The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal on Tuesday fixed Thursday for hearing of the Peoples Democratic Party and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s application for access to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s electronic server.
The PDP’s presidential candidate in the February 23, 2019 election and his party are challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress at the poll.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, Buhari and the APC are the respondents to the petition.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man tribunal also, on Tuesday, reserved its rulings on nine applications it heard in respect of the petition on Tuesday.
Leading Justices Abdul Aboki, Joseph Ikyegh, Samuel Oseji, and Peter Ige on the panel of the tribunal, Justice Garba said the date for the rulings would be communicated to the lawyers representing the parties in the case.
INEC had declared that Buhari and APC the winner of the February 23 election polling 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who polled 11,262,978 votes.
But Atiku and the PDP, in their petition filed on March 18 to challenge the outcome of the poll, contended that “from the data” obtained from INEC’s server, “the true, actual and correct results” showed that they polled a total of 18,356,732 votes to defeat Buhari whom they said scored 16,741,430 votes.
By calculation, Atiku and PDP claimed to have defeated Buhari by 1,615,302 votes.
However, in its reply filed on April 10 to counter the petition, INEC urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition, insisting that the petitioners’ claims were false.
It said, through its lead counsel, Yunus Usman (SAN), that it collated the results of the election manually and never transmitted them electronically.
It added that it kept no server where results could have been transmitted electronically and stored as alleged by the petitioners.
However, the petitioners, in their application filed on May 8, maintained that INEC kept “central servers” in which “information was recorded and stored in database packets relating to accreditation of voters and transmission of results from the presidential election”.
They sought to be permitted to inspect the said servers and the card readers used for the conduct of the poll, examine and analyse the information obtained from them.
They also prayed for the tribunal’s permission to be allowed to file a report of their inspection, examination and analysis of the content of the facilities.
The applicants filed 13 grounds to back their application and their claims in it.
Part of the grounds of the application acknowledged that INEC was constitutionally and statutorily vested with the responsibility to conduct and manage the presidential election and set up electronic data central servers.
They stated, “The 1st respondent, as the body constitutionally and statutorily vested with the responsibility to conduct and manage the presidential election, set up electronic data central servers for the purposes of storage of transmitted accreditation data and results from smart card readers deployed for the election in an apparent bid to ensure relative transparency of the process.”
They added that “the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) itself acknowledges network data by recognition given to the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission in section 71 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). We also submit that section 84 of the Evidence Act, 2011 recognises computer data, and evidence generated therefrom.
“Thus, the general framework of the law accommodates such data retrievable from computers, of which a server is a storage component.”
Maintaining that INEC deployed the servers for the conduct of the February 23 poll, they said as part of the grounds of their application, “the results of the election were electronically transmitted to the 1st respondent’s Central Server”.
They added that notice had given INEC “notice that reliance will be placed on the extract of the electronic data from the said Central Server as of February 25, 2019”.
They added, “It will work tremendous hardship and grave injustice to refuse access to the contents of the central server that will assist the honourable court in the just consideration and determination of the issues involved in this matter or to allow a Party suppress or withhold access thereto.”
The application along with another one filed on May 5 would be heard by the tribunal on June 13.