By JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
The decision of the former Vice President of Nigeria, Abubakar Atiku to bring subpoenaed witnesses into the hearing of his petition on Wednesday, unsettled the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Bola Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress (APC) who jointly stood their grounds that the witnesses must not be allowed to testify until June 8.
Following the concern of the PEPC on Tuesday that Atiku and the PDP were turning out their exhibits in piecemeal, their lawyer, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN complained that INEC was frustrating their litigation against Tinubu and the APC despite having paid Six Million Naira (N6,000,000) in fees to the electoral body. They consequently applied for and were granted the order to subpoena witnesses at the court’s resumed hearing.
At the resumed hearing on Wednesday, Atiku, who was the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the disputed February 25 presidential election had called his first subpoenaed witness at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPEC) to tender some sensitive documents but the move was vehemently opposed by INEC and Tinubu.
INEC, Tinubu and APC through their individual lawyers objected to the taking of the evidence of the witness who was said to be an Adhoc staff of INEC.
Lead counsel to the PDP, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, after the admittance of exhibits from 10 local governments in Kogi State, called in one of his listed witnesses who gave evidence on how INEC failed to transmit results in real time “as promised”.
Shortly after the end of cross examination of the witness, Hon. Ndubuisi Nwobu from Anambra State, Uche informed the court that the petitioners have three subpoenaed witnesses and went to call the first one, an Adhoc staff of INEC.
However, immediately the witness entered the witness box and barely before he could take his oath, counsel to INEC, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, rose in objection to the hearing of the evidence of the witness.
He informed the court that he was only served this morning with the statement of the witness and, as such, would have to study the statement in order to do a thorough cross examination.
His position was shared by Tinubu’s lawyer, Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN and APC’s lawyer, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, who added that he was only served barely 20 minutes ago with the statement and has not seen what it contains.
Responding, Uche argued that with a subpoenaed witness, they were not supposed to front-load his statement to the respondents, adding that there was nothing strange in the statement of the witness to warrant an adjournment.
Uche pleaded with the court to take at least one of the subpoenaed witnesses so as to judiciously make use of the time allotted it because the adjournment would eat into their allotted time.
Presiding Justice of the Court, Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani, while trying to be considerate, proposed standing down trial for 30 minutes to enable respondents to look at the documents and thereby cross examine the first subpoenaed witness.
INEC, however insisted that the witness cannot be talking and should not be taken because the witness “is said to be an Adhoc staff of the Commission” and as such he would have to go and look at INEC’s records to enable him confirm the status of the witness and prepare adequately.
Following the respondents’ insistence, Uche urged the court to adjourn till tomorrow for the calling of the three subpoenaed witnesses.
Earlier in his evidence, Nwobu told the Court that the election went smoothly in most polling units he visited, including where he cast his vote, but “magic started happening” at the Ward Collation Centres.
According to him, results of the election were entered into the forms EC8A at the polling units but were not transmitted real time into the IReV because of the failure of the BVAS machines.
He told the panel that, but for his intervention, some staff of INEC would have been attacked due to their inability to upload results in real time.
“There was no real-time transmission of results as we were promised by INEC,” he said.
Meanwhile, further hearing into the petition has been shifted till June 8.