The presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi, has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, of bias, insisting that it ought to maintain neutrality in electoral contest between candidates.
Obi, in a reply he filed before the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, faulted the electoral body for filing a preliminary objection in support of the President-elect and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Bola Tinubu.
He noted that both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal had in the past, cautioned INEC not to place itself “in a position where imputation of partiality in favour of one party against another will be levelled against it.”
Specifically, Obi, who came third in the presidential election that held on February 25, recalled that the apex court had in the case of Attorney-General of the Federation V. Abubakar (2007) 10 NWLR (Pto 1041), emphasised that electoral commission must not only embrace neutrality as its watchword, but “must always remain fair and focused”.
According to him, “The first respondent, forgetting its role as an electoral umpire, gave a Notice of Preliminary Objection to challenge the alleged incompetence of the petition.
“The global best practice for electoral umpires in national elections is that an electoral body must avoid creating the impression that it has no respect for neutrality in an electoral contest between candidates.
“The appellate courts have repeatedly admonished the first respondent of its need to remain neutral in election proceedings. However, the first Respondent hereof, has remained impervious to change.
“Therefore, it is not only an embarrassment but a repudiation of the duty of the first respondent when it adorns the garb of a contestant in an election it conducted as an umpire to raise preliminary objection against an election petition as in the case hereof.
“The expectation is that INEC will maintain a neutral stance in all litigations where participants in elections are challenging the outcome of the elections and not indulge in filling objections to the petition.
“The petitioners will before or at the Pre-Hearing Session or at the hearing of the petition, urge the Honourable Court to strike out and or to dismiss the first respondent’s Notice of Preliminary Objection,” Obi added.
Besides, he described as “misconceived”, INEC’s preliminary objection against the petition he lodged against the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the presidential election.
“The first respondent’s contention that the reliefs sought in the petition are not grantable is false and made in manifest disregard of the specific and concise pleadings in the petition.
“The pleading in the 1st Respondent’s Notice of Preliminary Objection that the allegation in paragraph 20(ii) of the Petition is defective and does not disclose a cause of action, is wishful thinking”.
Obi further contended that Tinubu was not elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election, adding that the Appeal Court, which will sit as the tribunal for the presidential election dispute, has the requisite jurisdiction to entertain and determine the real issues in the petition.
“The Petitioners further aver that the necessary parties as required by law for the determination of the instant Petition are before the Honourable Court.
“The Honourable Court has the requisite Jurisdiction to entertain and determine the real issues in this Petition”.
More so, Obi contended that Tinubu’s running mate and Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima, was not validly nominated to contest the presidential election.
“As at 14th July, 2022 when the 3rd Respondent was nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate of the 4th Respondent, the 3rd Respondent was still the Senatorial candidate of the 4th Respondent for the Borno Central Senatorial District, his name not having been withdrawn by the 4th
Respondent as stipulated by Section 33 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“Borno Central Senatorial District is a Constituency for the purpose of a Senatorial election. Likewise, the entire Federation is a Constituency for election for the office of President and Vice President.
“Until there is a valid substitution of a candidate by a political party, the status quo remains and therefore the submission of the 3rd Respondent’s Form EC 9 as Vice-Presidential Candidate of the 4th Respondent did not automatically abrogate his subsisting nomination as Senatorial Candidate for the Senatorial election for Borno Central Senatorial District. The Petitioners’ case is not founded on Section 285(14) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)”, he argued.
Obi told the court that though LP had agents that were positioned at various polling units during the conduct of the election, he said INEC, unfortunately “failed and neglected to give clear copies of the result of the election in the polling units (Forms EC 8A) to the Petitioners’ Agents, as the pink copies given to the Petitioners Agents were very faint and unreadable”.
“In reply to the new issue raised in paragraphs 26 and 27 of the 1st Respondent’s Reply, the Petitioners aver that the actual votes obtained at the polling units as shown in the Report incorporated/pleaded in the Petition, show that the Petitioners won majority of the lawful vote cast at the election, and met the constitutional requirement to be returned/declared as the winner of the election.
“In further answer to the said allegation by the 1st Respondent, the Petitioners aver that the actual result of the election shows that the 2nd Respondent neither won the highest number of lawful votes cast in the election nor met the constitutional requirement, including securing the 1/4 of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to be entitled to be returned/declared as the winner of the Presidential Election.
“Indeed, by the 1st Respondent’s record, the 2nd Respondent is the first candidate since 1999 to be declared the winner of the Presidential election without winning 25% of the votes cast in the FCT.
“The unlawful return/declaration of the 2nd Respondent as the winner of the Presidential Election in the hasty circumstances that characterized the said return/declaration is patently unconstitutional.
“The Petitioners admit the averments paragraphs 28, 29 and 30 of the 1 st Respondent’s Reply; and in further reaction to the new issues raised, state that the use of BVAS for the transmission/upload of the result of the election in the polling units electronically to the I st Respondent’s Result Viewing Portal (IReV) is mandatory.
The Petitioners in answer to the issue of “manual collation” stated in paragraph 31 of the I st Respondent’s Reply, aver that by the applicable Laws and Regulations, the legitimate mode for resolving disputes at the collation is by resorting to the result uploaded on the IReV using the BVAS. As at the date of filing this Reply on 21 st April 2023, the information on the 1 st Respondent’ s IReV Portal (http://www.inecelectionresults.ng) shows that out of the 176,846 polling units, the results submitted were in respect of 167, 433 polling units; and that the percentage of the uploaded results on the IReV is 94.68%.
“In further answer, the Petitioners aver that the I st Respondent’s IReV containing the election result of the election in the Polling Units (data of the election result) upload/stored on the IReV is hosted on the AWS or the Amazon Cloud Platform.
“The Petitioners will at the trial rely on the server logs for the IReV Server, as well as the server content of the AWS Cloud Platform.
“In response to the issues raised in paragraphs 44, 45 and 46 of the I st Respondent’s Reply, the Petitioners aver that for resolving disputes relating to the collation of the election result, the only legitimate reference is to resort to the uploaded result from the BVAS to the IReV”, Obi added in the process he filed through his team of lawyers led by Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN.