Atiku vs Buhari: Bulkachuwa disqualifies self from panel

Atiku and Buhari

…I never dabbled into judicial matter – Buhari

Following the petition by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and the pressure mounted by the opposition through its legal team,  President Court of Appeal Zainab Bulkachuwa Wednesday recused (disqualified) herself from presiding over the five-man panel.

She also withdrew her membership of the presidential election petition tribunal.

The judge announced her decision while ruling on the application filed through the PDP lead counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, May 16, over alleged likelihood of bias.

Although the panel dismissed the PDP application for lacking in substance, the panel chair still went ahead to recuse herself for personal reasons which she did not state.

Bulkachuwa was perceived to be likely biased on account of her husband’s affinity with the ruling party.

Abubakar Bulkachuwa, a senator-elect of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is the husband of the jurist.

Blueprint reports that both the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, are formally challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the February 2019 presidential election where Buhari, the APC candidate was declared winner.

At the resumed hearing Wednesday, parties to the petition presented a brief oral arguments on the application after which the tribunal fixed 2.00pm to rule on the application.

The legal fireworks

Meanwhile, at the hearing, the legal teams of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the APC and Buhari filed a counter-affidavit dated 20th May 2019, supported with a written address to oppose the application, saying it was unmeritorious.

While opening his argument, APC’s lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, reminded the panel chairman that her retirement from the bench was merely a year away, advising that she should leave the matter for the sake of her hard-earned name.

He said, “As it is fast becoming a culture now, this is another havoc wreaked on the finest Nigerian jury. This is not the first time this is happening. Just recently, Justice Oyewole whose immeasurable contribution was acknowledged by the counsel, was written against not to be allowed to sit on the appeal panel on the Osun state governorship election petition.

“Nebulous as ‘likelihood of bias’ is it has its own boundaries. The exhortation in all the authorities that have been cited recognises that each case will have to be dealt with on its own merit.

“The matter before the court has nothing to do with governorship or National Assembly elections. “Whatever the constitution of a political party is, it is the constitution of the country that is supreme.

“And where in the Nigerian constitution is the president allowed to remove a governor or a member of the National Assembly? My conclusion is that the application is blackmail. On the facts and the law, the application is most unmeritorious.

“But with respect, next year, your lordship, the president of the Court of Appeal, will be bowing out gloriously by God’s grace. Your name, either the one you acquired before you got married or the one you acquired after you got married, none is for you alone. You hold them in trust and you have been blessed for being the first female president of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria.

“My lord, your youthful look may confuse one. You are old enough to be my mother. My lord, you standing in as my parent, I will say, ‘Mum leave the matter.”

Arguing on the motion, INEC’s counsel, Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN and Wole Olanipekun (SAN), opposed the motion by Atiku was frivolous, unmeritorious and should be dismissed.

In their separate submissions, they argued that Atiku and PDP did not disclose any cause of action against Justice Bulkachuwa and urged the tribunal to dismiss the motion.

Tribunal dismisses

In his ruling, Justice Peter Olabisi Ige, held that Atiku and PDP merely raised issue of likelihood of bias and did not make allegation of bias against the panel’s chair

Justice Ige said the two petitioners failed to place materials before the tribunal to positively show that the relationship of the appeal court president with her husband and biological son as members of the APC will negatively affect the determination of the petition.

The tribunal held that section 42 of the 1999 Constitution frowned at gender discrimination, saying what Atiku and PDP brought before the tribunal was a violation of that provision having discriminated in a brazen manner against Justice Bulkachuwa.

In conclusion, Justice Ige dismissed the motion for being unmeritorious and unconstitutional.

Bulkachuwa steps down

However, immediately the ruling was delivered, Justice Bulkachuwa took the microphone and announced the withdrawal of her membership of the tribunal for personal reasons.

Meanwhile, President Buhari has said he was willing to respect and abide by judicial decisions at all times.

Speaking at an Iftar dinner with representatives of the judiciary at his official residence Wednesday, the president said he believed the judiciary should be independent, stating how submitted himself to the adjudication of the courts three times without any fuss because.

“I respect the institution. I have come before you three times before I got here on the fourth run for the office. Your word is the last word on any given issue,” he said. 

He praised the capabilities of Nigerian judges, saying “your training and experience has earned you respect.”

In his remarks in appreciation of the Ramadhan fast-breaking, Acting Chief Justice Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, leading retired chief justices, some Justices of the Supreme Court and heads of courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), assured the nation that judiciary would continue to do its best in safeguarding the country’s democracy.

He commended the president for not meddling in the affairs of the courts in the country.

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