In apparent fulfillment of the affirmative action on gender equality, the Jonathan administration on Thursday, April 17, 2014 swore in Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as Nigeria’s first female President of the Court of Appeal (PCA). Following her inauguration by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, Bulkachuwa, who held the position in acting capacity from November 21, 2013, is now the 6th PCA since the inception of the Court of Appeal in 1976.
Bulkachuwa’s appointment as head of the appellate court of last resort in petitions arising from elections into certain political offices like those of governors is significant in many respects. First, is the fact that as a woman she is reflective of the symbiotic relationship with the statue of justice, depicted by a blindfolded woman holding a sword on one hand and a scale on the other hand. This indicates an unbiased minister in the temple justice, ready to dispense justice to all manner of persons without fear or favour, let or hindrance, and no matter whose ox is gored.
The new PCA’s appointment is also significant on the backdrop that Nigeria’s justice sector, the most sacred temporal institution on earth, has now been entrusted to the womenfolk, given that the CJN is also a woman. Bulkachuwa is also stepping into the oft-controversial seat on the heels of the 2015 general elections, which build up is already characterized by unholy political brickbats, mudslinging and fatal scheming and realignment. As a matter of fact, the United States has since predicted that Nigeria may collapse in 2015; God forbid. But we, Nigerians, have to work it out because our destiny lies in our hands, according to the sage.
It is instructive that the wisdom behind President Goodluck Jonathan’s choice of Bulkachuwa may be predicated on the success so far recorded by Mukhtar, in the on-going reform of the judiciary, particularly her war against corrupt judges and ensuring not only the speedy dispensation of justice but also that the ends of justice are achieved. In this regard, the CJN deserves all the accolades and encomiums due for an achiever. However, the CJN should resist the temptation of getting carried away by some praise-singers as a lot still needs to be done in cleansing the nation’s judiciary.
Although the new CPA has been in the saddle since 2013 when President Jonathan approved her appointment as acting PCA on retirement of Justice Dalhatu Adamu, she must exercise caution and avoid the pitfalls of some of her predecessors, whose tenure was mired in bickering and unnecessary controversy.
Bulkachuwa must steer clear of partisan politics and avoid politicians like a plague.
The romance with politicians was responsible for the inglorious exit of the former PCA, Justice Isa Ayo Salami. Salami’s perceived partisanship swayed in favour of his long-time family friend and associate, Chief Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos state and chieftain of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), generated a lot of rancour, animosity and crisis of confidence between him and the then CJN, Justice Aloysius
Katsina-Alu, culminating in Salami’s suspension on August 18, 2011. Adamu was thereafter appointed acting PCA on August 22, 2011.
Mukhtar succinctly captured the momentum while performing the inauguration of the new PCA: “The PCA is very tasking and arduous. In fulfillment of this noble role, I therefore enjoin you, 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. The judiciary no doubt has come a long way and we cannot afford to fail at this crucial point in our nascent democracy.”
This advice is pertinent irrespective of the fact that Bulkachuwa has an unimpeachable record as an incorruptible judge. Born in March 1950, Bulkachuwa, who was called to the Bar in 1976, was elevated to the Appeal Court in 1998, representing Gombe state.
Earlier, she worked as a judge in the High Court of Bauchi State and served as the Chief Judge of Gombe State. She handled some celebrated cases including the Sokoto State governorship election petition of 2007 and the case instituted by former Governor of Bayelsa state Timipre Sylva last year to challenge the nomination of Governor Seriake Dickson as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate of same state. Prior to her appointment, she was the Presiding Judge of the Abuja division of the court. She will vacate the seat in 2020 when she goes on retirement.
Given this impressive pedigree, one is tempted to believe the new helmsman at the Court of Appeal when she declared on her inauguration that: “Our amiable CJN did not mince words when she sounded a word of warning to judicial officers to eschew corruption and uphold best practices.
“I stand on this honour in the 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.” May I add, so help us God.