In a unanimous ruling, the five-man presidential election tribunal panel dismissed the application by the lawyers of the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate Atiku Abubakar to access and inspect the servers belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Why it matters: The contentious issue of the INEC server is an important part of the Atiku’s campaign petition. Prior to this decision by the tribunal, INEC’s lawyers have denied the existence of a server that received results that were transferred electronically from polling stations across the country – although there were claims by some of the commissions officials that such a server existed. The lead judge, Justice Mohammed Garba said that granting such application “will be unpalatable” and “will create the impression that the court has indeed recognised the existence of a central server and that the result was electronically transmitted.” He added that “the law is settled that the court should ensure caution while dealing with interlocutory application so as not to make any observation that affects the substantive case.”
The news was not well received by the PDP hopefuls.
– Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP, Peter Obi expressed his disappointment with the decision: “I have always respected the ruling of courts, even where it’s not favourable, but I find it shocking and worrisome in this day and age that INEC, who is supposed to be an independent umpire of an election, will argue against subjecting itself to scrutiny when ordinary referees in a football match subject themselves to VAR and even go further to visit it to enable them make more informed decisions. With this development, it would be difficult for INEC to convince any discerning mind that it set out to conduct a free and fair poll when it takes strange positions that clearly show otherwise to critical members of the public.”
– Atiku’s lawyers vow to challenge the ruling. Per Chris Uche SAN, one of the legal team members representing the PDP: “The nation was looking forward to this ruling and it is one that is very pivotal to this matter… The Electoral Act itself empowers the tribunal to grant access such as this to the petitioners in order to institute and maintain a petition, and that is what we are asking for. Somehow, at this stage, the court has ruled. But definitely this is a matter we want to take higher to the Supreme Court to challenge this ruling because we strongly feel that section 151 of the Electoral Act entitles us to have access to these materials.”
– Atiku’s political strategist Reno Omokri in a tweet described the judgement as questionable.
– Meanwhile, Buhari’s team are jubilant and doubled down on their victory. According to a statement by President Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, the judgement proved a “long standing principle of law.” He added that President Buhari was the true winner of the elections, adding that “real electoral observers” confirmed the results to be true.
“YIAGA Africa deployed 3906 real individuals to run a parallel tabulation which returned the same results the INEC announced,” Garba Shehu said.
Bottomline: Several legal analysts reached by The Scoop, agreed with the tribunal’s ruling because a ruling in Atiku’s favor would have been problematic as it would have decided the crux of the case at the interlocutory stage. However, with Atiku’s team challenging this decision at the Supreme Court, the case is far from settled.