15 May 2007

Nigeria: Tribunal to INEC - Produce Ballot Papers, Forms -'We'll Comply'

Abuja — Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)is to make available to Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and retired Maj. -Gen Muhammadu Buhari, certified true copies (CTC) of electoral materials used in the April 21, 2007 presidential election.

That was the directive of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja, yesterday.

The tribunal presided by Justice Rabiu Danlamin Mohammed also ordered INEC to make available for inspection Forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C, EC8D and EC8E as well as specimen copies of ballot papers used in the election.

Similarly, INEC is ordered to provide for inspection, Forms EC25 (electoral material receipt) and EC40C (ballot paper account and verification statement) used to dispatch the ballot papers and election results in all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

The commission is also to furnish the applicants with a list of all ad-hoc staff it engaged for the election in all the states and local government areas, wards and polling units (save Lagos and Abuja).

Copies of the voters' register used at all the polling stations at the election were also ordered by the tribunal to be made available to the applicants to enable them ascertain whether or not to file a petition at the tribunal.

In particular, Buhari, candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), asked the tribunal to give an order that where INEC is unable to provide the required documents, it should "state so in writing."

Moving their separate motions at the tribunal, Messrs Rickey Tarfa (SAN) for Atiku who is candidate of Action Congress (AC) and Mike Ikeonu for Buhari relied on sections 159(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2006 and Section 239(1) (a) of the Constitution to make the application.

According to them, the documents needed by their clients are of grave importance to the petition they intend to file, and that the court should grant them expeditious hearing owing to the few number of days remaining before the filing of election petitions could lapse.

INEC lawyers led by its director of legal services, Osaze Uzzi did not object to the applications, prompting the tribunal to give an expeditious and unanimous order in affirming the application.

According to the presiding justice, "the application is granted as prayed and that is to wit: that the respondents should make available the required documents as prayed."

In the application, the plaintiffs are also seeking to obtain an order of the tribunal to compel all the state resident electoral commissioners to produce the said electoral documents for their inspection and possible reproduction.

Hearing of the application could not go on last Thursday as according to the tribunal's registry, the application was not filed along with a substantive petition.

But, it was gathered that the interim applications were accepted by the Tribunal the following day, last Friday, on orders of the president of the Court of Appeal Justice Umaru Abdulahi.

Counsel to the applicants who had gone to the registry with several copies of the applications for endorsement, were last Thursday directed to file the applications along with the substantive petitions.

Deputy chief registrar of the Court of Appeal Mrs. Rita Enuinam confirmed the rejection of the earlier applications, adding that the tribunal was unable to accept them as there were no substantive petitions filed by applicants.

A court of appeal panel, by statute, is mandated to entertain petitions arising solely from Presidential elections.

Our investigation shows that 11 senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze prepared the application on behalf of Atiku, his running-mate, Sen. Ben Obi and the AC, while Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) and Chief Chimezie Ikeazor (SAN) are leading the legal team for Buhari.

A seven-paragraph affidavit deposed to by director of legal services at Atiku aampaign organisation, Oumar Shittien and a written submission in support of the application were attached to the motion.

The deponent said that the applicants were dissatisfied with the results of the elections and decided to challenge the declaration of PDP candidate and sitting Katsina State governor Umar Yar'Adua as winner of the elections.

The grounds of their proposed petitions include wrongful exclusion of Atiku as a candidate for the election and alleged failure of INEC to comply substantially with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2006.

Other allegations include, electoral malpractice, rigging, multiple voting, snatching of ballot boxes and papers, stuffing of ballot boxes and violence in polling units.

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