Just when it seemed it had sunk finally, the INEC’s server controversy trailing the 2019 presidential election bobbed up again yesterday with the major contender, Atiku Abubakar, insisting the Presidential Election Tribunal did not reject his request to inspect the electronic data facility.
“What the honourable tribunal said is that it is still at preliminary stages and the main case has not begun, and that the matter of granting access to inspect the INEC server is not relevant to the preliminary stages. It is a matter to be adjudicated upon when the case proper is being heard,” declared a statement by Atiku’s media aide, Paul Ibe.
Atiku therefore warned that the “celebration by the administration of General Buhari that their electoral heist has been covered is premature. Their giddiness has even blinded them to the eyewitness testimony given to multiple media in interviews by staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission that there is indeed a server and that they actually submitted results and accreditation through it.”
The clarification came in a reaction to an earlier statement “from Aso Rock Villa, wherein spokesperson for General Muhammadu Buhari praised the ruling of the Presidential Election Tribunal, which ‘rejected’ the request by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and the Peoples Democratic Party, to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission to grant access to their server used for the 2019 presidential election.
“After praising the so-called ‘landmark ruling’, the statement went on to claim that ‘the existence of a purported server is being contested and if a purported inspection had been allowed at this stage, it would have amounted to the determination that it indeed existed even when its existence is being contested’.”
Atiku however said: “In their rush to claim a Pyrrhic victory, the General Buhari administration missed out the fact that the 2019 budget has multiple line items for procurement, maintenance and service of the server they claim does not exist.”
Noting that “the last has not been heard” on the matter, the presidential candidate said he was “eagerly” anticipating the “actual ruling of the tribunal when the case proper begins.”
He therefore concluded by reminding “those who are gloating in their ignorance” that he laughs best who laughs last.
This came as a joint forum of 60 presidential candidates and national chairmen in the election dismissed as untrue claims that results were transmitted to an existing INEC’s server.
Addressing journalists yesterday during a joint world press conference in Abuja, Shittu Mohammed Kabir, Chairman, Presidential Forum of the parties, blamed the PDP for heating up the polity with the server story.
He claimed that the PDP was part of a meeting where INEC had informed all political parties, following the non-passage of the Electoral Act, that it would not deploy the electronic transmission of results as doing so would be unlawful.
“Having gathered as presidential candidates and political party leaders, we thoroughly x-rayed the 2019 election, the unfavourable and hostile environment the election management body operated under, and the extant laws under which the elections were conducted, and have come to the emphatic conclusion that INEC performed creditably well, and we hereby unequivocally reaffirm our confidence in INEC for its performance against all odds in the conduct of the 2019 general elections,” said Kabir.
But the PDP in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, accused INEC of colluding with APC to distort existing facts about the server. It alleged that the Presidential Forum, “an amorphous group” was hurriedly put together by INEC and the APC to misrepresent facts on the issue which is pending before the court.
“This group, our investigation reveals, was hurriedly conjured by the leadership of INEC and the APC to assist them in distorting facts, and making misrepresentations on a matter that is already sub judice, all in their attempt to clean up INEC’s blunders on the existence of the server, sway judicial pronouncements and influence public opinion on extant matters in court,” the PDP said.
It noted that “instead of engaging in this unnecessary media trial, INEC should have listed its nebulous group as a witness at the election tribunal.”
It said further that it is “unfortunate that at a time when the chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, ought to be apologising to Nigerians for the failure of the commission he leads to conduct a credible, free and fair election, a mass electoral failure consequent upon which the nation has over 766 election cases across the country, his commission is now contracting faceless groups to launder its sinking image and pass a confidence vote on Yakubu.”
The PDP therefore counselled INEC “to own up to its failures and put an end to its consistent denials of the existence of the server as justice will be served at the end of the day.”
Also, a former deputy national publicity secretary of the APC, Comrade Timi Frank, accused Buhari and the leadership of the ruling party of blackmailing judges to do their bidding.
Reacting to the ruling, which purportedly denied Atiku access to the server, he alleged a plot by the current administration to appoint five new Supreme Court justices with a view to getting favourable pronouncements.
“The good thing is that the law of justice has never failed, no matter how long. Those who succumb to pressure to do evil now should not forget that the repercussions of such evil collusion will ultimately catch up with them in future, directly or indirectly,” he said.
He noted that Nigerians were waiting patiently for Atiku “to rescue them from the shackles of insecurity, hunger, unemployment, directionless government and government of cabals.”
He also expressed hope that “the Supreme Court, which is the last hope of all oppressed Nigerians, will summon courage to stand by the people.”
Effort to get the reaction of the APC national publicity secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, on the party’s alleged interference with the judicial process was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, there was drama at the tribunal yesterday when Hope Democratic Party (HDP) disowned the petition filed by its presidential candidate, Ambrose Albert Owuru, against the election of Buhari.
The party, at the resumed hearing of the petitions against Buhari, announced that its presidential candidate was never authorised or mandated to file any petition against the poll.
A factional chairman of the party, Poland Awini Tapre, who brought a motion to disown the petition of the presidential candidate, prayed the tribunal to strike out the name of the party from the petition.
The tribunal chairman, Justice Mohammed Garba, reserved ruling on whether the court would allow the name of the party to be removed or not.