Ten days before the expiration of the legally allowed timeline to file a petition at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal over the outcome of the 2023 presidential election, lawyers to Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, have warned that the continued refusal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow it access to election materials stored on the BVAS and IREV may lead to a national calamity.
The lawyers led by Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), also said that “not making the documents available will create the impression that INEC is deliberately frustrating us. That’s just the impression it will create to make sure that we cannot prosecute this petition”.
LP had engaged the services of at least 20 senior advocates of Nigeria to challenge the outcome of the February 25 presidential election on behalf of its presidential candidate, Peter Obi.
In a meeting with the INEC Chairman, Yakub Mahmood, at the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja, on Monday, Uzoukwu lamented that the legal team is yet to receive “any electoral stocks for inspection on behalf of our clients, and as you all know, election petitions are time sensitive.
“We have 21 days to file a petition on behalf of our clients. Out of those 21 days we probably have about 10 days to go and up till now we have not received any documents.
“We have written to INEC requesting for documents apart from that. The Court of Appeal made an order on March 3, ordering INEC to release those documents to us but we haven’t received any hence requested for a meeting with the chairman of finance.
“I graciously granted that audience within a very short notice, and he has given us assurance, concrete assurance on record that all documents we require will be made available and if possible, some of them will be made available to us today.
“So we believe that that will happen and we are leaving here rest assured that by the time we leave INEC premises at least we will leave with some documents, the rest can then come from tomorrow and so on and so forth.
We are very much bothered and I made that point when we met with the chairman that not only are our clients bothered and agitated but also we members of the legal council are bothered ,members of the Labour Party are bothered, their supporters are bothered and restive.
In fact, it has taken a lot to calm them down to exercise patients that we are going to get the documents because the court of the land has ordered the documents to be given to us”.
He however expressed optimism in the assurances by the INEC Chairman that the electoral umpire would furnish the opposition party’s legal team with its request, adding that “listening to the chairman a short while ago and all assurances I want to give him or we want to give him the benefit of the doubt that we will get some of them today.
At least if we get some of them today that is indicative that we’ll get some other documents from tomorrow, next tomorrow to enable us fight this petition”.
Addressing the group, the INEC Chairman, Yakub Mahmood, disclosed that the commission was served a letter by Peter Obi’s lawyers requesting it “to get in touch with our resident electoral commissioners across the 37 states of the Federation to make the documents and information available for the prosecution of their petition”.
He said that the umpire has therefore scheduled a virtual meeting with its Resident Commissioners at 3pm on Monday where it will “discuss among other issues, this matter of providing CTCs not only to the Labour Party, but to all other litigants as well.”
He also assured the guests that INEC “would not hide any document from anybody and will make available any document that they have requested.
“There are two categories of documents: those that are in possession of the headquarters of INEC will easily make these documents available to you. Specifically the EC8Ds from the states and the ECD A, which is the collation at the national collection centre by the commission itself.
“The EC8E, the declaration, so many a total of I think 39 documents, this we can easily certify and give you almost immediately.
“As for other documents that we are asking for they are at state level, so we need to work out the schedule so that we know when your team is going to which state and On which date so that we can easily facilitate not just certification of documents, but also the inspection that you requested for each of these documents.
“The other one is accreditation data from the back end. This will also be made available to you. Remember that the accreditation data covers over 176,000 polling units.
“We have to print them, physically certify them, and give them to you, so the tall and short of what I’m saying is that you will get this document speedily.
They will also make arrangements and notify our resident electoral Commissioner of your intended visit so that these documents will be made available to you those that are at the level, including access to inspection of any category of materials”.
The INEC Boss asked the opposition party’s legal team to “interface with the legal team of the commission immediately. So you work these things out and then we make all the documents available to you.
But please be assured the lead counsel that INEC has nothing to hide. Whatever you’re asking for will be made available to you.”
“So I want to thank you for coming. Now the meeting will be between our technical people and you will just work things out. So whatever we need to facilitate as a commission so that you get this document that you require as a matter of urgency, I want to assure you that you will get them as a matter of urgency. So thank you so much.
Whatever let me reassure you again, whatever you require for the prosecution of repetition will make this information available,” he emphasized.
On his part, the Spokesman of the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Tanko Yusuf, attributed the meeting with the INEC Chairman to an earlier alarm by the party alerting Nigerians of plans by the Commission not to obey the ruling of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
Tanko said, “Well for me, within a short period of time we give an ultimatum. Remember we made a press conference citing that we will not fail to mobilize our members to come out to march on the streets of INEC and offices of INEC nationwide.
”And graciously the chairman of INEC, having read that particular statement, has granted this opportunity to come into his office and liaise with him and he has assured the team of lawyers that they are going to present these documents.
So we want to wait and see the responses of our legal team. It is the legal team that will give us the marching order. When they are satisfied with what they’ve received from INEC so that our members nationwide and worldwide will be satisfied that we are doing our job and they are ready to prosecute this case accordingly”.