…declines request to subject ballot papers to forensic audit
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to surrender all the materials used for the February 23 presidential election, for inspection.
The tribunal, in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel of Justice led by Justice Abdul Aboki, directed the electoral body to grant the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, access to the materials.
However, the panel declined to allow Atiku and PDP to conduct forensic analysis on any of the election materials, stressing that such request was outside the scope of the Electoral Act, as amended.
Justice Aboki who 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.
Consequently, the tribunal said it would only order INEC to grant the Applicants access to examine and obtain Certified True Copies of election materials used for the presidential election.
“Prayers 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the motion paper are hereby refused”, the tribunal held.
Other members of the panel that concurred with the lead ruling were Justices Emmanuel Agim and Peter Ige.
The ruling came over three hours after Atiku and the PDP, through their team of lawyers comprising of three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, adduced reasons why INEC should be compelled to produce the election materials for forensic analysis.
Though their legal team was led by Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, however, it was Chief Chris Uche, SAN that addressed the tribunal on behalf of the Applicants.
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 which they said included multiple thumb printing of ballot papers.
They expressed determination to engage forensic experts to scrutinize all materials that INEC deployed for the election.
In the joint motion ex-parte marked CA/A/P/EPT/1/2019, Atiku and PDP prayed the tribunal for leave to be allowed to obtain the sensitive materials from INEC.
Aside INEC, other respondents in the motion were President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Uche told the tribunal that the motion dated March 4, was also filed pursuant to section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, contained six reliefs.
Among items he said his client wanted leave of the tribunal to be inspected by forensic experts, included over 80million ballot papers that were used for the election, which he said would be subjected to thumb print analysis.
Other items the motion sought to be released to the intending petitioners for scrutiny were the Voters Register, the Smart Card Reader Machines, as well as information stored in INEC’s back-up server.
The first prayer in the motion, which was granted by the panel, was leave for Atiku and the PDP to file the action before the pre-hearing session of the tribunal, as prescribed by the Electoral Act.
The second prayer was for INEC to allow the Applicants or their agents, to scan and make photocopies of vital documents used in the conduct of the election, for the purpose of establishing manifest irregularities that allegedly led to President Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence as winner of the presidential election.
The Applicant told the tribunal that reliefs they sought against INEC was for the purpose of filing and maintaining an election petition they intend to lodge against the outcome of the 2019 Presidential Election.