The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) in Abuja has granted the request by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate in the last presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari, to be allowed access to materials used for the election.
The permission is to enable the APC and Buhari inspect and obtain the certified true copies (CTC) of the materials to enable them prepare their defence against the petition to be filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in the election, Atiku Abubakar.
A three-man panel of the tribunal, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, in granting the two ex-parte motions filed by the APC and Buhari, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow the applicants inspect and obtain CTC of the materials.
The tribunal, in the two rulings on both motions, granted similar orders.
The APC had, in a schedule it attached to its motion, listed 12 categories of election materials it sought to be allowed to inspect. They include card readers, card readers reports and incident forms, among others.
In the lead rulings delivered by Justice Aboki, the tribunal granted the two reliefs in Buhari’s motion, but modified the prayers in the motion by the APC.
It said: “Leave is granted the applicant to bring this application at this stage.
“The 1st respondent (INEC) shall forthwith, allow the applicant and or its representatives to inspect polling documents and obtain certified true copies of all polling documents, in the custody of the 1st respondent, used for the just concluded presidential election to enable the applicant defend the petition that may be filed by the 2nd and 3rd respondents (Peoples Democratic Party and Atiku Abubakar).
Adelani Ajibade (for Buhari) and Olusola Dare (for APC) had, while arguing the motions, stated that it was imperative that the tribunal grants their clients’ prayers.
Ajibade and Dare argued that the grant of the motion will enable their clients examine the materials used for the election and obtain the CTC for the purpose of preparing their defence to the petitions to be filed by PDP and its candidate in the election, Atiku Abubakar.
Among the items named in the list attached to the motion by the APC are all results sheets used for the election, voters’ register, stubs of all unused ballot papers, all card readers, card readers reports and data analysis, voters’ registers and all rejected ballot papers.
On March 6, the PEPT rejected the request by the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party for permission to conduct forensic analysis and scanning of materials used for the conduct of the presidential election.
In turning it down, the tribunal said such request for forensic analysis and scanning by experts, of computers, card reader machines, server, among others deployed for the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was beyond the scope of the provisions of Section 151(1) & (2) of the Electoral Act (as amended), which permits the inspection of election materials.
In a unanimous ruling on an ex-parte application by Atiku and his party, a three-man panel of the tribunal said Section 151 of the Electoral Act, which allows an intending petitioner to inspect materials used for an election only allows inspection and the obtaining of certified true copies of such materials.
Justice Aboki, who led the panel, however, said the tribunal granted the prayers which allow the applicants the permission to only inspect the materials and obtain certified true copies (CTC) of the materials.
The tribunal also granted the applicant’s prayer for leave to be allowed to bring such application at the pre-hearing stage of the tribunal’s sitting.
According to the tribunal, the request by Atiku and PDP to call experts to engage in forensic analysis and scanning of INEC gadgets, computers, among other materials was outside the scope of the meaning of inspection under Section 151(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act.
Justice Aboki said: “After a careful examination of the reliefs sought on the motion paper and a perusal of Section 151 of the Electoral Act (as amended), and the decision of this court in cases of Aregbesola v. Oyinlola, Akintayo v. Jolaoye, Senator Hope Uzodinma v. Senator Osita Izunaso,, it is hereby ordered as follows.
“Leave is granted to the applicants to bring this application at this stage,
“The first respondent (INEC) shall forthwith, allow the applicants and or their representatives to inspect polling documents and obtained certified true copies of all polling documents in the custody of the first respondent, used for the just-concluded presidential election, to enable the applicants institute and maintain an election petition.
“Prayers three, four, five and six on the motion paper are hereby refused.
“Forensic audit, examination and analysis by forensic experts cannot be regarded as an inspection of those documents within the ambit of Section 151 of the Electoral Act (as amended),” Justice Aboki said.
He agreed with lawyer to the applicants, Chris Uche (SAN) that the Court of Appeal had, in previous decisions, permitted the scanning of election documents used during the election at the stage of hearing in election petition.
He added that such scanned documents must be certified by INEC as true copies of the documents in its custody or held in the custody of INEC.
Justice Aboki faulted Uche’s reliance on an earlier decision in the case of Senator Uzodinma and Senator Izunaso, and noted that the Court of Appeal has since set aside the permission granted by a lower tribunal for the scanning and forensic audit and analysis of election materials at pre-hearing stage.
He said: “In that case, the lower tribunal granted the pervasive orders brought under Section 151 of the Electoral Act.
“The respondent to the said application, appealed to this court, which found that the excessive orders granted with respect to the inspection of polling documents and sundry other materials, were found to be totally outside the scope of Section 151 of the Electoral Act.
“This court found that the orders made violated the rights of the respondents to fair hearing under Section 6 of the Constitution (as amended).The orders made by the lower tribunal, in that case were set aside by this court. And orders were made, by this court, within the ambit of Section 151 of the Electoral Act.”