2015: Can Justice Bulkachuwa resist political pressure?

In this report, AMEH EJEKWONYILO examines the advice of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon.  Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, to the newly sworn-in President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adama Bulkachuwa, to shun politicians against her (Bulkachuwa’s) background of being married to a politician, viz-a-viz laying the template for the challenges of 2015 electoral disputes in Nigeria

History was again made last Thursday when the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar administered the oath of office on the first female President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Adama Bulchachuwa at the Supreme Court Chambers in Abuja.

Justice Bulkachuwa took her oath of office as the 6th President of the second highest court since its inception in 1976, after serving in an acting capacity as the President of the court for about two years following the suspension of the court’s immediate past President Justice Isa Ayo Salami by the National Judicial Council and eventual retirement last November.
At the august ceremony, the CJN charged Justice Bulkachuwa to reposition the Appeal Court.
She said: “I charge you to make all efforts to reposition the court, and ensure that confidence in the court is restored. You must strive with all diligence to ensure that you carry out your duties with honesty, integrity and honour”.

The CJN emphasized the enormity of the task before the newly sworn-in President of the court and urged her to demonstrate purposeful leadership through proper coordination of all the Justices and activities of the court in order to promote greater efficiency in the dispensation of justice.

“It is pertinent to stress that the discharge of the obligation of this venerated office must be executed with the utmost sense of fair play, impartiality and dedication to duty. As a custodian of this sacred position to shun all forms of political pressures, and
discharge your responsibilities in consonance with the oath of office you have just subscribed to”, Justice Mukhtar advised.

With the CJN’s warning to Justice Bulkachuwa to shun all political pressure, comes the dilemma of discharging her duties as a judicial officer in the temple of justice and her marriage to a core politician. The newly sworn-in President of the Appeal Court is married to Alhaji Adamu Bulkachuwa who was a member of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003 as well as a one-time gubernatorial candidate in Bauchi state.

According to a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Alagoa, “politicians are the problems of the judiciary. They go out of their way to bribe and intimidate judges in order to get judgment in their favour”, Justice Alagoa said.
It is against this backdrop that Justice Mukhtar’s warning becomes timely.

Some of the controversial cases handled by Justice Bulkachuwa’s include the Benue state South-Senatorial election petition of 2007 between the current Senate President David Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alhaji Usman Abubakar of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) as well as the Sokoto state governorship election petition of 2007, which led to a fierce disagreement between the then CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the former President of the Court of the Court of Appeal Justice Isa Ayo Salami; when the Justice Katsina-Alu allegedly asked Justice Salami to compromise in the Sokoto governorship case which he (Salami) declined, which culminated in his suspension by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Salami’s subsequent retirement last November.

These cases drew public outcry and condemnation as the outcomes did not meet people’s expectations.
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Mahmud Magaji has deep confidence in the ability of Justice Bulkachuwa to steer the affairs of the appellate court.
He said: “Justice Bulkachuwa is a fantastic judge; she is equal to the task. I pray that she will be able to bring her wealth of experience acquired over the years first as Acting President of the court of Appeal and much later as part of her practice life as a judge of Justice of Court of Appeal”.

According to Mr. Magaji (SAN), “we hope that we will begin to feel the impact of changes. You would recall that my Lord the CJN has put in place so many reforms that are impacting directly on the litigants in this country. We hope that she will be able to compliment her.

On the challenge of 2015 general elections, Mr. Magaji said: “We hope to have a hitch-free pre-primary elections and then electoral disputes”.
On the issue of having two females heading the two highest courts in the land, the learned SAN rhetorically asked: “Are they females? They are males; these are men going by their antecedents. I hope we will feel the impact of the various reforms in the judiciary”.

The presence of Governors Ibrahim Damkwambo and Isa Yuguda of Gombe and Bauchi respectively alluded to the fact that the newly sworn-in President of the Appeal Court enjoys her home states support. Justice Bulkachuwa represents Gombe state in the Appeal Court.

In her inaugural speech, Justice Bulkachuwa pledged to key-in into the reformation agenda of the CJN to rid the judiciary of corrupt practices: “I stand on this honour in our crusade against corruption because our energies, faith and devotion which we bring to this endeavour will rekindle and build back the trust; and the glow from that fire can truly light not only the judiciary, but our great Nigeria in general”.

On the question of ICT development for justices of the court, she said: “I am proud to inform this august gathering that Justices of the Court of Appeal are ICT compliant and not illiterate as I was misunderstood recently by some media organizations during my screening exercise at the Senate”.
Justice Bulkachuwa explained further that: “It is against this backdrop that an eight-man committee headed by Hon. Justice Amina Adamu Augie was established to work out modalities for training and retraining of Justices on matters as it affects ICT our jobs”.

She urged the media to avoid sensationalism in their reportage and urged the media not to hesitate to seek clarifications on points of law where in doubt.

Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa is due to retire in 2020 but the impact of her tenure as the President of the Court of Appeal will reverberate across the length and breadth of the country; owing to the two critical periods of elections within the time (2015 and 2019), especially as the court’s decisions on the deluge of electoral disputes that are likely to emanate from the 2015 general elections would either redeem the judiciary of its battered image or plunge the supposed “last hope of the common man” deeper into the cesspit of corruption that the Nigerian judiciary has become synonymous with in recent times. Can Justice Bulkachuwa resist all forms of political pressures and discharge justice without fear or favour? Only time will!

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