Decision of the President of Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, to step-down from presiding over the petition challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the 2019 presidential poll must have calmed the storm, which her position as the Chairman of the tribunal generated.
Regardless of Wednesday’s ruling that favoured her to remain the Chairman of the Presidential Election Appeal Panel, Bulkachuwa, disqualified herself from the panel, citing personal reason.
Her resignation, according to some political watchers, has renewed the confidence of many Nigerians in the nation’s judiciary as unprejudiced arbiter and the last hope of the common man.
Prior to Bulkachuwa’s resignation, criticisms had trailed her position in the panel. There were also apprehensions that the tribunal under her leadership may be partial in deciding the case involving a political party on which platform her husband is a senator-elect.
Some eminent citizens who shared their views with The Next Edition on the moral implication of Bulkachuwa’s membership of the tribunal were former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa; clergyman, publisher and public affairs analyst, Archbishop Chukwuereka Iheanachor; legal practitioner, Mr. Goddy Uwazurike ; a presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Mr. Chuks Nwachukwu and Human rights group, intersociety.
Their separate reactions came before Bulkachuwa’s eventual resignation from the panel on Wednesday.
Musa regretted that the judicial process and nation’s democracy have become so partisan that the voters no longer have a say in the voting process.
He said, “Everything about Nigeria’s politics and election is partisan because what is happening is unavoidable. As long as there is no credible election in which the citizens are allowed to choose the winner, such things will continue to happen, things may even get worse. Our election is not the kind of election that the voters were allowed to decide the winner.
“Since voters were not allowed to decide the outcome. Such a thing is bound to happen. It is the power of money that decides the outcome of most elections in Nigeria.”
Iheanachor, argued that it will be against natural justice if Bulkachuwa failed to disqualify herself from the tribunal.
“The natural thing to do if we still have conscience in this country is for her to resign her membership of the panel. It is not possible for her not to be partial, the fact that her husband is a senator-elect on the platform of APC and her son a member of the ruling party, it is very difficult for her to be neutral in the matter.
“It is the part of the original game plan to perpetuate this government in power with the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen . It will take divine intervention for the judiciary to redeem itself. The soul of the judiciary has been captured; I don’t see them delivering to Nigerians the justice they deserve. We should be praying for divine intervention because the judiciary may not redeem itself. When the soul is taken, the body is there just as a decoration.”
Uwazurike, on his part said, “As a lawyer, I know that a judge recuses himself from any case where there is a likelihood of bias arising from family, business, social and even a professional relationship. Can anyone think that the judge was free and fair in a case such as above? I think not because justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done.
“Where this judge refuses the request to recuse herself, then the credibility of the judgment will be in issue. The Supreme Court will certainly look with suspicion that justice has been compromised. The public will not be persuaded that justice has been done. Already, the re-election has been dubbed ‘the stolen mandate.’
“The Code of Conduct Tribunal scenario is most likely going to be replicated here. So the court may throw out the motion and hear the petition. But the Court of Appeal will now be on trial. But I fear the destruction of our integrity.”
Similarly, Nwachukwu said, “She would be doing what is most abhorred in the administration of justice-making reasonable people doubt that justice has been done by reason of the reasonable perceived interest of the adjudicator in the outcome of the adjudication, which is otherwise known as bias.
“She would be enveloping the judgment of the tribunal in controversy and contempt if it goes against Atiku. She ought to recuse herself from the proceeding. That is her burden duty to justice”
International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Intersociety, a human rights group, had last week pleaded for the preservation of the sanctity of the Nigerian judiciary and warned that the Judiciary must not be allowed to descend to the judiciary of a militia state.
Intersociety faulted the appointment, the legal and moral consequences of allowing the President of the Court of Appeal, as determiner of the 2019 Presidential Poll Tribunal.
The group said if these were allowed, then justice in the instant case is not only already murdered but also seen to be murdered before its official pronouncement.
In a statement signed by Emeka Umeagbalasi Board Chairman; Obianuju Joy Igboeli, Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law; Chinwe Umeche, Head, Democracy & Good Governance; Chidinma Evan Udegbunam, Head, Campaign & Publicity Department, the group called for fairness in the country’s judiciary process.
“Let the other side be heard with full ingredients of fair hearing and fair proceedings to the parties in the tribunal particularly the plaintiffs. The unyielding of Bulkachuwa in refusing to disqualify herself from the instant case because of a potential conflict of interest or lack of impartiality is not only a clear testament of self moral damnation, but also shows that the matter in question is already determined with buying time or camouflaging proceedings.
“From our thorough ransacking of the 320 sections of the 1999 Constitution as amended and 158 main sections of the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended as well as its 55 sub sections in its First Schedule (Rules of Procedure for Election Petitions), it has been strongly found and established that Hon Justice Zainab Adamu-Bulkachuwa has no business whatsoever sitting in the 2019 Presidential Election Tribunal as a member or as presiding judge. She is also morally forbidden from doing so.”
Now that the President of the Court of Appeal has bowed out of the tribunal, what comes next? Political watchers have eulogized Bulkachuwa for her action, saying that it takes courage to listen to the voice of reason and do the needful as she has done.
Her stepping-aside has reinforced the belief on the neutrality of the judiciary. It is also a step on the path to self-discovery.
Analysts argue that Bulkachuwa’s action has set the tone for the restoration of the independence of the nation’s judiciary. But her action will continue to elicit debate among stakeholders from both sides of the aisle.