•Tells tribunal it can declare winner without recourse to BVAS, electronic transmission, others
From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has told the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) that a candidate must not secure 25 per cent votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja to be declared winner in a presidential election.
This is as the electoral umpire has also submitted that neither the Electoral Act nor its guidelines contemplated electronic collation of results, transmission and uploading of electronic result as a condition precedent to the announcement of winner of the February 25 presidential election.
It therefore said the return of Bola Tinubu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the poll was based on manual collation of the totality of the valid votes cast at the election.
The commission’s position is contained in its notice of preliminary objection filed by its lead counsel, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) against the petition by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar and the party challenging the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the poll.
INEC urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition by Atiku and his party because the FCT is not accorded any special status in the Nigerian constitution as being “erroneously” portrayed by some political parties and candidates who lost the February 25 election.
“The provisions of the Constitution apply to FCT as if it were one of the states of the Federation and the use of the word ‘and’ in Section 134 (2) of the Constitution indicates nothing more than that in construing two-thirds of the states of the federation in which a candidate is required to score one-quarter of the votes cast.”
It added that the FCT, beyond being the country’s capital “has no special constitutional status over and above the other 36 states of the Federation to require a candidate in the presidential election to obtain at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in the FCT before being declared winner of the presidential election.
“The FCT is regarded as the 37th state of the federation and as such, a candidate needs to score 25 per cent of the valid votes cast in at least two-thirds of 37 states (to be declared as winner in the presidential election.” It argued that by the provision of the Constitution, the FCT “has the status of a state and ought to be recognised as if were a state of the federation.”
INEC also said Atiku and his party did not meet the constitutional requirement to be declared winner of the presidential election.
INEC submitted that it was Tinubu, the APC candidate, that met all the legal requirements to be so announced as winner of the election.
The commission further told the tribunal that the February 25 presidential election was one if the best election conducted since the return of democracy in 1999, “having been conducted with the aid of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System(BVAS) device which ensured that only registered and verified voters were accredited and voted at the election.”
Challenging Tinubu’s victory in the petition marked CA/PEPC/05/2023, Atiku and the PDP claimed that the APC candidate not duly elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the election and was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the election.
The PDP candidate prayed the tribunal to nullify Tinubu’s victory and withdraw the certificate of return issued to him.
But INEC in its objection said: “The election result reflected the will of the people and the 1st petitioner (Atiku), though did not win the overall exercise, scored 6, 984, 520 to come second to Tinubu who scored a total of 8, 794. 726. While Atiku won his home state, Adamawa, Tinubu lost his home State, Lagos.”
While urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition by the opposition PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, against the outcome of the polls, INEC contended that “there is no where it is mandated to only use and electronic means in collating or transferring of election results.”
It placed its reliance on the judgment of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court in Labour Party Vs INEC the stated that “It is only mandated to collate and transfer election results and the number of accredited voters in a way or manner deemed fit by it.”
INEC equally argued that the PDP and Atiku did not meet the constitutional requirements to be declared winner of the February 25 election.
It said: “The first petitioner (Atiku), failed to score, at least, one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and as such could not have been declared the winner.”
Contrary to the claim by the petitioners, INEC added: “The election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 and was not marred by any corrupt practices.”
It further added that it complied fully with the Electoral Act and its guidelines by deploying BVAS device for the accreditation of voters and transmitting the accreditation data to its servers, as provided by sections 47(2) & (3); 60 (1), (2) & (5); 64 (4) (a) & (b); (5), (6) & (8); 71 and 73 of the Electoral Act and relevant paragraphs of its manual for election.
It denied that any stage, it disconnect or caused any BVAS device to be disconnected from internet before transmission of data to the e-transmission system as alleged by the petitioners.
INEC also denied it did not act hastily going by the margin of lead, as claimed by Atiku and the PDP in declaring Tinubu the winner.
“The first petitioner (Atiku), failed to score, at least, one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and as such could not have been declared the winner.”
As against the claim by the petitioners, INEC added: “The election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 and was not marred by any corrupt practices.”
The commission said the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu validly won the election and was at the time of the polls qualified to contest the election.
“Having satisfied the requirements of Section 134 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the return of the second respondent as the winner of the presidential election conducted on 25th February 2023 is lawful, valid and constitutional.
“ The petitioners neither scored the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election nor scored not less than one-quarter of the lawful votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Therefore, the first petitioner (Atiku) is not entitled to be returned as the winner of the presidential election conducted on 25th February 2023.”