Two ad hoc electoral officers, on Thursday, took the witness stand at the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja, narrating their experience with uploading the results of the 25 February election to the IReV server.
The witnesses – Friday Egwuma and Grace Timothy – were engaged by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of the disputed poll.
But they were subpoenaed by the five-member court based on the request of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
Atiku got the witnesses subpoenaed to testify in support of his petition, which he filed at the court in March to challenge the victory of President Bola Tinubu in the February poll.
The respondents to Atiku’s petition – INEC, President Tinubu, and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) – had on Wednesday prevented the INEC’s ad hoc officers from testifying on the grounds that they needed more time to peruse the witnesses’ written statements.
At the resumed hearing, Atiku’s lawyer, Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), led the two INEC’s ad hoc officers in evidence.
Testifying, Mr Egwuma, who was an INEC ad-hoc presiding officer at polling unit 017 at Aba-North Local Government Area of Abia State, said the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) machine “failed to transmit the results sheet on the presidential election” to INEC’s IREV portal.
“I successfully uploaded results sheets from the National Assembly elections on the INEC IReV portal, but when it came to the presidential election results sheet, it failed to upload,” Mr Egwuma told the court while being cross-examined by Abubakar Mahmoud, INEC’s lawyer.
However, Mr Egwuma told the court that there was a provision for “offline transmission” of results, which allowed failed electronic transmission of results sheets to take place when the network was restored.
While being cross-examined by Mr Tinubu’s lawyer, Wole Olanipekun, Mr Egwuma, Atiku’s 12th witness, said the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, won the election at his polling unit.
Mr Obi is also contesting the outcome of the presidential election. He came third in the race, but he is urging the court to declare him president or order a fresh poll.
APC’s lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi, a SAN, tried to discredit Mr Egwuma as INEC’s presiding officer at polling unit 017 at Aba-North council area of Abia State.
Mr Fagbemi said the presiding officer at polling unit 017 during the 25 February election was Faga Kehen and not Mr Egwuma.
But Mr Egwuma insisted that he was the presiding officer for the polling unit.
The second INEC ad hoc officer, Grace Timothy, during her turn in the witness box, told the court she effectively deployed the BVAS machines during the February elections for accreditation of voters.
Ms Timothy, also a corps member, said she presided over the polls in Bauchi State.
Under cross-examination by Mr Mahmoud, Ms Timothy said, “I used the BVAS machine for accreditation of voters. But the only difficulty was uploading election results on the IReV portal.”
She, however, expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the election.
Ms Timothy, who hails from Dawaki Village in Plateau State, was Atiku’s 12th witness at the ongoing hearing of the petition.
After her testimony, the court adjourned proceedings in the suit until Friday.
Earlier, when Mr Uche was leading Mr Egwuma to adopt his witness statement on oath, President Tinubu ‘s counsel, Wole Olanipakun, a SAN, objected.
Mr Olanipekun submitted that the statement was not listed and front-loaded alongside other list of witnesses as required by the provision of the Electoral Act
He said the law did not distinguish between regular or subpoenaed witnesses, as he insisted that the statement of all witnesses must be frontloaded.
He said the subpoenaed witnesses’ statements were not frontloaded alongside the other witnesses in the petition as they should be.
Mr Olanipakun urged the court to uphold his objection.
In his own submission, counsel for INEC, Abubakar Mahmoud, also a SAN, said as of the time of filing the petition, the petitioners ought to have filed the subpoenaed witnesses’ statements on oath and frontload them.
Lateef Fagbemi, SAN counsel for APC, in his submission, aligned with both the 1st and 2nd respondents‘ counsel.
He added that the petitioners could apply for an extension of time to file additional witnesses.
However, Atiku’s lead counsel, Mr Uche, asked the court to dismiss the objections on the grounds that they were “utterly misplaced and misconceived”.
He submitted that the objections by Mr Tinubu, APC and INEC were deliberate ploys designed to delay proceedings.
Mr Uche insisted that the statements of the subpoenaed witnesses could not have been frontloaded along with the petition because the witnesses had not been summoned at the time of filing the petition.
He asked the court to discountenance the objections of the three respondents and hold that they are not regular additional witnesses envisaged in the law cited by Mr Olanipekun.
The court allowed the subpoenaed witnesses to testify and reserved its ruling on the objections till its final judgement.
After the witnesses completed their testimonies, the court adjourned further proceedings until Friday.
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