Citing security and logistics reasons, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has foreclosed the immediate release of the materials used for the February 23, 2019, presidential election to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, for inspection.
In an apparent reaction to the PDP's allegation that INEC was frustrating Atiku from accessing and inspecting the poll materials, the commission explained yesterday that the materials in question were not available for Atiku to inspect because they were still at the local government offices nationwide.
The commission further said that it cannot rush to allow Atiku, the PDP and any other political party that requested to inspect the materials because some of them are very sensitive and could be tampered with.
Like Atiku and the PDP, President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have secured the nod of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal to access and inspect the election materials.
With the dust over the inspection of the poll materials yet to settle, Atiku yesterday went ahead to file his petition challenging Buhari's victory at the tribunal.
Atiku and his PDP are challenging the victory of Buhari and APC on the grounds of alleged massive riggings, irregularities and non-compliance substantially with the electoral laws.
Before this development, the tribunal granted Buhari and Atiku the permission to inspect the materials after entertaining the ex-parte applications they filed to that effect.
INEC officials told LEADERSHIP yesterday that the commission was not in a position to immediately release the election materials to Atiku and the PDP because the sensitive ones cannot be issued to a political party until certain payments were made to the electoral umpire.
It was learnt that most of the sensitive materials which are still at INEC offices at the local government areas across the country may be transported in trucks to its headquarters in Abuja or photocopied, which will take some time.
It is after these processes have been completed that the inspection can be done by Atiku or any candidate and party that so wish, INEC said.
President Buhari of the APC was on February 27, 2019, declared the winner of the presidential election by INEC haven polled 15,191,847 votes to defeat Atiku who garnered 11,262,978 votes.
Before INEC completed the collation of the results, Atiku and the PDP rejected them and later headed to the tribunal to seek the cancellation of the results in some states of the federation over alleged irregularities.
The tribunal granted some of Atiku's prayers, among which, was that INEC should allow him and the PDP to inspect the election materials.
And last week, Buhari also stormed the tribunal, sitting at the Appeal Court, Abuja, requesting that he be allowed to inspect the materials, which the court granted.
Before INEC clarified its position yesterday, the PDP had accused the commission of frustrating its efforts to inspect the materials.
INEC argued yesterday that it has the responsibility to ensure that in all its dealings with aggrieved and other interested parties, the security of the sensitive documents is guaranteed.
The commission denied the allegation that it had refused the PDP access to the election materials.
INEC national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Barr Festus Okoye, declared yesterday that, "I am not aware that the commission has refused to grant any political party access to election materials,"
Okoye said that there are procedures every party must follow when it comes to the inspection of sensitive materials, adding that the political party and its candidate must make some payments while INEC must ensure that it follows due process to prevent the materials from being tampered with.
He said: "There are procedures for harvesting documents in the commission and there are payments to be made before documents are released.
"Moreover, elections are conducted at the polling units and materials are kept in the various local government offices of the commission.
"There are a few documents in the headquarters of the commission. Most of the documents must be trucked from the local governments and or photocopied at the local governments. We will check at the state and ensure compliance with the requests," Okoye said.
Finally, Atiku Files Petition At Tribunal
About 20 days after INEC declared Buhari the, winner of the presidential election, Atiku and the PDP last night filed their petition before the tribunal, praying that they be declared the winners of the presidential election instead Buhari and the APC.
In the alternative, the two petitioners prayed the tribunal to nullify the poll and ordered for a fresh election that will be conducted in line with provisions of the electoral laws.
The respondents in the suit are the APC, President Buhari, and INEC.
Under section 134 of the Electoral Act, 2010, any candidate that is not satisfied with the outcome of the presidential contest, is mandated to approach the tribunal with a petition, not later than 21 days after the result was announced. The tribunal is also expected to deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date the petition was filed.
At about 8pm last night, Atiku's team of lawyers led by Mr. Chukwuma Machukwu Ume (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), and Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN) were perfecting the filing process at the Central Registry of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).
The tribunal will conduct its proceedings at the Court of Appeal headquarters in Abuja. Though Atiku was yet to arrive at the tribunal where he was expected to personally depose to an affidavit, some PDP chieftains, including its spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan and Alhaji Buba Galadima, accompanied the lawyers to the tribunal.
Addressing newsmen, PDP national legal adviser, Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem, said that Atiku would seek for two principal reliefs at the tribunal.
He said the first relief was for an order declaring him as the bonafide winner of the 2019 presidential election. In the alternative, Atiku and the PDP want the tribunal to nullify the presidential election on the premise that it was marred by irregularities.
"We asked that our candidate who won the election massively across the country be declared the winner. In the alternative, we also asked that the election be set aside on the ground of irregularities which were apparent across the country.
"We have a pool of 20 SANs who are tested in election petition matters and other senior lawyers who are working with them. We have also lined up more than 400 witnesses that are going to testify in this petition. Nigerians are at home with what happened on February 23, the sham they called an election. We are going to re-present those facts to Nigerians, we are not going to manufacture facts," he said.
Also speaking, Mike Ozekhome told journalists that the petitioners encountered serious challenges in the hands of INEC which was reluctant to grant them access to the electoral materials.
"Our petition is quite solid, very strong and unassailable. We believe that by the grace of God, the original winner will regain his mandate", Ozekhome added.
The tribunal had on March 6 ordered INEC to grant Atiku and the PDP access to all the electoral materials that were used for the presidential poll.
The tribunal, however, declined to allow Atiku and PDP to conduct forensic analysis on any of the electoral materials on the premise that such request was outside the scope of the Electoral Act, as amended.
In a counter-move, President Buhari and the APC, on March 14, also approached the tribunal and secured an order for INEC to grant them access to all the electoral materials. The tribunal, in two separate rulings, ordered the electoral body to forthwith, make available to President Buhari and the APC, both used and unused ballot papers it deployed across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for the purpose of the presidential poll. Among other documents the tribunal granted the applicants leave to inspect included all the voters' registers. It held that the applicants should also be allowed to obtain Certified True Copies of all the documents that were used at the polling units, wards, local governments, and state levels.
PMB Meets Bauchi, Plateau Govs Ahead Of Reruns
Meanwhile, President Buhari met yesterday separately with Bauchi State governor, Mohammad Abubakar and his Plateau State counterpart, Simon Lalong at the presidential villa ahead of the supplementary elections holding on Saturday.
The visit was the second by Governor Abubakar to the State House in a week since INEC resolved to continue the collation and conclusion of the governorship election which it earlier declared inconclusive.
INEC had declared the governorship elections in Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau, Sokoto, Benue, and Kano States inconclusive and kept mum on Rivers State where the entire exercise was suspended.
But after receiving the reports of its fact-finding team to Bauchi and Rivers States, INEC announced that it would complete the collation of the results from the outstanding Tafewa Balewa local government area in Bauchi State today and resume the suspended Rivers exercise.
Since INEC took the decision, the ruling APC and Governor Abubakar had kicked against it. Last week, Abubakar and the Adamawa State governor, Jibrilla Bindow, stormed Aso Rock to seek the president's intervention in the matter. The two governors were unable to meet the president but conferred with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
However, on Sunday, the presidency said that Buhari would not wade into the rerun because it would be an abuse of the constitution. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said that Buhari, unlike past presidents, would not interfere in the rerun because he is a different leader.
Speaking with State House correspondents after the meeting with Buhari yesterday, Governor Abubakar said that he came to brief the president about the situation in his state.
Abubakar also dismissed insinuations that he came to ask the president to intervene in the election, stating that he was at the State House to brief the president on "what is happening" and the actions he had taken.
The governor expressed the confidence that he would emerge victorious in the supplementary election on Saturday.
Abubakar said: "I briefed him on the issues surrounding the inconclusive election, the returning officer for Bauchi State at the end of collation, rejected the result of Tafawa Balewa local government area and then 36 other units spread across 15 local government areas of Bauchi State and ordered a rerun.
"Surprisingly, we woke up one morning and INEC came up with a procedure that is not known to law. Because, where a returning officer has declared the result, only an election petition tribunal can reverse the result. But INEC is attempting to reverse itself in the case of Bauchi.
"And when one juxtaposes that of Bauchi and other states with inconclusive elections, one wonders why that is happening only in Bauchi State.
"So, for that reason, there is a need for me to come and brief Mr. President because it has the potential of touching on the security of the state," he said.
The governor also faulted the decision of the returning officer to reverse himself on the cancelled votes.
"Of course it is definitely extra illegal. It is a straight forward matter. The returning officer is the final arbiter even with respect to scores and declaration of result. And once he makes a declaration, no power can reverse that declaration except a duly constituted court of the land," he stated.
On how prepared is he for the rerun election,, he said "If they are going to do it now, we are ready. I don't know who is afraid of anyone in Tafawa Balewa.
On his part, Lalong said that he also came to brief the president on the rerun election and the security situation in Plateau State.
Lalong said: "My meeting with the president is the usual briefing; I call it usual because of my passion for peace in the state. It is not about the election, it is about peace, how to ensure we have very peaceful elections. So far so good, we have had very good peaceful elections.
"We are going back for a supplementary election, I will like INEC to conduct a peaceful election and we want the security apparatus to be on ground in the state. That was my briefing to Mr. President."
When asked if he was panicky about the supplementary elections, Lalong replied: "How can I when all the votes that were cancelled were my votes? These were areas that I won. There was no need for any cancellation but then as a lawyer, I still want to comply with the rules. I don't want to be talking about infringing on the rules when the election result is very clear."
According to him, "they (INEC) said that registered voters were 49,000 but the votes were not up to 20,000, but the people were still saying we need 49,000 and I was already on top with 45,000 votes. So we are going to get the 49,000.
"How can you imagine that a sitting governor cannot get 3,000 votes out of 49,000 in an area that I have well dominated for a long time? So for me, the election is as good as concluded in Plateau State. I see it as an opportunity for the people whose votes were cancelled for them to vote," he said.
PDP Faults INEC's Claim On Election Materials
Also yesterday, the PDP faulted claims by INEC that it didn't meet the condition required to inspect materials used for the presidential election materials as ordered by the tribunal.
PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, told LEADERSHIP that the electoral commission did everything possible to frustrate them.
While accusing the commission of working for the ruling APC, he alleged that INEC was hiding under due process to deny the PDP access to the documents.
He said: "We applied for the inspection on Monday. We cannot pay the money until they accept the application. They have not accepted, so who do we pay the money to? And if they are talking about due process, they should define what they mean by it in clear terms. We wrote them the letter on Monday. We didn't write them the letter on Friday. So they should tell us in definite terms what they mean by due process."
... Soldiers Should Steer Clear of Reruns
To ensure hitch-free rerun in the affected states, the PDP said that soldiers should be kept out of the exercise.
The party, however, alleged that President Buhari's posture that he would not interfere in the March 23 governorship supplementary elections amounted to a direct confession that the presidency used its overbearing influence to rig the February 23 presidential election.
The opposition party claimed that it was also a fresh subterfuge to divert public attention from the APC's rigging plots ahead of the supplementary elections.
Ologbondiyan said that the presidency's confession that APC members were mounting pressure on Buhari to help them to rig the supplementary elections had confirmed the Buhari presidency's manipulative and rigging capacity, including the militarisation of the electoral process, instigating of violence and alteration of results, as were freely used by the APC in the presidential election.
In a statement he issued in Abuja, Ologbondiyan said that "Nigerians, especially those in states where the supplementary elections have been scheduled to hold,should be wary of the antics of the Buhari presidency, as it has never been committed to free, fair and credible elections.
"Nigerians can recall that ahead of the presidential and National Assembly elections, President Buhari had promised to allow for a free, fair, transparent and credible process, only for his presidency and party, the APC, to engage in downright manipulations at INEC, deployment of military and thugs to intimidate and suppress voters, as well as outright alteration of results delivered from the polling units.
"President Buhari cannot exonerate himself of the harm inflicted on our polity by the deployment of soldiers in the 2019 general elections as nobody deploys the military except the president and commander-in-chief.
"Now that President Buhari, in his official capacity, has come out to state that he will not intervene in the March 23 supplementary election; we ask, is Mr. President assuring Nigerians that any 'soldier' seen directly involving in the rerun election is fake and should be treated as such?
"The PDP charges the military to note the import of the statement by the presidency and steer clear of the supplementary elections.
"The PDP also cautions INEC officials to note that Nigerians are very eager about the outcome of the governorship supplementary elections, given that the PDP is already leading in these states. Nigerians are not ready to accept any results that do not reflect the reality of our victory, which is already known to all," he said.