Following the 2019 elections, some aggrieved candidates have taken their grievances before the election petition tribunals to claim their ‘stolen’ mandates. Najib Sani writes on the case involving husband of the president of the Appeal Court.
One of the most interesting of these election cases is that of the Bauchi North senatorial election where the husband of the president of the Federal Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, won the election. But his major contender Faruk Mustapha of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) had filed a suit before the National, State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Bauchi state.
At inception, the tribunal received 27 election petitions bordering on allegations of different forms of electoral fraud. Seven of the petitions were for the Senate, eight for the House of Representatives and twelve were in relation to election into the Bauchi state House of Assembly.
Bulkachuwa an issue
Of all the petitions before the tribunal, the most followed by the public perhaps is the one between Honourable Farouk Mustapha of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) and Senator Adamu Muhammad Bulkachuwa of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and three others over the 2019 National Assembly election for Bauchi-North senatorial district.
The reasons for the noticeable public interest in the petition are obviously not farfetched. The first petitioner, Honourable Farouk Mustapha has apparently won public sympathy because of the widespread public belief that he was the candidate who actually won the said election. The personality he challenges at the tribunal himself was also a factor that informed the public interest.
The first respondent, Senator Bulkachuwa, who is in his eighties, was an ambassador of Nigeria to Canada in the early eighties and was allegedly anointed and allegedly imposed on the people of the Bauchi-North senatorial district by the Bauchi state APC determiners of who gets what, when and how particularly the immediate past former Bauchi state, Governor Mohammed Abubakar. The former governor has also filed a petition before a governorship election petition tribunal for Bauchi state challenging victory of the incumbent governor of the state, Senator Bala Mohammed.
Above all, the first respondent, Bulkachuwa, is the husband of the current president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Muhammad Bulkachuwa, who many feel may influence the outcome of the case in favour of her husband particularly that the matter may be brought before her court after verdict of the trial court.
So, the first respondent, having being so connected or perceived to be so, many people feel the first petitioner’s legal struggle to take back what he said originally belongs to him as efforts in futility. But the first petitioner, Hon Mustapha on several occasions in interactions with journalists reiterated his firm confidence in the Nigerian judiciary and by extension the election petition tribunal particularly on the day the first respondent abruptly closed his defence apparently because the first witness he called turned out to testify in favour of the petitioners.
Mustapha said as a believer in God, he was never discouraged, intimidated or hypnotised by the connection of the first respondent instead always remained convinced that he would get justice from the election petition tribunal for Bauchi state.
It would also be recalled that Farouk Mustapha and the NNPP in ntheir efforts to justify the alleged electoral frauds allegedly perpetrated in the Bauchi-North senatorial district during the 2019 senatorial election had invited several witnesses and rendered 745 exhibits of more than 7000 pages which were all admitted in evidence by the tribunal.
The exhibits included certified true copies and duplicate original result sheets for the constituency; card reader print out reports; list of candidates for Senate for Bauchi state and voter registers for the constituency.
As activities of the tribunal are now at their peak and will soon amble down to denouement any moment with the recent adoptions of final written addresses by parties in seventeen petitions out of nineteen and the tribunal reserved its judgments on all till later days, parties no doubt become ostensibly apprehensive as they do not know where the pendulum may swing to.
However, it is only a matter of days, as the tribunal, presided by Justice Hafsa AbdulRahman, said it would inform parties the moment judgment is ready for delivery and seeing that it is at its last laps of its assignments.
During adoption of final written addresses in the case of Farouk Mustapha and NNPP versus Adamu Bulkachuwa, APC and INEC, parties except INEC whose counsel was not at the tribunal, through their counsel applied to the court by way of adumbration for conflicting requests.
Leading counsel for Bulkachuwa, Usman Sule, argued that the petitioners failed to prove their case before the tribunal stressing that they did not tied the exhibits they brought with the petition instead they only dumped the exhibits on the tribunal. He added that the tribunal was not an investigator but an adjudicator, and that the burden of proof lied on the petitioners which he said they failed to carry.
The leading counsel Sule also submitted that testimonies of all the prosecution witnesses constituted hearsay because they were not at the polling units in contention but were only told stories by agents. Based on these both the leading counsel for the first respondent and the counsel for the second respondent, the APC, Mohammed Mahammed, unanimously urged the Tribunal to dismiss the petition and award them cost against the petitioners.
In his reply also by way of adumbration, counsel for the petitioners Joe Dappa objected claims of the respondents’ counsel that the petitioners only dumped their exhibits on the Court and that the witnesses’ testimonies constituted mere hearsay. Dappa argued that, witness deposition once adopted becomes their evidence in chief and that the exhibits as analysed and incorporated in the said statement on oath, and tendered in court without objections become part of the statement on oath.
For this submission, Dappa referred the tribunal to the cases of Uzu against Ogbu and another; MTN Nigeria Communication Unit against Corporation Commission Investment Limited, 2019 Volume 9 of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports page 247 and other legal authorities. The petitioners’ counsel also argued that the prosecution witnesses identified all the exhibits before the court and related each exhibit to a paragraph in the petition during hearing.
He, therefore, informed the court that the said exhibits could not be said to have been dumped and the testimonies and evidence of the prosecution witnesses could not also be said to be hearsay. He added that the witnesses gave the evidence based on their observations of the documents, drawing attention of the court to the fact that the alterations in the result in dispute were done by the third respondent, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC after issuance of the duplicate original to agents. He urged the court to discountenance the submissions of the first and second respondents underlining that they wanted to rely on technicalities instead of facts.
Dappa further responded to exhibits RR, SS, and TT as incorporated in the first respondent’s final written address. He submitted that the said exhibits went to no issue as the third respondent, INEC, did not plead any material fact in respect of the exhibits.
Still in his reply, the counsel for the petitioners said all the respondents did not respond to the petitioners’ second and third issues and urged the court to determine them in favour of the petitioners.
Finally, Dappa implored the tribunal to return or declare the first petitioner, Honourable Farouk Mustapha as the duly elected candidate in the February 23rd 2019 National Assembly Election for the Bauchi-North senatorial district having scored the majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
With these developments the tribunal presided by Justice Hafsa AbdulRahman reserved its judgment till later day.
On the first day, the first respondent, Adamu Bulkachuwa called his campaign director Abdulqadir Isawa as his first witness in the matter. Isawa, who was obviously the Bulkachwa’s star witness, was led by the leading respondents’ counsel Usman Sule to identify his witness statement on oath and urged the tribunal to adopt same as his testimonies in the matter.
However, the Bulkachuwa’s campaign director, who identified his witness statement on oath, urged the court to admit it in evidence. Usman Sule had during cross examination bombarded Faruk Mustapa with questions including whether he was at all the polling units in person on the Election Day to witness the alleged electoral malpractices but responded that he was represented by his agents.
The counsel to Bulkachuwa, therefore, argued that if Mustapa was not there in person, he might have been intimated with false claims by the agents asking the court to uphold the election of their client.
As the tribunal is in the last of the statutory six months within which it is expected to round up its assignments, it is hoped that judgments will start in the next coming days.