Alex Enumah in Abuja
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, has withdrawn his application for court’s permission to observe the reconfiguration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Court of Appeal in Abuja, had on March 8, permitted the electoral umpire to go ahead with the reconfiguration of the BVAS used in the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.
The appellate court led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh cleared the coast for INEC to reconfigure the BVAS machines to be deployed in the rescheduled March 18 governorship and state House of Assembly elections, following convictions that the BVAS information on the presidential polls can be safely stored in an accredited backend server.
The electoral umpire had approached the court to vary its earlier order permitting Atiku and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, to inspect election materials including the BVAS machines used for the conduct of the presidential election.
They had anchored the request on the grounds that the same BVAS machines used for the presidential polls are the ones to be used in the governorship and state House of Assembly election, adding that unless the court’s order is varied to enable the reconfiguration for the governorship election, the elections would not go as earlier scheduled.
Shortly after the permission was granted, INEC had announced a shift of the governorship and state House of Assembly polls from March 11 to March 18, due to the reconfiguration of the BVAS machines.
Meanwhile, Atiku and his party, the PDP, had in a motion on notice filed on March 13 and marked CA/PEC/13m/2023, requested permission from the appellate court to observe the reconfiguration of the BVAS machines by INEC officials.
He had also filed another motion exparte praying for an order to serve court documents on the All Progressives Congress (APC) and winner of the presidential election, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, by substituted means, namely by serving the papers on their staff or posting same on their premises.
However, when the matter was called on Wednesday, a lawyer who represented Atiku and the PDP, Ifeanyi Iboko, drew the appellate court’s attention to a notice of discontinuance filed in respect of the two cases.
Iboko explained that the discontinuation was predicated on facts that the two motions have been rendered obsolete by recent events.
Following the withdrawal and non opposition by the respondents, the appellate court subsequently dismissed the two motions.
INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, had on March 1, at the end of collation of results from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) declared Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election, having scored the highest number of votes cast in the election.
Tinubu polled over eight million votes to emerge victorious, while Atiku came second with nearly seven million votes and Obi third, with a little above six million.
Similarly, both Tinubu and Atiku won 12 states each, while Obi won 11 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Dissatisfied, with the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the presidential election, both Atiku and Obi vowed to ventilate their grievances at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which is the court saddled with the responsibility of hearing and determining cases pertaining to the conduct of the presidential election.
While they are yet to file their respective petitions, Atiku and Obi in separate motion exparte sought for an order of court permitting them to inspect the materials used for the February 25 presidential election.
Delivering ruling on the exparte, Justice Ikyegh had on March 3, granted permission to Atiku and Obi to inspect “all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on February 25, 2023”.
The court also permitted them to do electronic scanning and/or make photocopies of voter’s registration and ballot papers used in the presidential election.
In addition, both Atiku and Obi are by the order permitted to “carry out digital forensic inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25” presidential election.
But, INEC dissatisfied with the order approached the appellate court to vary the order on the grounds that permitting Atiku and Obi access to its database would reveal the identifies of voters and how they voted in the presidential election.
INEC also asked the court to vary the order on the grounds that it may affect the conduct of the governorship and state House of Assembly elections slated for March 11.
According to INEC, for it to deploy the BVAS used for the presidential election for the March 11 polls, it must first have to reconfigure the machines, which “entails purging the accreditation data in the BVAS”, adding that before the reconfiguration, all information on the BVAS would have been uploaded to its accreditation back-end server for safe keeping.
However, the appellate court held that INEC’s motion was not necessary because in its ruling of March 3, it did not authorize Obi and Atiku to electronically enter into the database of INEC.
“The refusal will not prejudice the applicant, it is hereby refused,” Justice Ikyegh held.