No fewer than five ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been approved to testify as special witnesses in the petition filed by Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, filed to challenge the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
The INEC ad hoc staff participated in the conduct of the disputed presidential election results and were subpoenaed to appear before the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC.
In the joint petition he filed with his party, Atiku alleged that the election was rigged in favour of President Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In his 66-page 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 Bola Tinubu.
He also alleged that prior to the election, INEC redeployed its in-house ICT expert, Mr Chidi Nwafor, and replaced him with an IT consultant that helped in installing the third-party mechanism.
He stated further that the IT consultant, Mr Suleiman Farouk, made sure 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 permitted INEC’s IT Security Consultant, Mr Farouk, to remotely control, monitor and filter data transmitted from the BVAS devices to the electronic collation system and the IRev platform.
The petitioners said: “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.
“Consequently, at the resumed proceedings in the petition yesterday, lead counsel for the petitioners, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the court that his clients had subpoenaed five INEC ad-hoc staff members that were part of the conduct of the election to appear as witnesses and to also tender sensitive materials in evidence. He added that of the five witnesses, three of them were in court.
However, immediately the first subpoenaed ad-hoc staff came into the courtroom and mounted the witness box, lead counsel for the INEC, Mr Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, raised an objection.
INEC’s lead counsel told the court that he was only served with statement of the witnesses a few minutes before the proceedings started and insisted that he would need time to go through the documents so as to be able to effectively cross-examine the witnesses.
The lawyer also said he needed to go back to the Commission to verify and confirm the identities of the witnesses so as to be sure if they indeed worked as ad-hoc staff during the election.
Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, who appeared for President Tinubu, and APC’s counsel, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, aligned themselves with INEC’s position.
The respondents maintained that they needed time to study the statements of the witnesses that were served on them by the petitioners.
Though the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel initially opted for a 30-minute stand down to give the respondents time to study the statements, it subsequently deferred further proceedings in the matter till Thursday to enable INEC’s counsel carry out his internal enquiry.
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