From Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja
The Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to jgrant the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, access to sensitive materials it used for the presidential election.
Both Tinubu and the APC had in separate exparte applications prayed they would need the materials to prepare their defence against petitions that would seek to nullify the outcome of the election.
In a unanimous decision by a three-member panel led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh, the panel Wednesday ruled that it was satisfied there was merit in Tinubu’s request to have access to the electoral materials to enable him to defend his election victory.
Both Tinubu and his party, the All Progressives Congress, according to the panel are entitled to have access to the materials in INEC’s possession to enable them to inspect, scan and make photocopies of them.
“The materials will be relevant in helping us to prepare our defence and also make comparison with information contained in INEC’s back-end server”, Tinubu’s lawyer, Mr. Akintola Makinde submitted.
In another ruling, the court gave INEC the go ahead to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, it used for the presidential election.
Also in a unanimous decision, the court held that stopping the electoral body from reconfiguring the BVAS would adversely affect the impending Governorship and State Assembly elections.
Subsequently, the PEPC dismissed objections that the Labour Party, LP, and its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, raised against INEC’s move to reconfigure all the BVAS.
The court held that allowing the objections by Obi and his party, would amount to “tying the hands of the Respondent, INEC”.
Besides, it noted that INEC had in an affidavit it filed before the court, assured that the accreditation data contained in the BVAS could not be tampered with or lost, as they would be stored and easily retrieved from its accredited back-end server.
The court held further either Obi nor LP controverted the depositions in INEC’s affidavit, saying that since such averments were not challenged, it amounted to admission by the Applicants.
The court nevertheless ordered INEC to allow the Applicants to inspect and carry out digital forensic examination of all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the elections, as well as to avail them the Certified True Copy, of result of the physical inspection of the BVAS.
The Justice Joseph Ikyegh-led panel faulted Obi and LP for repeating their request to be allowed to scan and make copies of the electoral materials in INEC’s possession.
The request it noted was earlier granted, arguing that repeating the prayer amounted to an abuse of court process.
INEC in its application had insisted that the reconfiguration of the BVAS was necessary as it would be deployed for the next round of elections.
INEC maintained that without a prompt variation of the order the court earlier granted to Obi and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar, especially the aspect restraining it from tampering with formation contained in the BVAS, it would be difficult for it to proceed with Saturday elections.
Obi and his party had in their application marked: CA/PEC/09m/23, sought permission to be allowed to conduct physical inspection of all the BVAS that were used for the presidential poll.
Their team of lawyers led by Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, said the essence of the application was to enable them to extract data embedded in the BVAS, “which represent the actual results from Polling Units”.
They specifically applied for; “leave to carryout digital forensic and physical inspection of BVAS, etc”, as well as to obtain the Certified True Copy, CTC, of all the data in the BVAS.
“My lords, this is to ensure that the evidence is preserved before the BVAS are reconfigured by INEC. This is because if they are wiped out, it will affect the substance of our case”, Ikpeazu, SAN, added.
In its objection, INEC insisted that granting the request would affect its preparations for the impending Governorship and National Assembly elections.
It told the court that there were a total of 176, 000 BVAS that were deployed to polling units during the presidential election.
“Each polling unit has its own particular BVAS machine which we need to configure for the forthcoming elections.
“It will be very difficult for us, within the period, to reconfigure the 176, 000 BVAS.
“We have already stated in our affidavit that no information in the BVAS will be lost as we will transfer all the data in the BVAS to our back-end server.
“We need the BVAS configured. So, granting this application will be a clog in the process and may delay the conduct of the elections”, INEC’s lead lawyer, Tanimu Inuwa, SAN, pleaded.
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