By Amuda Dan Sulaiman Fab, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, on Wednesday, withdrew a fresh application they filed to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to allow their agents to participate in the process of sorting out ballot papers that were used for the presidential election that held on February 25.
Both PDP and Atiku, who are separately challenging the outcome of the election that was declared in favour of the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu, told the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, that they were no longer interested in the application.
When the motion ex-parte, marked: CA/PEC/10M/2023, was called up for hearing on Wednesday, Atiku, through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Joe Kyari Gadzama, SAN, told the court that he filed a notice of discontinuance.
National Watch learned that the decision of Atiku who came second at the presidential election, to withdraw the application, was a fallout of a meeting his legal team held with the leadership of the electoral body on Tuesday.
“We filed the application owing to challenges and administrative bottlenecks we encountered at the INEC office when we went for access to the election materials as ordered by the court.
“However, before the application dated March 13 could be slated for hearing, INEC, on its own, called our legal team for a meeting.
“It was at that meeting which held yesterday (Tuesday) that all the grey areas were sorted out, with INEC, pledging to allow our agents to observe the process of sorting out some of the electoral materials we requested for, especially the ballot papers.
“Since that was primarily our prayer in the fresh application we filed, we felt that it would not be necessary to proceed with the hearing. So, to save judicial time, we filed a notice of discontinuance which was accordingly granted”, a member of Atiku’s legal team, who did not want his name mentioned because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told National Watch.
Meanwhile, following the withdrawal of the application, Justice Joseph Ikyegh-led three-member panel struck it out.
Specifically, Atiku had in the withdrawn application, which he predicated on 11 grounds, maintained that it was necessary for agents of his party to be present during the sorting out of the electoral materials he would need to prepare a petition he intends to lodge against the outcome of the presidential election.
He said there was need for his agents to observe/participate in the sorting of materials he requested in all the offices of INEC nationwide, in line with the ex-parte order the court made on March 3.
The tribunal had in the said order, directed INEC to allow the Applicants, Atiku and PDP, to inspect, scan, and carry out forensic examination and analysis of the ballot papers, data form, BVAS/and or card readers, including photocopying of the ballot papers, information stored in the computer server/IREV.
Atiku argued that allowing the agents of his party to be on the ground while the materials are sorted out, would ensure transparency in the process and guarantee that the ballot papers would not be tampered with.
It will be recalled that though the court ordered INEC to grant both Atiku and his counterpart in the Labour Party, LP, Peter Obi, who came third in the election, access to the electoral materials, however, in a subsequent order it made on March 8, the panel gave the electoral body the nod to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines it used for the presidential election.
The court held that stopping INEC from reconfiguring the BVAS would adversely affect the conduct of Governorship and State Assembly elections billed for Saturday.
It dismissed objections that the LP and its candidate, Obi, raised against INEC’s move to reconfigure all the BVAS devices that were used for the presidential poll.
According to the court, allowing the objections by Obi and his party would amount to “tying the hands of the Respondent, INEC”.
It noted that INEC depositions in an affidavit, that accreditation data contained in the BVAS could not be tampered with or lost, as same would be stored and easily retrieved from its back-end server, was not controverted.
Besides, the court directed INEC to allow the President-elect, Tinubu of the APC, to also inspect and obtain copies of the electoral material, to enable him to prepare his defence against petitions that may be lodged to overturn his election victory.
It held that both Tinubu and his party were entitled to have access to the electoral materials.
INEC had declared Tinubu of the APC as winner of the presidential poll, ahead of 17 other candidates that contested the election.
According to INEC, Tinubu, scored a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat Atiku who polled a total of 6,984,520 votes and Obi of the LP who came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.
Both PDP and LP had since rejected the outcome of the election and vowed to challenge it in court.
Under the Electoral Act 2022, any candidate dissatisfied with the return made by the INEC, shall within 21 days after the date of the declaration of the result of the election, file a petition before the tribunal.
An election tribunal shall deliver its judgement in writing within 180 days from the date the petition was filed.