•Says INEC refrained from joining issues with observers, parties, others over elections outcome
•Closes defence in Obi’s petition after calling one witness
•Tinubu, APC open defence today
•Court admits president’s Chicago University records, US Visa, other documents in proof against Atiku’s petition
•427 lawyers volunteer to prosecute electoral alleged offenders
Alex Enumah and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday, said despite divergent opinions about the outcome of the 2023 general election, the overall outlook suggested that it was a fair reflection of a complex multi-party democracy.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated this at a meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja.
The Commission boss said this on same day INEC closed its defence in the petition by Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), after calling just one witness in defense of the February 25 presidential election that produced Senator Bola Tinubu as president.
Also, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PREPEC) yesterday, admitted in evidence, bundles of Tinubu’s educational records from the Chicago State University, United States of America, in proof of his qualification for the 2023 presidential election.
Speaking further during the meeting with RECs, Yakubu said the purpose of the meeting was to reflect on the 2023 general election, following the conclusion of the exercise, saying the time had come for introspection, stocktaking, review and evaluation.
The chairman said since the conclusion of the election, diverse opinions have been expressed by political parties, candidates, observers, analysts and the general public on aspects of the elections that took place in February and March.
According to him, such diverse opinions should normally be expected, adding that the Commission welcomed all of them in so far as their purpose was to improve the future conduct of elections and to consolidate our democracy.
Yakubu stressed that the commission has consciously not joined in the commentaries in the immediate aftermath of the election for several reasons.
His words: “First, our preference is to listen more and draw lessons rather than join in the heated and often emotive public discussion on the election. Second, since we plan to conduct our own review of the election, we see no need to pre-empt the process.
“Third, the Commission would not want to be seen as defensive or justificatory in joining the ongoing discussions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, several issues around the election are sub-judice and it is not the intention of the Commission to either undermine or promote the chances of litigants in the various election petition courts beyond what is required of us by the legal process.
“Indeed, practically anything coming from the Commission could be cited by litigants as either justifying their claims or an indication of bias against them.”
Yakubu, stressed that in spite of the foregoing notwithstanding, it was appropriate at this point to make a few broad remarks about the 2023 general election as INEC commences its review.
The chairman maintained that compared to some previous elections, the 2023 general election was one of the most meticulously prepared for in recent times.
He said learning from previous experiences, the Commission started preparations immediately after the 2019 general election, carefully ticking the necessary boxes over a four-year period.
Yakubu said it was the need to learn from both the positives and the shortcomings that made the stocktaking the Commission was embarking on essential.
He explained that among the positive stories was that the security challenge which threatened to derail the elections did not materialise; while concerns that the polls would be disrupted by the perennial insecurity across the country fizzled out on election day, maintaining that the elections were largely peaceful.
The INEC chairman noted that despite the naira and fuel scarcity as well as widespread attacks on its personnel and facilities nationwide, the Commission proceeded with the election as scheduled.
He emphasised that the first set of elections, the Presidential and National Assembly, held as planned for the first time in the last four general election conducted in the country, while accreditation of voters using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was generally scored very high by voters.
Yakubu said the Commission’s records showed that the success rate for BVAS accreditation stood at 98 per cent, compared to the Smart Card Reader’s 29.2 per cent during the 2019 general election.
He added: “Above all, despite the divergent opinions about the outcome of the election, the overall outlook suggests that it is a fair reflection of a complex multi-party democracy.”
Yakubu said while the Commission acknowledged that there were also some challenges, which were structural, infrastructural and human in nature, the electoral body was determined to address the challenges as it prepares for future elections.
He stated: “We are presently looking at all the evidence of infractions during the election, including the prosecution of offenders. We are looking at the activities of all actors involved in the election, including some of our high-ranking officials.
“I can confirm that the Nigeria Police concluded its investigation of the conduct of our Resident Electoral Commissioner in Adamawa State and submitted the case file to us. Appropriate action will be taken in a matter of days and Nigerians will be fully informed.
“I can also confirm that we have received 215 case files from the Nigeria Police following their arrest and the conclusion of investigation into electoral offences arising from the 2023 general election.
“We are working with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to prosecute the alleged offenders. Already, the NBA has submitted a list of 427 lawyers across the country who have volunteered to render pro bono services to the Commission. They are not charging legal fees but by mutual agreement the Commission will provide a token amount to cover for filing fees/expenses.
“Similarly, we are working with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) on the prosecution of cases relating to vote buying and associated violations.”
Yakubu revealed that in the next few weeks, several internal debriefing meetings would be held, culminating in engagements with stakeholders.
INEC Closes Defence in Obi’s Petition after Calling One Witness
Meanwhile, INEC yesterday, closed its defence in the petition by Obi after calling just one witness.
Although, INEC through its lead lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, at yesterday’s proceedings, told the Presidential Election Petition Court (PREPEC) that the 1st respondent had scheduled three witnesses in proving that the election it conducted was free, fair and devoid of irregularities and substantial non-compliance as alleged by the petitioners, he announced that he was closing the case at the end of the cross examination of its first and only witness, Dr. Lawrence Bayode.
INEC had on Monday, closed its case against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after calling same witness.
However, Bayode, who is the Deputy Director of INEC’s Information Technology (IT) Department at yesterday’s proceedings, told the court that he and his team of IT experts worked to fixed the glitches on its system that occurred during the February 25 presidential election.
Under cross examination by other respondents in the petition, the witness stated that the foundation and authenticity of any election by INEC was rooted in forms EC8A and EC8E, adding that the blurred documents downloaded from INEC IreV would not affect the physical results in form EC8A because the image there is not relevant.
According to the IT expert, an election process could only be said to be completed when the counted ballots at the polling units are recorded, snapped and sent through the BVAS to the INEC ‘s IreV.
Responding to questions from the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) counsel, Lateef Fagbemi, the witness who explained that the physical results were used for computing the election final results, maintained that the glitches that occurred on the day of the election did not affect the collation of the results.
He added that if what was downloaded from the IreV was not clear the physical results could also be obtained.
Under cross examination by counsel to the petitioners, Mr. Patrick Ikwueto, the witness agreed that the e-Transmission application was tested on February 4, 2023, before it was deployed for use during the presidential election.
While denying that INEC’s system was not vulnerable, the witness explained that the report of the e-Transmission application identified remediation to be undertaken to resolve the high vulnerability identified in the report.
At the end of cross examination, Mahmoud announced to the court that the 1st respondent would be closing its defense in the petition filed by Obi and his party against Tinubu’s election.
Subsequently, the five-member panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani called on Tinubu and APC to enter into their defence.
Responding, Tinubu’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, informed the court that his client would be opening his defence today.
Obi and his party, are currently challenging the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the February 25 presidential election.
Respondents in the suit are INEC, Tinubu, Vice President, Kashim Shettima and the APC.
Specifically, Obi and LP anchored their petitions on grounds of alleged irregularities, corrupt practices, non-compliance with the electoral laws as well as non-qualification.
They are asking the court to declare them winner of the poll or order a fresh election in the event that their petition succeed.
In total, Obi and LP called 13 witnesses including experts and INEC’s adhoc staff before closing their case on June 23.
Court Admits Tinubu’s Chicago University Records, US Visa, Other Documents in Proof against Atiku’s Petition
Relatedly, the PREPEC yesterday, admitted in evidence, bundles of Tinubu’s educational records from the Chicago State University.
The documents tendered alongside many others by his lawyer, Olanipekun, were aimed at disproving allegations of forgery and perjury made against Tinubu, who won the February 25 presidential election.
Besides allegations of irregularities, corrupt practices and substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws guiding the 2023 general elections, Atiku and PDP had amongst others sought the nullification of Tinubu’s election as president, on the grounds that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the poll.
According to the petitioners, Tinubu lied in his Form EC9 submitted to INEC in aid of his qualification for the presidential poll and in proving their allegations the petitioners brought in a witness, one Mike Enahoro-Ebah, who tendered documents he said was obtained from the Chicago State University; showing discrepancies in the age, name and even gender in the academic records of Tinubu.
However, at yesterday’s proceedings, when Tinubu was called upon to open his defence against the allegations contained in Atiku’s petition, he brought before the court Certified True Copies of his educational records from the institution, dated June 28, 2023, and duly signed by an Associate General Counsel, Office of the Legal Affairs.
Amongst the documents from the institution received by the court was a letter of admission offered Tinubu by the university.
Other documents Tinubu tendered and were admitted as exhibits despite opposition of the PDP included a letter from the Nigeria Police to the United States Embassy, dated February 3, 2003; letter from the United States Embassy to the Nigeria Police, dated February 4, 2003; and US Visas and immigration documents between 2011 and 2021. The documents; six in all were duly certified by the Nigeria Immigration Service on July 3, 2023.
The documents were aimed at disproving allegations of criminality against Tinubu in the US.
The petitioners had tendered a notarised judgment of a United States Court ordering the forfeiture of the sum of $460,000 against Tinubu over alleged complicity in drug related offences.
Also tendered and admitted was an originating summons of a suit instituted at the Supreme Court by the Attorneys General of Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Sokoto States challenging the educational background of Tinubu to stand for the 2023 presidential election.
Others were: copy of Reports of the Committee on the Location of the Federal Capital of Nigeria, certified by Archives and History Bureau of the FCT, with payment receipts attached dated April 13, 2023; copy of Form EC 8D for Kano State in respect of the February 25, 2023 presidential election; and copy of Form EC 8D(A) in respect of the presidential election of 25th February, 2023.
Recall that amongst the grounds Atiku is seeking the nullification of Tinubu’s election was that Tinubu did not score 25 per cent of votes in the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT) and ought not to be declared winner by INEC.
After tendering the above documents, Olanipekun, informed the court that the 2nd respondent would be calling his witnesses the next day (Wednesday) to speak to the tendered documents.
Justice Haruna Tsammani subsequently adjourned to today, for continuation of trial and defence of the 2nd respondent.