Three Presiding Officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Monday, testified as witnesses in the case a former Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, filed to nullify President Bola Tinubu’s election.
The trio, who took turns to mount the box owing to witness summons that was served on them by the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, narrated how the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines, failed them on February 25, which was the day the presidential election was held.
According to the witnesses, whereas they were able to transmit the results of the National Assembly election that was held on the same day, using the BVAS machines, however, their repeated efforts to electronically transmit results of the presidential Poll to INEC’s IReV portal, failed.
The three witnesses; Janet Nuhu Turaki, Christopher Bulus Ardo and Victoria Sani, told the court that they conducted the presidential election as Presiding Officers, at Yobe, Bauchi and Katsina states, respectively.
Led in evidence-in-chief by a member of Atiku’s legal team, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, the witnesses, told the court that “technical glitches” they experienced with the BVAS machines, frustrated their jobs on election day.
They told the court that the results of the Senate and the House of Representatives elections were transmitted seamlessly, insisting that the problem of technical hitch arose at the point of transmitting only the presidential poll results.
The first witness, Turaki, told the court that the accreditation of voters with the BVAS machine, went successfully, stressing that the electoral process became frustrating for her, at the point she wanted to upload the election results.
However, she told the court that she carefully collated the result of the presidential election in the polling unit she served and recorded the same in INEC’s form EC8A, after which she signed the document alongside agents of all the political parties.
In his own evidence, Ardo told the Court that he felt unfulfilled in his assignment with INEC on the election because he could not transmit the presidential election results as required by law.
Likewise, Sani, in her testimony, said she could not remember the candidate that won the presidential poll in Katsina state, though she also lamented her inability to transmit the election results with the BVAS device.
The witnesses said they had at the end of the presidential poll, submitted a report to INEC, wherein they enumerated the challenge they faced with the BVAS machines.
Meanwhile, all the Respondents in the matter challenged the admissibility of statements the witnesses deposed on oath before the court, as part of the proof of evidence in the matter.
While Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, appeared for INEC, President Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress, APC, was represented by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and Mr Charles Edosomwan, SAN, respectively.
The Justice Tsammani-led five-member panel of the court adjourned further hearing in the matter till Tuesday.
The development came on a day the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, which is equally challenging the return of Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election, declined to withdraw its own petition that is pending before the court.
The court had on May 30, suspended further proceedings in the matter after counsel to President Tinubu, drew its attention to a judgement of the Supreme Court which he said settled the issue the APM raised in its petition.
Tinubu’s lead counsel, Chief Olanipekun, SAN, maintained that an appeal the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, filed against his client, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court, bordered on the legality or otherwise of his client’s nomination to contest the election by the APC.
He argued that the said judgement of the apex court touched on the substance of APM’s petition.
Chief Olanipekun, SAN, stressed that the only ground the APM canvassed in its petition, was the fact that the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, had double nominations, prior to the presidential election.
Insisting that the issue had been settled by the Supreme Court, Tinubu’s lead counsel, said: “As officers of this court, it behoves us to assist the court in all circumstances and also bring to the attention of yours lordships, decisions of courts, even from other jurisdictions, which relate to any matter pending before yours lordships.
“Even if those decisions do not necessarily align with the interest of our clients. It becomes more imperative if we are aware or abreast of any decision of the Supreme Court that touches on matters within the proceedings before your lordships.
“In this wise my lords, this particular petition which has just been called in respect of which the sole issue that is being ventilated is the nomination of the 1st Respondent who we represent.
“We are aware that the Supreme Court gave a judgement on the issue on Friday, May 23, in respect of appeal No: SC/CV/501/2023, and the parties involved were PDP Vs INEC& 3 Ors, where the apex court considered all the issues and resolved them.
“We will confirm from the petitioners, whether in the light of the Supreme Court decision, there will still be the need to continue with this petition,” he added.
Though the parties initially told the court that it was difficult for them to obtain copies of the judgement, however, at the resumed proceeding on Monday, counsel for the petitioner, Mr. Gideon Idiagbonya, said his client was able to secure a copy of the said verdict of the apex court.
He told the court that having studied the judgement, the APM, concluded that it would still pursue its petition against Tinubu to its logical conclusion.
Consequently, he persuaded the court to adjourn the matter till Wednesday, to enable the party to produce its lone witness and tender its documentary evidence against the outcome of the presidential poll.
The APM had in its petition marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, contended that the withdrawal of Mr. Ibrahim Masari, who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, invalidated Tinubu’s candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The party argued that there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari, who was listed as the 5th Respondent in the petition, expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his purported nomination, and the time Tinubu purportedly replaced him with Senator Kashim Shettima.
It further argued that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement.
According to the petitioner, at the time Tinubu announced Shettima as the Vice Presidential candidate, “he was no longer in a position, constitutionally, to nominate a running mate since he had ceased to be a presidential candidate of the 2nd Respondent having regards to the provisions of section 142 of the 1999 Constitution”.
More so, APM, contended that Masari’s initial nomination activated the joint ticket principle enshrined in the Constitution, stressing that his subsequent withdrawal invalidated the said joint ticket.
It, therefore, prayed the court to declare that Shettima was not qualified to contest as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC as of February 25 when the election was conducted by INEC having violated the provisions of Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“An order nullifying and voiding all the votes scored by Tinubu in the presidential election in view of his non-qualification as a candidate of the APC”.
Likewise, an order to set aside the Certificate of Return was issued to the President by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Both President Tinubu and the APC had since filed processes to challenge the competence of the petition which they said was bereft of merit.