The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has explained why it chose not call any witness in defence of the petition filed against it by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in the February 23 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar.
INEC’s lead lawyer Yunus Usman (SAN) told the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) yesterday that his client elected not to call any witness in defence of the petition.
By the court’s schedule, the electoral body is expected to open its defence today, but when the case was called on Monday, Usman told the court that, having painstakingly reviewed the evidence and statement by the 62 witnesses called by the petitioners, INEC found no reason to call witnesses.
Usman said: “We have painstakingly reviewed the evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses. We have also painstakingly studied petitioners’ witnesses statements under cross-examination, which support our defence and denial, and are in consonance with our pleadings.
“We do not see the need to waste the court’s precious time in repeating what we have been saying.
“In short, we will not call any witness to help them prosecute their case. We rely on the evidence of their witnesses under cross examination.
“One of the witnesses even read the provision of the Electoral Act, where it was provided that electronic transmission of election results is not allowed. There is no need for us to call any witness.”
After Usman spoke, Justice Mohammed Garba sought the views of lawyers to the other parties – President Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the petitioners.
Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Buhari’s lead lawyer, said he was okay with INEC’s decision not to call witnesses.
Olanipekun said his client planned to call witnesses and sought an adjournment till 2pm today to enable the second respondent bring its witnesses.
APC’s lead lawyer Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) was also not averse to INEC’s decision, but said he would wait for the second respondent to conclude his defence before deciding whether or not to call witnesses.
The petitioners’ lead lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), who was delighted about INEC’s decision, sought to be allowed to utilise the six days within which INEC was expected to conduct its case, to tender additional documents.
The court rejected Uzoukwu’s request and said it amounted to an attempt by the petitioners to re-open their case, which they closed at the expiration of the 10 days allocated to them to conduct it.
Justice Garba had earlier announced an amendment to the schedule of proceedings in the hearing of the petition, reducing from six to three, the days earlier allocated to parties to file their final written addresses.
He said in view of time constraint, the court has decided to alter its earlier announced schedule, allowing the respondents to file their final written addresses three days after the close of evidence. The petitioners will have three days from the day of service.
The respondents are to have two days to reply on point of law, if necessary after being served with the petitioners’ reply.
The petitioners had claimed to have won the election based on the result they allegedly obtained from a supposed central server into which INEC allegedly transmitted and stored the election results.
They (PDP and Atiku) contended that “from the data in the 1st respondent’s server, as between the 1st petitioner (Atiku) and the 2nd respondent (Buhari), the true, actual and correct results upon a state to state computation” reflects that the PDP/Atiku scored 18,356,732 while APC/Buhari scored 16,741,430.
Many of the witnesses called by the petitioners spoke about the existence of an INEC server, but none provided any information about the identity of the said server, its location and address.
The petitioners’ testimonies
On July 8, three of the petitioners’ witnesses – Peter Obi, Adejuyitan Olalekan and Adedokun Adeoye – claimed that they transmitted results to INEC server at the conclusion of the last presidential election, but did not provide details of the purported server.
Another set of key witnesses called by the petitioners on July 19 – Osita Chidoka and David Ayu Nyango Njoga – failed to substantiate their claim of the existence of a server.
The duo said they got information that INEC transmitted results of the last presidential election electronically to a server.
Njoga was introduced as the petitioners’ expert witness and described as an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) expert from Kenya.
The witness said he was engaged by the petitioners to analyse results of the election as obtained from INEC server and stored in a website, www.factsdontlieng.com.
When asked if the INEC owns the website, the witness said “no”, but that the data it contains are from INEC’s server.
Njoga, who said he has never worked in INEC, claimed that:“www.factsdontlieng.com ” is owned by an INEC official, who provided the election result figures.
When asked to name the said INEC official, the witness said: “My lord, the INEC official is anonymous and I do not know him.”
Under cross-examination by Olanipekun, Njoka said the website was created on March 12, 2019. When reminded that the presidential election held on February 23 and the results released before March 12, the witness went mute.
Chidoka, an Aviation Minister under Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, who was introduced as the petitioners’ star witness, said he served as the PDP National Collation Officer during the last presidential election.
He said he was in the PDP national situation room between Friday, February 22 and 24, 2019 during which he interacted with senior INEC officials, including its Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, and his party’s agents nationwide.
Chidoka, who confirmed that election results were collated nationwide manually, said he learnt the result of the election was “transmitted by INEC electronically to the INEC server”.
While being cross-examined by Usman, Chidoka could not substantiate his claim, as contained in his written statement, to the effect that election results were transmitted to “the 1st respondent’s (INEC’s) server by the 1st respondent’s officials”.
When asked if he witnessed the transmission, Chidoka said he was not present when the alleged electronic transmission was done.
On whether he has ever seen the said server or knows its location, the witness said: “I have not seen the server, but before the election and during collation, the INEC Chairman talked about the existence of server”.
Chidoka added that Yakubu spoke greatly about INEC’s readiness in relation to the deployment of technology for the conduct of the election, but said such deployment was subject to existing challenge or lack of legal backing for such deployment.
When asked to provide the address of the said server, Chidoka said the one he referred to was the same address provided by the anonymous whistle-blower.