The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, took its turn on Tuesday to make its case at the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja.
The Commission’s Head of ICT Department in Uyo, and Operations officer in Ikot Abasi Local Government, Pius Nwankwo, told the tribunal that the governorship election held on April 11, 2015 throughout the state was free and fair, contrary to claims by the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Mr. Nwankwo’s defence corroborated the evidence by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP on the conduct of the elections.
The INEC official opened his defence on questions by the respondents that bordered on concerns about the malfunctioning or use of the card reader during the election.
He said that human error, among other factors, was responsible for the malfunction of the card readers during the last governorship election in the state.
Mr. Nwankwo blamed most of the errors during the general elections on inadequate training by the INEC ad hoc staff.
In his response to questions from Paul Usoroh, a senior advocate of Nigeria, who is counsel to the first respondent and Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, Mr. Nwankwo said that reports received from the field during the elections showed that the card readers deployed functioned efficiently.
Regardless, counsel to the APC, Solomon Umoh, SAN, objected to questions to Mr. Nwankwo on the functionality of card readers used during the exercise, arguing that nowhere in his statement did he allude to any information received from anybody during the elections on the issue.
The APC also contested the eligibility of the INEC information technology expert to entertain questions on the use of the card readers, as paragraph 9 of the witness statement only raised issues about the movement of the equipment between the polling units and the INEC headquarters in Abuja.
But, the three-man tribunal headed by Justice Sadiq Umar ruled that the witness had every right to entertain any question on the malfunctioning or use of the card readers during the election, so far as they were relate to the issues the parties pleaded.
“We have read the entire Paragraph 9 and 11 of the 3rd and 4th respondents, and we are of the firm opinion that the issue of card reader was specifically pleaded and parties are specifically joined in the issues. Therefore, it would not amount to springing a surprise on any party if a question is elicited on the use or malfunctioning of a card reader in the petition,” Justice Umar said.
Counsel to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Tayo Oyetibo, SAN said questions about challenges associated with the use of card readers fell squarely among the issues the parties pleaded, which cannot be opposed, an argument shared by counsel to INEC, Alex Ojiesieme.
In adopting arguments by Messrs Oyetibo and Ojiesieme, Mr. Usoro faulted Mr. Umoh’s argument, saying the case was irrelevant to the matter as the question whether the card reader malfunctioned or not was irrelevant.
Earlier, Ogechi Ogbonna from MTN Nigeria, who was subpoenaed at the instance of the petitioner to appear as witness documents, appeared before the tribunal on behalf of Mike Ipoki, the Chief Executive Officer of the telecoms company.
WATCH: Governor Yahaya Bello's Roadmap to Hope 2023