The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has fixed 2pm on Wednesday to rule on an application filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, asking the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to withdraw her membership of the five-man panel.
The panel fixed the time for ruling shortly after parties to the petition filed by Atiku and PDP presented brief oral arguments on the petitioner’s application on Wednesday.
Through their application filed through their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, on May 16, the petitioners urged Bulkachuwa to disqualify herself from further participating in the proceedings of the tribunal on the basis of alleged likelihood of bias.
The application was premised on the family ties which Bulkachuwa has with top members of the All Progressives Congress, the party whose victory is being challenged in the petition filed before the tribunal by both Atiku and the PDP.
They claimed that her husband, Adamu Bulkachuwa, being a senator-elect on the platform of the APC in Bauchi State, and her biological son, Aliyu Abubakar, being a governorship aspirant on the platform of the same party during the last electioneering in Gombe State, she would be biased against the petitioners in her handling of the proceedings.
In the course of the Wednesday’s hearing, the separate legal teams of the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the APC, filed counter-affidavits to oppose the application which they described as unmeritorious.
But in what appeared to be candid advice from the lawyer representing the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), urged Bulkachuwa to “leave the matter” for the sake of her name with her retirement from the bench only barely a year away.
He said, “As it is fast becoming the norm and regrettably so, this is another havoc wreaked on the finest Nigerian jury.
“This is not the first time this is happening. Just recently, Justice Oyewole, whose immortal contribution was acknowledged by the counsel for the applicants a while ago, was written against not to be allowed to sit on the appeal panel on the Osun State governorship election petition.
“Nebulous as ‘likelihood of bias’ is, it has its own boundaries.
“The exhortation in all the authorities that have been cited, recognise that each case will have to be dealt with on its own merit.
“The matter before the court has nothing to do with governorship or National Assembly elections.
“Whatever the Constitution of a political party is, it is the Constitution of the country that is supreme.
“And nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution that the President is allowed to remove a governor or a member of the National Assembly.
“My conclusion, with respect, is that the application is blackmail. On the facts and the law, the application is most unmeritorious.
“But, with respect, next year, your lordship, the President of the Court of Appeal, will be bowing out gloriously by God’s grace.
“Your name, either the one you acquired before you got married or the one you acquired after you got married, none is for you alone. You hold them in trust and you have been blessed – being the first female President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria.
“My lord, your youthful look may confuse one. You are old enough to be my mother. My lord, you standing in as my parent, I will say, ‘Mum, leave the matter’.”
The PDP and Atiku had filed their petition before the tribunal to challenge the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives at the February 23.