (INEC) is hereby ordered to forthwith, allow the Applicant or his representatives to inspect all the polling documents used in the just concluded presidential election to allow the Applicant to defend any petition that may arise from his declaration as winner of the February 23 presidential election,” the tribunal held.
It equally granted the Applicants the leave to seeksuch reliefs before the pre-hearing session of any petition that may be lodged against the outcome of the presidential election.
In his ex-parte motion granted by the tribunal, President Buhari cited INEC, Atiku, PDP and APC as respondents, while APC, in its motion, cited INEC, Atiku, PDP and President Buhari as respondents.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had earlier granted the same reliefs to the opposition PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku, who had since expressed their dissatisfaction with the declaration of Buhari as winner of the just concluded presidential election.
The tribunal, which is conducting its proceeding at the Court of Appeal headquarters in Abuja, however, declined to allow Atiku and PDP to conduct forensic analysis on any of the election materials on the premise that such request was outside the scope of the Electoral Act, as amended.
Justice Aboki, who also delivered the lead ruling, held that Atiku’s request for experts to be permitted to conduct forensic audit on the election materials, could not be regarded as “examination,” as stipulated in section 151 of the Electoral Act.
He held that a decided case-law in Hope Uzodinma Vs Osita Izunaso, which Atiku and PDP relied upon, wherein the tribunal ordered INEC to allow the petitioner to scan and conduct forensic audit on all the election materials, had since been set-aside by the Court of Appeal.
Specifically, Atiku and his party, told the tribunal that the essence of the request was to establish that the presidential election was fraught with manifest irregularities they said included multiple thumbprinting of ballot papers.
They indicated their determination to engage forensic experts to scritinise all materials that INEC deployed for the election.