Hearing, on Friday, continued on the petition the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, filed to challenge the outcome of the 2023 election, as three officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, mounted the witness box.
The trio, in their separate testimonies before the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, said they were appointed as Ad-hoc staff members of the electoral body, for the purpose of the general elections.
They told the court that as Presiding Officers, they conducted the presidential election at their various polling units and subsequently handed the results to the Ward Collation Officers.
While admitting that they were unable to electronically transmit the polling unit results in real-time using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, device, the three witnesses, further explained why the Commission instructed them not to give final copies of election results that were tabulated in a Form EC8A, to some political party agents.
According to the witnesses, INEC, during training it organized for its ad-hoc staff members prior to the presidential election that was held on February 25, stressed that copies of the results should not be given to any agent of a political party that failed to sign the result sheet.
It will be recalled that all the Respondents in the petition- INEC, President Bola Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima and the All Progressives Congress, APC – had opposed the decision of the petitioners to produce five ad-hoc staff members of the electoral body that participated in the conduct of the presidential election, to testify as witnesses before the court.
However, despite the objections, Justice Haruna Tsammani-led a five-member panel of the court, gave the former Vice President, Atiku, the nod to produce the five witnesses.
The court said it would reserve its ruling on the objections and deliver same at a later date.
Whereas two of the witnesses testified on Thursday, the remaining two gave their evidence on Friday.
In her testimony, Grace Ajogbenna, who appeared as the 14th petitioners’ witness, PW-14, told the court that she served as a Presiding Officer in Kogi State during the elections.
She told the court that she was not happy that she was not able to transmit result of the election through the BVAS.
According to the witness who told the court that she is a former national youth corps member, she got the INEC ad-hoc job after she applied online.
She tendered a copy of her appointment letter in evidence, adding that she wrote a report to INEC after the election.
The next witness, PW-15, Abidemi Joseph, who also tendered her appointment letter from INEC in evidence, told the court that she served as a Presiding Officer in Niger state.
She told the court that the election went smoothly at her polling unit, adding that she appropriately entered the results of the election in Form EC8A.
She told the court that all the party agents signed the election result after which she took the result sheet to the ward collation centre.
According to the witness, upon getting to the centre, she handed the original copy of Form EC8A to the Ward Collation officer of INEC after she had furnished all the party agents with duplicate copies of Form EC8A.
“I was trained by INEC. It was part of our training that unless party agents signed, we should not give them duplicate copies of the result,” the witness added.
While being cross-examined by counsel for President Tinubu, Mr Yusuf Alli, SAN, the witness, said she did not force any party agents to sign the result.
She told the court that the first interaction she had with the BVAS machine was during the course of her training at INEC.
“The first time I used the BVAS was at the National Assembly and Presidential elections.
I successfully handed over the original copy of Form EC8A to INEC collation officer, after the election.
At the training, I was told that as a presiding officer, that I must stay at the place of my engagement and not move to any other area.”
While also being cross-examined by counsel for the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, the witness said she was appointed as a Presiding Officer, two days before the election.
She also told the court that she accepted the offer the same day.
On her part, the last witness, PW-16, Obosa Edosa, from Ovia South West of Edo state, said she was in a hurry after she got a call to appear as a witness before the court and therefore forgot the printed copy of her appointment letter from INEC.
However, she adduced evidence of payment she got from INEC at the end of the election.
Though INEC did not oppose the admissibility of the payment slip, however, President Tinubu, through his lawyer, Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, raised an objection against it.
Giving her evidence, the witness, said: “On the day of the election, I arrived at the polling unit around 10am. We had to set up our things before voting started.
“I did the accreditation of voters using the BVAS and the voters’ register. The process went well and actual voting started after then.
Afterwards, we sorted and counted the votes and recorded the results in the Form EC8A. We entered the figures manually and after that I signed and the party agents signed.
I tried to upload the result using the BVAS machine, but it failed. At the end, I took the result to the collation center.
Everything went well, apart from the transmission of the results with the BVAS.
As a Presiding Officer during the election, I performed my duties very well,” she added.
She told the court that a Form EC40G, which is the summary of registered voters in polling units were election did not hold, was issued to her polling unit.
Meantime, all the Respondents challenged the admissibility of statements of all the witnesses, in evidence.
They said they would advance reasons for the objections, in their final written address.
However, counsel for the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, urged the court to discountenance all the objections.
The Justice Tsammani-led panel said it would rule on the objections before delivering its final judgement in the case.
The court adjourned further hearing on the case till Saturday.
It will be recalled that Atiku, who came second in the presidential contest, had in the joint petition he filed with his party, alleged that the election was rigged in favour of President Tinubu of the ruling APC.
In his 66-paged petition, Atiku, accused INEC of installing a third-party device he said was used to intercept and switch results of the presidential election in favour of the APC and its candidate, Tinubu.
He further alleged that the electoral body had prior to the election, redeployed its in-house ICT expert, Mr. Chidi Nwafor, and replaced him with an IT Consultant that helped it to install the third-party mechanism.
According to Atiku, the said IT Consultant, Mr. Suleiman Farouk, ensured that the device intermediated between the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the IRev Portal, known as Device Management System (DMS).
He told the court that the DMS was the software that allowed INEC’s IT Security Consultant, Mr. Farouk, to remotely control, monitor and filter data that was transmitted from the BVAS devices to the electronic collation system and the IRev platform.
“The 1st Respondent (INEC) engaged an appointee of the 2nd Respondent (Tinubu) to man and oversee the sensitive ICT Department of the 1st Respondent for the purpose of the Election.
The Petitioners contend and shall lead evidence to show that contrary to the original design of the BVAS machine to upload data directly to the electronic collation system and the IReV portal, the 1st Respondent contrived and installed an intervening third-party device (Device Management System) which, in its ordinary usage, is meant to secure and administer the 1st Respondent’s technological ecosystem for the elections but as it relates to the Presidential Election, was used to intercept the results, quarantine and warehouse same, and filter them before releasing same to the IReV Portal.
The 1st Respondent used the said Device Management System to manipulate the Election results in favour of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents.
The Petitioners state and shall lead expert evidence to show the critical components of the 1st Respondent’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT), including but not limited to the BVAS which is an Android Device manufactured by Emperor Technologies China and supplied to the 1st Respondent by Activate Nigeria Limited,” the petitioners added.