Editor's note: Public affairs commentator and founder, Open Dialogue Initiative, Abdullahi Omanibe, writes on the recent media attacks on Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, especially in relation to the presidential election tribunal.
I read with interest a write up by a one Ben Abdul in the dailies on the Bauchi north senatorial election quagmire. While the write up was interesting, I was more intrigued by the subliminal focus of the argument. The writer apparently had an interest in the political side of the issue at hand. The subliminal for me was the discourse on the process, powers and oversight of the President of the court of appeal (PCA) on election petition tribunals.
There have been several opinions on how the PCA can and will influence the outcomes of cases laid before the tribunals. Statutory, judges are meant to be independent in the discharge of their duties as enshrined by their code of conduct and judicial dispensation mechanisms. From the opinions shared in the public domain, it is quite glaring that there is a lot of unclarity as to the process of dispensing justice at the tribunals.
For the sake of context, there have been barrages of speculations over the neutrality of the PCA Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa over matters pertaining to election petitions. These speculative accusations are premised on a single denominator being that the PCA is married to the Bauchi north senator-elect in person of Ambassador Adamu Bulkachuwa.
The accusers seem to be convinced that judgements of the tribunals will favour the ruling All Progressive Peoples Congress (APC) on the basis that Ambassador Bulkachuwa belongs to the party. Similarly, Usman Abubakar Tuggar, who was the main challenger to Bulkachuwa claimed that he won in six of the seven local government areas while his challenger, Adamu Mohammed Bulkachuwa won in one. Usman Abubakar Tuggar has been vocal and is even in court challenging the outcome of the primaries.
However, there is a new twist that takes the form of blackmail of the person of Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, the president of the Court of Appeal, who is married to Adamu Mohammed Bulkachuwa. Tuggar had, through his aide, Umar Waziri, alleged that the APC is trying to use Adamu Bulkachuwa as access to his wife, Justice Zainab, whose court will handle election petition cases arising from primary elections.
The tragedy of reality is to be entombed in ignorance especially as it pertains to the workings of the law. That one’s spouse is the head of the court does not in any way translate to being an unfair beneficiary of the law. The law exists above the dictates of anyone, for the law recognizes facts and not rhetoric. To opine that the All Progressives Congress is using Adamu Bulkachuwa as a subterfuge to curry undeserved advantages from Justice Zainab is, to say the least, an unkind and unfair thing to say.
As a Court of Appeal president, Justice Bulkachuwa exercised her constitutional powers, by putting in place all the process of constituting the various election petition tribunals for speedy and efficacious dispensation of justice in the petitions that will arise from the elections. The constitutional powers of the PCA to establish election petition panels by virtue of sub-section 3 of the Sixth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution empowers the president of the Court of Appeal to constitute the chairmen and other members of the election tribunals in consultation with the Chief Judge of a state, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the state or the president of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state, as the case may be and Section 145 of the Electoral Act, 2010.
In most cases, the president of the Court of Appeal may not know the judges to be appointed into a certain tribunal. Usually, the names of members of election tribunals are sent by Chief Judges of the States. How easy does one think these members can be influenced by the president of the Court of Appeal to give judgment in favour of a particular candidate? Even at the presidential election petition tribunal, the members of the tribunal are by law three in number. It is not a one-man court or tribunal. At the end of the hearing, the members write their judgment independently. It is the reason why we do have dissenting judgment as done in Buhari vs Yar’adua and recently in Osun election petition. The president of the Court of Appeal will find it very impossible to influence the three panelists.
It is rather ridiculous that a woman who worked hard and tirelessly and rose through the various ladder of courts, from Pupil State Counsel Grade I to become the president of the Court of Appeal by the dent of hard work, dedication and commitment cannot be reduced to a mere broker in a pedestrian matter of election petitions.
This legal luminary’s contribution to the Nigerian Judiciary is unquantifiable. She has devoted her years to the selfless service of our great nation while also playing the role of a mother to 6 children and wife since 1991 of Ambassador Adamu Bulkachuwa. Why then will one think that because she is the president of the Court of Appeal, she can influence the decision of the presidential election tribunal? Her Lordship has worked very hard and this can be seen from her judgment littered in our law reports and there is a need to separate her from her husband's political activities.
But if we may ask, why do we always blame the woman for the sins, if there are even any, of their husbands but hardly do so the other way? This has some elements of sexism and bullying of women and we need to stop that. It's unfair to bring to disrepute the woman's name when she is not in any way joined in their political tussle that produced her husband. The law is there for any aggrieved person to seek redress.
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