The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in the Feb.23 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar are swimming against the tide to exhaust their 400 witnesses listed to prove alleged rigging by All Progressive Congress (APC) in that election.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that the party and its presidential candidate are challenging the re-election of the APC’s candidate, President Muhamadu Buhari in that poll.
The petitioners and respondents that included the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the president and the APC agreed to be allocated number of days within which parties would present their cases.
It was on the basis of that that Justice Mohammed Garba, Chairman of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on July 1 affirmed parties’ agreement on the 10 days for the petitioners and six days for all the respondents to prove and defend all allegations and counter allegations made respectively.
Justice Garba had earlier noted that by the provisions of the electoral law, the petitioners were allowed a maximum of 14 days to present their cases against the exercise.
Garba also noted that each of the respondents would take 10 days to enter their defence.
However, the counsel to the parties surprisingly shove their differences to enter into an alternative agreement ostensible aimed at expeditious disposition of the petition.
Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, Counsel for the petitioners had delivered this agreement to the panel after some 30 minutes discussion with counsel to the respondents.
NAN reports that Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Counsel for the president, Chief Lateef Fabgemi, SAN, Counsel for the APC and Mr Yunus Usman, SAN, Counsel for the INEC were those who struck the deal on behalf of their clients.
According to Uzoukwu, Atiku and the PDP had lined up a total of 400 witnesses that would be called to testify and give evidence in the course of the hearing.
He also explained that the parties were in agreement that they would tender documents and reserve objections until the presentation of final written addresses.
Uzoukwu also said the respondents had agreed to be given seven days within which to file, while petitioners would take five days after service of the respondents’ address, to do their filing.
“We intend to call many witnesses as possible within the prescribed time,” Uzoukwu told the court.
“We, however, agreed to isolate the objections from the final address of parties,” he also said.
The tribunal after the presentation of the pre-hearing report commenced hearing in the petition on July 4.
So far the proceedings have gone smoothly with the tendering a total of 31, 371 documents comprising election results sheets from wards, polling units and Local Government Areas from 10 States.
The states were Niger, Yobe, Katsina, Kebbi, Borno, Jigawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Kaduna.
The petitioners’ zeal to prove their allegations have led to them present less than one-quarter of the 400 witnesses listed to testify with only six days remaining as the clock continues to tick faster than they have perhaps expected.
The pressure to prove the various allegations within the remaining six days no doubt gives credence to how difficult it can be to prove rigging or malpractices in such an election.
For example, while testifying on July 3, Mr Ijeoma Obi, an acclaimed Registered Area Technician employed by INEC, said he was employed by INEC to monitor the function of the card readers in some polling units with the view to transmitting results to the commission’s server.
Obi explained that results from all the polling units he was deplored to monitor were sent to INEC server.
When crossed examined however, Obi failed to substantiate his claims by failing to give the code number used in sending the results to the acclaimed server.
Similarly, Adejuyitan Olanikan, another acclaimed Registered Area Technician employed by INEC said results were transmitted to the commission’s server but also failed to state how that was done.
The electoral commission has never minced words on how the body conducted the election with the Electoral Act of 2015 which dispels all insinuation in the transmission of election results to the central server.
Perhaps, it may be on the strength of the above that INEC and the rest respondents to the petition objected the admissibility of all the documents tendered as exhibits by the petitioners.
Undaunted by the comments on quality of witnesses so far presented to the tribunal, the petitioners have their gauze on the remaining six days to exhaust their 400 witnesses.
On July 9, they had continued their defence of the petition with sets of witnesses singing discordant tunes.
Uzoukwu, SAN, Counsel for the petitioners commenced the activity of the day with the presentation of Alhaji Tanko Bichi, a Local Government Collation Agent for PDP in Katsina State for his testimonies.
Bichi, in his evidence in chief alleged that the election in his area was marred by widespread malpractices but could not substantiate the claim when crossed examined.
On his part, Alhaji Salisu Majijiri, Katsina State Chairman of the PDP said the result declared by INEC for the state was different from figures collated from the various polling units and wards.
Majijiri, who was also the State Collation Agent for the PDP claimed that the result sheets containing the outcome of the election in the state signed by various against showed that Atiku won in Katsina State.
He alleged that second petitioner (Atiku) scored a total of 905,000 votes while Buhari scored 8720,000 votes as against the 160,203 votes and 1,555,633 votes recorded for the contestants respectively by INEC.
When crossed examined, however, Majijiri was unable to provide cogent insight on how Atiku was rigged out of the election in the state.
Majijiri also failed to present either an original or duplicate copies of the acclaimed signed election result sheets that reflected Atiku’s victory in the state.
The state chairman of the PDP could not also advance reasons why those materials were not brought before the tribunal.
Alhaji Salisu Funtua, another Local Government Collation Agent for PDP, said that INEC had cancelled all the results from polling units and wards where card readers failed.
He said his acceptance to be a witness in the petition stemmed from the widespread cancellation of results emanating from the non-use of the card reader to accredit the voters.
When asked if he voted, Funtua affirmed that he indeed voted, but that the right of others in the local government to do same was denied.
He was further asked whether those affected by his claim of denial were still alive, Funtua equally agreed with counsel for the respondents that all of them could not have died just yet.
Also, Malam Usman Musa, a Local Government Collation Agent for the PDP in Katsina, said the total number of votes cast in the areas under his supervision exceeded the number of accredited voters.
On whether there was accreditation, Musa said there was partial accreditation but that he had a proper accreditation.
“My accreditation was not partial by properly done,’’ he said.
Alhaji Umar Usas, another Local Government Area Collation Agent for PDP in Katsina state, attested to the fact that INEC carried out a proper accreditation in most of the polling units and wards.
He however said all disputed results from the 281 polling units as a result of over voting were cancelled by the electoral body.
Usas however failed to state in his deposition that card readers were abandoned for manual accreditation.
On his part, Mr Ibrahim Musa, also a Local Government Area Collation Agent for the PDP claimed that voting commenced early in most polling units under peaceful condition.
Musa explained that he neither remembered the total votes allotted to the PDP nor was able to grasp the total number of political parties that contested the election.
He however, said that voting ended in most polling units at about 3pm, adding that he was not present when the counting of the votes was done.
Mr Audu Sani, a Local Government Area Collation Agent in Niger State, said only the Returning Officer was officially mandated to declare results from the election.
He explained that his role was simply to monitor and collate results from PDP agents at polling units and ward levels, adding that only INEC results counted.
Another Local Government Area Agent for the PDP in Niger state, Mr Balarebe Usman, said INEC only cancelled results in four polling units due to over voting and card reader malfunctioning.
Usman was however, unable to identify any of the INEC’s forms used in the election when crossed examined.
Furthermore, Malam Umar Alhaji, a Ward Collation Agent for PDP in Niger state said it was resolved among agents of other political parties and INEC that all disputed results should be cancelled.
Alhaji however told the tribunal that the presidential election for which his party was challenging its outcome was held March 24 as against the Feb.23 the election held, a remark which got the petitioner’s counsel visibly helpless.
The time is running, and the petitioners have suddenly discovered the imperative of ensuring a chunk, if not all of the witnesses are made to testify.
NAN reports that July 11 was another beehive of activities as petitioners’ witnesses were presented to the tribunal in their droves.
Maj. Yahaya Shikko (Rtd), a Local Government Area Collation Agent for PDP in Kaduna was first to enter the witness box to make allegations of over voting, without providing documentary proof to nail the coffin.
Soon after Shikko, Mr Jafar Ibrahim, a State Collation Agent in Kaduna, was next to give his testimony,
He told the tribunal that he had visited only 19 out of the 332 polling units of 13 wards in the locality to monitor the exercise.
Ibrahim said the election was marred by malpractices, but went ahead to sign the final collated result that was declared by INEC, adding that his signature did not bestow his approval of the exercise.
NAN reports that Dr Abdulrahaman Usman, Mr Nicholas Osheniza, Mr John Makama, Mr Kalig Kubub and Adams Amsani were among some who have also testified.
It is worthy to note that there are still plethora of interlocutory rulings the tribunal would make before delivering judgment on the petition.
Chief among them is the motion by the APC seeking to expunge some portions of the petition which it claimed were frivolous.
They were portions that contained the names of 10 states the petitioners claimed the exercise was heavily rigged.
The petitioners also had accused the Military and Police to have colluded with the INEC to rig the election without annexing names of personnel who participated in the said acts.
It what appeared to be an afterthought, the petitioner approached the tribunal to allow them file a counter affidavit to re-argue the application but such indulgence was denied them.
Giving ruling, the chairman of the tribunal held that the petitioners failed to adduce cogent reasons why such request should be granted.
The tribunal had on June 11 ruled that the petitioners failed to file counter affidavit against APC’s motion seeking dismissal of the petition on accounts of unsubstantiated allegations of non-compliance and malpractices.
Garba said that the record of the court showed that the petitioners were duly served with APC’s motion on May 16, adding that they had seven days to file their counter-affidavit but failed to do so.
“The issue of denial of right to fair hearing is therefore baseless because they had earlier responded to the motion.
“The request to set aside the proceedings of June 11 as it relates to the APC’s motion of May 15 is baseless and cannot be granted.
“No cogent and verifiable reasons have been advanced while the petitioners failed to file their counter-affidavit challenging APC’s objection on the petition,’’ the chairman said.