The Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate in the February 23 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, have filed a fresh application for access to information contained in the smart card readers and “central server”, which it said the Independent National Electoral Commission used for the conduct of the disputed election.
They filed the application before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, where their petition challenging President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress’ victory at the poll is pending.
The petitioners, through their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), made the request in their application filed before the tribunal, despite INEC’s insistence that the results of the election were manually collated and never transmitted electronically.
Uzochukwu, in a chat with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, confirmed that the application was filed on May 9, adding that the respondents – INEC, Buhari and APC – had yet to file their replies to it.
INEC had declared that Buhari and APC the won the February 23 election with 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku who polled 11,262,978 votes.
But Atiku and the PDP, in their petition filed on March 18 to challenge the outcome of the poll, stated that “from the data” they obtained from INEC’s server, “the true, actual and correct results” showed that they polled a total of 18,356,732 votes to defeat Buhari whom they said scored 16,741,430 votes.
By calculation, Atiku and PDP claimed to have defeated Buhari by 1,615,302 votes. However, in its reply filed on April 10 to counter the petition, INEC urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition, insisting that the petitioners’ claims were false.
It said, through its lead counsel, Yunus Usman (SAN), that it collated the results of the election manually and never transmitted them electronically.
It added kept no server where results transmitted electronically could have been stored as alleged by the petitioners.
However, the petitioners, in their fresh application, maintained that INEC kept “central servers” in which “information was recorded and stored in database packets relating to accreditation of voters and transmission of results from the presidential election”.
They sought to be permitted to inspect the said servers and the card readers used for the conduct of the poll, examine and analyse the information obtained from them.
They also prayed for the tribunal’s permission to be allowed to file a report of their inspection, examination and analysis of the content of the facilities.
Their written address filed in support of the application read in part, “This motion is brought pursuant to Section 151 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), Section 71 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), Paragraphs 18 (7) (e), 41 (5) and (6), 47 (2) & 54 of the First Schedule to Electoral Act, 2010, (as amended), Section 6 (6) (b) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and under the Inherent Jurisdiction of this Honourable Court.
“The motion prays for the following orders as expressed on the face of the motion paper, namely:
“An order allowing access or a court-supervised access and inspection by the Petitioners, in the presence of the 2nd and 3rd respondents (Buhari and APC) if they so desire, of the 1st respondent’s (INEC’s) central servers wherein information was recorded and stored in database packets relating to accreditation of voters and transmission of results from the Presidential election, the subject-matter of this petition.
“An order directing the 1st respondent’s Chief National Electoral Commissioner and/or other officers to grant the petitioners access to the said database packets in the 1st respondent’s central servers.
“An order granting leave to the petitioners to inspect and obtain certified true copies of Smart Card Reader accreditation data from the Smart Card Readers used in the said election and stored in the 1st respondent’s servers.
“An order granting leave to the petitioners to file a report of the inspection, examination and analysis thereof at the trial.”
The applicants filed 13 grounds to back their application and their claims in it.
Part of the grounds of the application acknowledged that INEC as well as the two other respondents to the petition — Buhari and APC — had contradicted their claim about the electronic transmission of results to the server.
But they insisted INEC was constitutionally and statutorily vested with the responsibility to conduct and manage the presidential election and set up electronic data central servers.
They stated, “The 1st respondent, as the body constitutionally and statutorily vested with the responsibility to conduct and manage the presidential election, set up electronic data central servers for the purposes of storage of transmitted accreditation data and results from smart card readers deployed for the election in an apparent bid to ensure relative transparency of the process.
“The respondents have, in their replies, joined issues with the petitioners in respect of the said data transmitted to the INEC’s central servers.”
But they said, “The Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) itself acknowledges network data by recognition given to the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission in section 71 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). We also submit that section 84 of the Evidence Act, 2011 recognises computer data, and evidence generated therefrom.
“Thus, the general framework of the law accommodates such data retrievable from computers, of which a server is a storage component.”
Maintaining that INEC deployed the servers for the conduct of the February 23 poll, they said as part of the grounds of their application, “the results of the election were electronically transmitted to the 1st respondent’s Central Server”.
They added that notice had given INEC “notice that reliance will be placed on the extract of the electronic data from the said Central Server as at February 25, 2019”.
They added, “The data from the said central server is very material and relevant for the just determination of this petition.
“The petitioners require the data from the said central servers to maintain this petition.
“The petitioners also require the extract of the data from the smart card readers for the maintenance of the petition.
“The smart card readers were used at the said election for verification, accreditation, and authentication of voters and for the transmission of results to the 1st respondent’s servers.”
They added, “It will work tremendous hardship and grave injustice to refuse access to the contents of the central server that will assist the honourable court in the just consideration and determination of the issues involved in this matter or to allow a Party suppress or withhold access thereto.”