by Achadu Gabriel, Kaduna
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Monday, closed its case, after calling a witness in Atiku Abubakar’s petition contesting the election of President Bola Tinubu on 25 February.
Atiku, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), is urging the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja to set aside Mr Tinubu’s victory on account of gross non-compliance with Nigeria’s electoral laws in the conduct of the presidential poll.
INEC on 1st March declared Mr Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner of the election. “Mr Tinubu garnered 8,794,726 votes to beat Atiku, who came second in the race with 6,984,520 votes.”
At the resumed proceedings on Monday, INEC’s lawyer, Abubakar Mahmoud, called the first witness, Lawrence Bayode, an assistant director in-charge of INEC’s ICT department.
Mr Bayode, an IT expert with over two decades of work experience at INEC, adopted his witness statement on oath.
He was led in evidence by Abubakar Mahmoud, INEC’s lead counsel. Mr Mahmoud, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), tendered a set of documents comprising letters from the APC and addressed to the electoral commission, announcing the withdrawal of Kashim Shettima from the Borno Central Senatorial District elect. Mr Tinubu subsequently chose Mr Shettima as his vice presidential pick.
But Atiku’s lawyer, Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), objected to the admissibility of the documents, while Wole Olanipekun, Mr Tinubu’s lawyer and APC’s counsel, Lateef Fagbemi, did not object to the court’s admissibility of INEC’s documents.
Afterwards, Messrs Olanipekun and Fagbemi took turns to cross-examine Mr Bayode concerning the electoral umpire’s deployment of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) machines for the presidential election.
Responding to Mr Olanipekun’s inquiry, Mr Bayode said, “Images captured on BVAS machines required data services for them to be uploaded (on the Internet).”
He, however, clarified that photographic copies of polling stations results “captured on BVAS whether transmitted manually or electronically does not affect the integrity of an election.”
The witness noted that “the presidential election conducted by INEC and won by the second respondent (Mr Tinubu) was free, fair and in substantial compliance with the electoral act.”
Under cross-examination by Mr Fagbemi, Mr Bayode explained that “the glitch on the day of (the presidential) election did not affect the actual scores of the candidates at the election as results of each candidate remained the same.”
He added that there was no electronic collation of results after the ballot, as it was done manually.
Mr Fagbemi further drew the witness’ attention to a pre-election notice by INEC, stating that electronic collation of results was not feasible, which Mr Bayode answered in the affirmative.
Specifically, the notice was issued on 23 February, three days to the Presidential election, and published in the Nigerian Tribune Newspaper.
Subsequently, a certified true copy of the newspaper publication containing INEC heads-up regarding the electronic collation of results was tendered and admitted in evidence. But Mr Uche objected to its admissibility.
The commission’s inability to transmit the presidential election results from polling units across the country in real-time forms one of the key issues before the court for determination.
Similarly, Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, is equally challenging the outcome of the presidential election, based on INEC’s failure to electronically transmit polling units’ results to its Results Viewing portal for public access.