The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal presiding over the petition of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the standard bearer of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general election, would face a critical test of integrity, not just before the Nigerian electorate but also the international community as all eyes and interests are focused on how fairly, unbiased and courageous the judges would handle the suit.
Atiku and PDP had filed a suit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the declared results of the 2019 Presidential election, which favours the incumbent. He is claiming that the results declared by the commission on February 27 in which Buhari defeated him with 15,191,847 to 11,262,978 votes negate what was available on the umpire’s electronic server for collation of results. According to him, what INEC server, which was available to him, show is that he (Atiku) won the election with about 1.6 million votes.
But INEC has since denied having any server where it transmitted results electronically. The umpire’s counsel said there was no electronic server used in collating results during the last general election. The commission made the claim last Thursday while responding to Atiku’s petition. This was in spite of the fact that INEC had initially said that despite owning an electronic server, it did not use it for the election.
The PDP candidate had asked for permission to inspect the server of the commission but opposing the demand, legal representatives of INEC at the tribunal claimed their client does not own an electronic server. But since then mixed reactions have continued to trail the development.
In his comment, a senior military officer in the 1990 Orkah Coup, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd) blamed the development of INEC’s server denial on politicians. He said if the politicians and other critical stakeholders had heeded his admonition not to participate in the elections except President Buhari signed the Electoral Bill into law “the country wouldn’t have been thrown into the present mess.”
According to him, “The 2019 election was structured for rigging in favour of a particular candidate in the first instance. This is one of the reasons I suspected the Electoral Bill was not signed into law. I recalled warning our politicians that if for whatever reasons they don’t have access to the INEC electronic server, they should not repose confidence in the order of proceedings of the elections but nobody listened to me.”
Nyiam, who was a delegate to the 2014 National Conference, said if it were possible for INEC to easily deny having an accessible server, it is tantamount to saying that the 2019 election did not hold.
He therefore appealed to members of the tribunal to be fair and unbiased in handling the matter. He stressed: “The outcome of the petition would determine a lot in the future of Nigeria electoral process as it may likely determine the way other election petition tribunals would go in future.
A leader of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders forum, Dr. Isuwa Dogo, said it is imperative of Nigerians as well as the international community to closely monitor the proceedings even to a logical conclusion because it would determine a lot, not just the country’s democracy, but its unity and future.
According to Dogo, “If it is true that INEC has no server, the onus is on the commission to explain to Nigerians the magic it used to collate the results and how it arrived at the conclusion that President Buhari won. We begin to wonder, of what use was the card readers in the election if there is no server to transmit the information captured by the card readers during the exercise?”
While he said he least expected the commission to tell Nigerians before a competent law court that it has no server, Dogo said it is more or less saying that the last general election did not hold.
According to him, “The issue at stake transcends Atiku or Buhari. INEC should provide the manual collation it used to arrive at the result it announced to Nigerians. I expect INEC’s lawyers to be sharper in their arguments otherwise the whole electoral process would be subjected to ridicule before the international community.”
Also, the National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, said the fact that INEC claimed it has no server invalidates the entire 2019 general elections and its chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, should be charged and prosecuted for perjury.
According to Nwosu, “Nigerians demand to know whether budgetary allocation was made for the server because INEC itself held a stakeholders meeting with all political parties and politicians before the election was held in February, where we were told that results would be captured both manually and electronically and transmitted into a dedicated server for proper record. Its argument then was that such would prevent manipulation of results and even where there is stuffing of ballot boxes the results would not be affected unlike in the previous exercise.”
Nwosu, who was a stakeholder in the exercise and was part of the various interactions with INEC, said it was embarrassing for the same body to make a U-turn that it has no server.
According to him, “What Atiku and PDP have produced as evidence before the tribunal goes a lot to show that INEC has something to hide. My appeal is that Atiku should be declared winner of the election if it is established that INEC actually has no server otherwise it must explain why it is trying to confuse the electorate.”
In a similar manner, former Minister of Transportation, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, and President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, in separate telephone interviews with The Guardian, expressed disappointment over the umpire’s position that it has no server. While they both expressed anxiety on how the judiciary would handle the matter, Babatope, a member of PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), said he was alarmed that INEC could deny not having a server before a competent court.
According to him, “Before the election, INEC told Nigerians how it would use electronic server to collate results to remove the crisis of previous cases of results manipulations. We are waiting for the judiciary to address the issue as the last hope of the people. The development did not surprise me because I never trusted the chairman of INEC from day one to conduct free and fair elections.”
Shettima said it was sad as it also showed the level at which some people that were saddled with public responsibilities could descend.
“For INEC to say it has no server is an expensive joke and a slap on our democracy,” he said. “The development actually reveals the jitters and desperation on the part of the ruling party to hold onto power. I strongly believe that Atiku won the last presidential election and he is coming back to claim his mandate.”
But spokesman of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said perhaps the lawyers representing INEC in the matter are misrepresented or that they are trying to prove a technical point, noting, “I would rather study what they filed carefully before jumping into conclusion otherwise we are all aware that a budget provision was made by the National Assembly to INEC on server. One of the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) even spoke in detail about the server on a popular television station.”
Odumakin said he was looking up to the tribunal judges to tackle the issue fearlessly and in the best interest of Nigerians and our democracy.
Presidential candidate of National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Tanko Yinusa, told The Guardian that it was unbelievable for the umpire to claim it has no server despite having a series of stakeholder meetings with them before the election where the issue of server was deliberated extensively.
“The INEC chairman himself told us how the commission is going to use both the manual and electronic server to collate results, which according to him, would stop manipulation of results. One of his RECs, Mike Igini, even spoke on this issue of server on television. The issue is capable of setting the country in crisis if it is not carefully handled. I want to appeal to our politicians to avoid steps that would erode the confidence of Nigerians in our electoral system.”
But in a contrary position, a factional chairman of Lagos APC, Mr. Fouad Oki, said the issue of INEC server should be addressed in agreement with the provisions in the Electoral Law bearing in mind that the amended Electoral Bill wasn’t signed into law before the last general elections.
Looking at the technicalities of the argument, Oki said it was true that INEC might have a dedicated server for collation of results, “but does the existing Electoral Law recognise the use of electronic server in the last general election? Mind you, the new Amended Electoral Bill was never signed into law before the last election.”
Oki also faulted the argument of budget provision for the server by the National Assembly. According to him, “While it is not in dispute that INEC talked about server and there might have been a budget proposal for it, does the Eighth National Assembly budgeted for it? Was the money actually released? If these are in the negative, what server is the opposition talking about?”