…says witness indisposed, as court shifts case till Tuesday
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Monday, failed to open its defence to the allegation by the candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, that the 2023 presidential election was rigged.
The Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, had resumed its proceedings to enable the electoral body to call its first witness to justify its declaration of the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu, as the winner of the presidential election that held on February 25.
However, when the case was called up for hearing, INEC, through its team of lawyers led by Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, told the court that its witness was not available.
Though the Commission expressed its determination to produce three witnesses to defend the outcome of the disputed presidential poll, it, however, told the court that the first person it wanted to put in the box as a witness, was involved in a domestic issue.
Consequently, its lead counsel, Mahmoud, SAN, persuaded Justice Haruna Tsammani-led’s five-member panel of the court to adjourn further proceedings in the matter till Tuesday.
Obi’s legal team, led by Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, did not oppose the application for an adjournment.
Likewise, President Tinubu’s lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, as well as that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, said they were not against the request for the matter to be adjourned.
Owing to the development, the panel, deferred the case till Tuesday to enable the electoral body to produce its first witness.
It will be recalled that Obi, who came third in the presidential contest, closed his case on June 23, after he tendered several documentary evidence and called a total of 13 out of 50 witnesses he originally scheduled to testify before the court.
Among exhibits he tendered before the court included polling unit results from 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, as well as a bundle of documents containing the total number of Permanent Voters Card, PVCs, that were collected in 32 states prior to the 2023 general elections.
Aside from tendering four video exhibits, one of which was a press conference, where the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, assured that results of the election would be electronically transmitted to the IReV portal in real-time using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines, Obi and his party, an equally tendered bundle of documents that contained the total number of registered voters in each of the states.
Other electoral documents the court admitted in evidence were certified true copies of INEC Forms EC40Gs; EC40G1; EC40GPU, which were reports of various polling units where elections did not hold.
All the Respondents had challenged the admissibility of all the documents in evidence, saying they would adduce reasons behind their objections in their final written address.
Obi had approached the court to challenge the declaration of President Tinubu as the winner of the presidential poll.
In the joint petition he filed with his party, Obi, maintained that President Tinubu was not the valid winner of the election.
The petitioners, in their case marked: CA/PEPC/03/2023, equally contended that President Tinubu was not qualified to participate in the presidential poll.
According to the petitioners, as at the time Tinubu’s running mate, Shettima, became the Vice-Presidential candidate, he was still the nominated candidate of the APC for the Borno Central Senatorial election.
The petitioners further challenged Tinubu’s eligibility to contest the presidential election, alleging that he was previously indicted and fined the sum of $460,000.00 by the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in Case No: 93C 4483, for an offence involving dishonesty and drug trafficking.
On the ground that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provision of the Electoral Act, 2022, the petitioners argued that INEC acted in breach of its own Regulations and Guidelines.
The Petitioners argued that the electoral body was in the course of the conduct of the presidential poll, mandatorily required to prescribe and deploy technological devices for the accreditation, verification, continuation and authentication of voters and their particulars as contained in its Regulations.
They are, therefore, praying the court to among other things, declare that all the votes recorded for Tinubu and the APC, were wasted votes owing to his non-qualification/disqualification.
“That it be determined that on the basis of the remaining votes (after discountenancing the votes credited to the 2nd Respondent) the 1st Petitioner (Obi) scored a majority of the lawful votes cast at the election and had not less than 25% of the votes cast in at least 2/3 of the States of the Federation, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and satisfied the constitutional requirements to be declared the winner of the 25th February 2023 presidential election.
“That it be determined that the 2nd Respondent having failed to score one-quarter of the votes cast at the presidential election in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was not entitled to be declared and returned as the winner of the presidential election held on 25th February 2023.
In the alternative, the petitioners, want an order cancelling the election and compelling INEC to conduct a fresh election at which Tinubu, Shettima and the APC, listed as 2nd, 3rd and 4th Respondents, respectively, shall not participate.
In a further alternative prayer, the petitioners want the court to hold that the presidential election was void on the ground that it was not conducted substantially in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, and the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Likewise, they applied for an order, “cancelling the presidential election conducted on 25th February 2023 and mandating the 1st Respondent to conduct a fresh election for the President, the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the court will by 2 pm, resume hearing on another petition that the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar also filed to nullify President Tinubu’s election.