Five INEC ad hoc staff to testify against Tinubu and APC in the presidential poll dispute

Five INEC ad hoc staff to testify against Tinubu and APC in the presidential poll dispute

In Abuja, five ad hoc staff members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been granted permission to testify as special witnesses in the petition filed by former Vice President and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, contesting the results of the 2023 presidential election.

The Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) has issued subpoenas to the INEC ad hoc staff who were involved in the administration of the controversial presidential election. These staff members have been summoned to appear before the court as witnesses.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who secured the second position in the presidential race conducted on February 25, lodged a joint petition with his party. In their petition, they made allegations of electoral manipulation in favor of President Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The petitioners contend that the election was marred by irregularities and that the results were skewed to favor the incumbent president.

In his extensive 66-page petition, the former vice president accused the electoral commission of employing a third-party device to intercept and manipulate the results of the presidential election, ultimately favoring the APC and its candidate, Bola Tinubu.

In addition, Atiku made further claims that prior to the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) replaced its in-house ICT expert, Mr. Chidi Nwafor, with an IT consultant who played a role in installing the third-party mechanism.

According to Atiku’s allegations, the IT consultant named Mr. Suleiman Farouk facilitated the intermediation between the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the IRev Portal, known as the Device Management System (DMS).

Atiku asserted before the court that the DMS software allowed INEC’s IT Security Consultant, Mr. Farouk, to remotely control, monitor, and filter the data transmitted from the BVAS devices to the electronic collation system and the IRev platform. These claims suggest that the alleged third-party device had significant control and influence over the electoral process.

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“The 1st Respondent used the said Device Management System to manipulate the Election results in favour of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents.

“The petitioners state and shall lead expert evidence to show the critical components of the 1st Respondent’s Information and Communications Technology, ICT, including but not limited to the BVAS which is an Android Device manufactured by Emperor Technologies China and supplied to the 1st Respondent by Activate Nigeria Limited,” the petitioners added.

Consequently, during the resumed proceedings of the petition, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, the lead counsel for the petitioners, informed the court that his clients had subpoenaed five INEC ad-hoc staff members who were involved in the election process to appear as witnesses. They were also expected to present crucial evidence. Chief Uche revealed that three of the five witnesses were present in court.

However, when the first ad-hoc staff member called as a witness entered the courtroom and took the stand, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, the counsel for INEC, objected. He stated that he had only received the witnesses’ statements a few minutes before the proceedings began and needed time to review the documents in order to effectively cross-examine the witnesses. Furthermore, Mr. Mahmood insisted on verifying the identities of the witnesses with the Commission to confirm their roles as ad-hoc staff during the election.

Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, representing President Tinubu, and Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, the counsel for the APC, supported INEC’s position. They agreed that the respondents required time to study the statements of the witnesses served by the petitioners.

Initially, the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel suggested a 30-minute recess to allow the respondents to review the statements. However, the panel ultimately decided to adjourn further proceedings until Thursday, granting INEC’s counsel the opportunity to conduct an internal investigation.

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During the earlier part of the proceeding, the counsel for the petitioners presented certified copies of the presidential election results from 10 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kogi State. Additionally, they called Mr. Ndubuisi Nwobu, the Chairman of the PDP in Anambra state, as the 11th witness in the case.

Mr. Nwobu testified before the court, stating that he served as the state collation officer for the PDP during the election. He mentioned that in approximately 30 polling units he visited, the election results were not uploaded in real-time to INEC’s I-Rev portal. The witness revealed that he was compelled to sign the election result by INEC officials who threatened to withhold a copy from him unless he complied.

According to the witnesses, there were several unsuccessful attempts to upload the election results to the I-Rev portal. However, they noted that things took a positive turn at the ward level, thanks to the swift intervention of the individual in question. They claimed that without his intervention, some INEC officials might have faced physical harm from disgruntled voters.

During cross-examination by the lawyer representing the All Progressives Congress (APC), Fagbemi, SAN, the witness revealed that he had written a letter after the election to raise concerns about the numerous irregularities and the apparent violation of the Electoral Act. The witness clarified that the complaint was not specifically about the Biometric Verification Machines (BVAs) but focused on the failure to upload the results to the I-Rev portal, despite the extensive promises made by the INEC chairman.

Atiku, along with other requests, is seeking a court declaration that he was the legitimate winner of the presidential election. Additionally, he has applied for the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return issued to President Tinubu by INEC.

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