By Deborah Onyofufeke, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday, was unable to open its defence at the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, following the absence of all three of its witnesses.
The electoral body was billed to bring forward its witnesses to defend the allegations levelled against it by the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Gregory Obi, who had alleged fraud in the result of the 2023 presidential election where President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner.
At today’s sitting When the case was called up for hearing, INEC, through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, informed the court that they have three witnesses to be called to counter the allegations levelled against it but the witness scheduled to open the defence was not available.
INEC explained that its first witness which was to take the stand in the witness box was involved in a domestic issue.
The senior lawyer pleaded with the court to bear with him and applied for an adjournment of his defence.
However, lead counsel to Obi, Dr Livy Uzuoku SAN, expressed shock and surprise with the conduct of the electoral body.
He told the court that the INEC lawyer ought to have taken him into confidence before the commencement of the proceedings.
However, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, who stood for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and Prince Lateef Olasunkanmi Fagbemi SAN, who represented the All Progressives Congress (APC), did not object to the request for adjournment of INEC’s plea for the case to be shifted.
Presiding Justice of the Court, Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani, subsequently fixed Tuesday, July 4 for INEC to open its defence against Obi.
Recall that Obi, had closed his case on June 23, after he tendered several pieces of evidence and called a total of 13 out of 50 witnesses he originally scheduled to testify before the court.
Among exhibits he tendered before the court included polling unit results from 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, as well as a bundle of documents containing the total number of Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, that were collected in 32 states prior to the 2023 general elections.
He also tendered four video exhibits, one of which was a press conference, where the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, assured that the results of the election would be electronically transmitted to the IReV portal in real-time using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines.
Obi also tendered a bundle of documents that contained the total number of registered voters in each of the states.