The Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Wednesday fixed Friday for ruling on an application brought by the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress Party (APC), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, seeking to scan or photocopy the ballot papers that were used for the conduct of the April 11 gubernatorial election in the state.
The Street Journal recalls that Peterside brought the interlocutory application in a petition he had filed seeking the nullification of the election of Governor Nyesom Wike of PDP in which he also joined PDP and INEC as co-respondents.
Peterside, who had joined his party as a co-petitioner in the petition seeks to scrutinise the ballot papers, voters register as well as the biometric data that was captured by the Card Reader Machines that were deployed to Rivers State by INEC for the purpose of the disputed governorship poll.
Justice Muazu Pindiga, the tribunal chairman, reserved ruling for Friday after listening to the submissions of the various counsel on the application which was moved by the petitioner’s counsel, Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN.
At Wednesday’s resumed sitting of the tribunal, Wike, through his counsel, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, argued that allowing Peterside and the APC to photocopy any of the sensitive election materials would pose a serious security risk for the people of Rivers State.
Ukala urged the tribunal to refuse Peterside’s fresh application for forensic experts to be allowed to scan and crop the ballot papers and other electoral materials that were used in the election that produced Wike as governor, to ease the inspection process.
“My lords we vehemently oppose this application. The security risk that will arise from allowing the petitioners to scan and photocopy the election materials, especially the ballot papers is real. Granting this application will amount to permitting a private individual to keep a record of a public document.
“The inherent danger in that is that a private individual can put such document to any use, including identifying the pattern of voting and linking individual voters to the political party or candidate they voted for.
“This is absolutely contrary to all principles of democracy and the express provisions of the Electoral Act. It will certainly jeopardise confidentiality in the electoral process,” Ukala argued.
In his submission, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, Counsel to PDP, argued that the application constituted a gross abuse of the process of the tribunal.
According to Uche, Sections 77 (1) and 151(1) of the Electoral Act, only permit the petitioners to inspect the election materials and not to scan, photocopy of crop any of them.
He argued that the petitioners ought to have applied to the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner for the desired election materials to be made available to them for inspection within seven days after the election.
Uche said: “There must have been a request or an application which, in this case, would have necessitated an averrement in the affidavit showing that they made such application and backed up with a copy of the letter.
“There must be an evidence of refusal or neglect by the Rivers REC to perform the statutory duty of granting the petitioners access to the election materials. My Lords, there is no such evidence before this tribunal.
“Therefore this application is totally bereft of any material to deserve the sympathetic consideration of this tribunal. It may also have the effect of overreaching or rendering nugatory the outcome of our appeal on the same subject matter.’’
Olujunmi, in his reaction to the respondents’ submissions, urged the tribunal to grant his application, arguing that the fresh application was not an attempt to move the panel to vary the inspection order it made on June 11.
“I urge your lordships to discountenance that submission. If granting us access to the electoral materials will jeopardise national security or cause calamity in Rivers State, the law would not have made it easy for anybody to apply for the copies of the documents,” Olujinmi contended.
It would be recalled that the tribunal had on August 19, declined to compel INEC to transfer all the materials that were used for the Rivers State election to Abuja for inspection as prayed by Olujinmi.