President Muhammadu Buhari has scaled the first hurdle in his legal bid to have his victory at the February 23, 2019 poll upheld by the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
The tribunal sitting in Abuja, yesterday ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) access to all the materials used for the presidential election across the country.
The three-man panel headed by Justice Abdul Aboki, also directed INEC to allow Buhari and the APC obtain the Certified True Copies (CTCs) of all the election materials to enable them prepare for their defence in any petition that may be filed to challenge the presidential poll.
The decision of the tribunal followed a motion ex-parte filed by Buhari and the APC, which they argued before the tribunal last night.
Through his counsel, Adelani Ajibade, the president filed and argued his motion ex-parte, while Thomas Ojo, defended the APC’s application.
The ex-parte motions by the president and the APC have added another dimension to the legal move of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to have Buhari’s victory nullified.
Atiku, who came second in the election, had prayed and received the nod of the same tribunal to have the election materials inspected.
Buhari’s application before the tribunal is seen as a novelty because he is not aggrieved party who (is) seeking redress.
The president’s application marked CA/EPT/PRE/1/M2/2019 was brought pursuant to Section 66(6)(a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution , Sections 137(2) and 151 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, paragraph 47(1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act 2010 and under the inherent jurisdiction of court.
Cited as respondents are in the case are INEC, Atiku, and PDP.
The applicants prayed the tribunal for an order granting them leave to bring the application before the pre-hearing session.
They also prayed for an order of the tribunal directing INEC whether by its chairman, commissioners, officers, agents and officials to from the day of the grant of the application, allow the applicants either by themselves or their agents, servants or representatives access to and inspect, as well as obtain the Certified True Copies (CTCs) for the purpose of defending any election petition arising from his declaration by INEC as the winner/returned candidate at the presidential election held on 23rd February, 2019 of all polling documents , forms , electoral materials in the custody or possession of INEC.
Among the materials Buhari wants to inspect are Forms EC8AVP, EC8As, EC88s, EC8Cs, EC8Ds, EC8Es, EC40A, EC40 and every other electoral form or document used and applied during the presidential election in all the polling units, wards, local governments, states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Others are all ballot papers (used, unused, recorded as spoilt and also tendered), rejected ballots and their stubs used in the conduct of the presidential election nationwide.
Buhari further asked the tribunal to allow him to inspect all the voters’ registers used and applied or relied on for the disputed election.
In their grounds for the application, the applicants submitted that they want the reliefs to enable them to defend any petition that may be brought against them as a result of their victory in the poll.
Delivering the ruling at about 7:19pm, Justice Abdul Aboki, held that the tribunal considered the import of Section 151 of the Electoral Act material to Section 159 in Aregbesola Vs Oyinlola to the effect that it can grant the prayers sought by the applicants, if satisfied.
He said: “We have carefully studied the ex-parte application filed and argued by the applicants and ordered as follows: That leave is granted to the applicants to file the application before the pre-hearing session.
“That INEC shall forthwith allow the applicants either by themselves or their agents, servants or representatives have access to and inspect, as well as obtain Certified True Copies for the purpose of defending any election petition arising from his declaration by INEC as the winner/returned candidate at the presidential election held on 23rd February, 2019 of all polling documents, forms, electoral materials in the custody or possession of INEC,” he said.
The tribunal has already granted a similar request by Atiku and the PDP.
INEC Wants Overhaul Of Electoral Act, Tasks NASS On Speedy Passage
Meanwhile, INEC has asked the newly-elected Senators and members of the House of Representatives to overhaul the 2010 Electoral Act following the problems that led to inconclusive polls in six states in the last governorship election.
The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau, and Sokoto.
INEC averred yesterday in Abuja that the timely amendment of the electoral law would enable Nigeria to gain from the experiences learned in previous elections.
At the formal presentation of certificates of return to the elected members of the National Assembly, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that even though the commission would immediately begin work on the 2023 general elections, the timely overhaul of the electoral law would enhance a better organisation and conduct of future polls.
Yakubu said: “As a matter of urgency, the commission will begin work on post-2019 elections review and the roadmap to 2023. There is a lot of work but very little time available. As a process governed by law the success of election in Nigeria depends to a large extent on the electoral legal framework and most importantly in ensuring adherence to the law.”
While urging the new lawmakers to see the amendment of the electoral laws as a top priority, Yakubu said that “I want to assure you that we will continue to work with National Assembly to review and strengthen our electoral law. But, I want to appeal to the senators-elect to please start work early and conclude work on the electoral framework well ahead of the 2023 general elections.”
According to Yakubu, “the tendency to delay electoral reform particularly the review of electoral framework until it is too close to the elections, leaves the commission with little time to develop processes including regulations and guidelines, make required consultation with stakeholders, embark on effective voter education, train staff and organise deployment for the elections.”