Since the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, made herself the chairperson of the five-man Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, there have been so much unrest and anxiety in the political circles. There have been protests in Abuja with call on her to step down, security men barricading busy ways and general anxiety among Nigerians.
Foremost, there were concerns that with Bulkachuwa on the panel, there would be influences and compromises that would make the verdict of that tribunal unfair to some party.
It was for this that Justice Bulkachuwa was forced to step down so neutral justices would proceed with the case. Justice Bulkachuwa recused self from the tribunal since May 22, 2019. It was generally expected that she would immediately name a substitute. She has not till this moment.
Meanwhile, the tribunal which has only 180 days to rule on the matter has already lost about 100 days. Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar have challenged the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) at the February 23, 2019 election. It has prayed the tribunal to upturn the victory.
Instead of giving the complainants justice, Justice Bulkachuwa indulges in power game. We should not be unmindful of the fact that Justice Bulkachuwa wields enormous powers. The constitution affords her exclusive powers to appoint judges to serve. Not only the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Bulkachuwa is the one to oversight all the election petition tribunals sitting across the country. If she would mess up the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal at the centre, then we should imagine what happens with the panels sitting in far away and obscure places in the country.
The biggest worry is Justice Bulkachuwa is treating the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal with levity. How do we mean? She penciled down her name as head of the tribunal but did not see the need to include seniors like her in bench of the Court of Appeal. As a presidential election tribunal, adjudicating for the highest office in the land, one expected that highly rated and most experienced justices would be selected.
This is the first time we are having this confusion. Since the return of democracy in 1999 – not so long a time for us to forget, we could see that the PCA, his second-in-command and very senior justices would hear the presidential election petitions. Former PCA Umar Abdullahi did constitute Presidential Election Petition Tribunals without any crisis. What has changed now?
Instead of following the tradition, Justice Bulkachuwa chose herself, went down the ladder to choose number 9, 25, 32 and 48 to constitute the tribunal for adjudication over a highly staked election. Justices who have heard electoral matters over the years and garnered huge experiences are shoved off. If for lack of requisite experience the junior justices fail to deliver justice as at when due, let it be known henceforth that Justice Bulkachuwa is to blame.
She has cleverly done it to fool us. She is now on way to choose a justice that PDP might not be comfortable with. Once there is protest, another long process of recuse will begin while the clock continues to tick against the complainant. At the end, the substantive matter will not be heard and Atiku with his PDP will bite their finger.
Justice Bulkachuwa can be artful. When she was forced to step down from the tribunal, she resorted to whipping up of sentiments in order to appear good in the eyes of feminists. She attributed the call for her to recuse herself as bias against the womenfolk. We all know well that neither Atiku nor PDP mentioned Justice Bulkachuwa’s sex as reason for the concern. Atiku said for the fact that Justice Bulkachuwa is related to senior APC members, there is likelihood of her relating the tribunal’s thoughts with her APC associates. This is a thing that will trouble any sane being because Bulkachuwa’s close relatives are interested party in the case.
Yes, Justice Bulkachuwa has reputation for controversies. For instance, In July 2008, she passed the judgement on the then Senate President, David Mark, when she upheld his election to continue to represent Benue South Senatorial District in the senate. Being contrary to the generally held belief that Mark stole the ballot, the press tagged Bulkachuwa’s judgment as “saving David Mark”.
Similarly, she did a case in Sokoto where she declared a governor-elect not qualified to be in the race, yet she contradicted herself by allowing the same candidate in the rerun.
This will therefore, take us to the question, what is the scorecard of Justice Bulkachuwa as PCA, as she is close to retirement? How well has she performed as first female President of the Court of Appeal for that matter?
Those in the know say Bulkachuwa has failed to give the judiciary the much needed quality leadership. She has rather entrenched favouritism, divide and rule, distress, unhappiness, heartache, angst, bitterness, despondency, and desolation among her colleagues.
Judiciary officers are arbitrarily posted with little or no consideration for seniority even though the judiciary is one profession that gives premium on seniority.
She abandoned the divisions of the court to rot away. As president, she is supposed to periodically go round, identifying problems and tacking them. This is none of her concerns.
Curiously, Justice Bulkachuwa who stopped sitting upon becoming the PCA suddenly appointed herself chairperson of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal thereby creating crisis. For many years, she did not exhibit interest in justice delivery. All she is known for is, if not sitting at the National Judicial Council (NJC) and doing tribalism and religious bidding, she is globetrotting in the name of attending conferences which translate to nothing in the judiciary
No wonder, Justice Bulkachuwa had brushes with her senior colleagues. Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, was so concerned that she cautioned Justice Bulkachuwa on her swearing-in on April 17, 2014, not to drag the name of the judiciary in the mud. If a stop is not put to Justice Bulkachuwa’s shenanigans now, the judiciary will experience one of its lowest in the hands of the first female PCA.
Attah, a youth activist wrote from Lugbe, Abuja.