In agreement with the demand of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a group, Access to Justice, has appealed to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to step down from the presidential election tribunal hearing PDP and Atiku Abubakar’s petition.
The PDP and its presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Atiku, are challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The PDP had earlier written Justice Bulkachuwa to recuse herself from its petition, claiming that it was worried about her being the chairman of the panel because her husband is an All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator.
The justice advocacy group, seconding the PDP in a statement by its Convener, Joseph Otteh, said the party’s demand was necessary.
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Otteh’s statement read: “Of late, there have been strong speculations that the Buhari government is heavily invested in efforts to achieve the best possible outcomes from electoral courts in any election litigation involving the ruling party through any means possible.
“Many believe this is the reason the government worked hand in glove with the Code of Conduct Tribunal and removed Justice Walter Onnoghen from office as Chief Justice of Nigeria applying bizarre legal procedures. The dust has not settled from that incident.
“The Court of Appeal President, Hon. Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa is married to a Senator of the ruling APC and she has not publicly denied this claim. We note that the Court of Appeal President is not however sitting on an election petition involving her spouse personally but that involving her spouse’s political party and platform.
“In ordinary circumstances, there would be no question of whether the President of the Court of Appeal can, or should participate in tribunals adjudicating election petitions involving her spouse’s party. But these are no ordinary or normal times.
“The Nigerian judiciary is facing very heightened levels of public scrutiny, and the performance of some judicial bodies have raised red flags concerning judicial independence and integrity. There are now far more than normal anxieties about the Judiciary’s strength of character.
“Many keen observers of the Judiciary are already worried that the Judiciary has been overawed by the government given, particularly, the example of the bizarre way the removed Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was “guillotined” by a supposedly “judicial” body.
“Given the present context, it may be difficult for judicial officers to bank on the moral capital of the Judiciary as an institution as a basis of comfort when they sit on cases where some familial, fiduciary or other interests are implicated, for the stock value of that capital has descended a few notches over time and survives mostly through its clichés than its substance.
“Maybe at some time in the future, it will not be a problem for a Justice of the Court of Appeal to adjudicate cases where his or her significant other has some immediate or remote interest, but, at this time, there will be conflicting perceptions, even of reasonable people, given the prevailing context, of whether justice will impartially be done in such a case.”