The President of the Court of Appeal and Chairman of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, has recused herself as she stepped down on Wednesday from participating in the hearing of the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, challenging the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 general election.
Justice Bulkachuwa recused herself on personal reasons and on moral ground.
She said that in view of the controversy the matter had generated she would rescue her self from the panel
Bulkachuwa said another Justice will soon be appointed to preside over the panel but that the remaining four members will continue in the matter.
However, the tribunal, in its ruling, dismissed Atiku and PDP’s application seeking Bulkachuwa’s disqualification from participating in the hearing, saying their application to disqualify Bulkachuwa was unmeritorious.
Justice Peter Olabisi Igeh in a ruling on the application said the applicants failed to show that Justice Bulkachuwa will be biased in determining their petition as chairman of the tribunal.
Justice Igeh said, Bulkachuwa, being the wife and mother of two prominent members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the third respondent in the petition, cannot make her bias as they are not parties in the petition.
He said: “From the prayers of the petitioners and grounds which the application was founded, she is has not been accused of bias but that there is likelihood of bias because her husband and son are members of the APC, the third respondent, which victory in the election is being challenged before the trbunal”.
Justice Igeh held that the statement made in the statement by Bulkachuwa n her inaugural speech that elections are held every four years and no matter how well conducted, there must be complaint, cannot be said to be a signal of any likelihood of bias.
“I have deeply ruminated over all the affidavits by various parties and I have come to a conclusion that the applicants have not been able to establish the need for the President of the Court of Appeal to recuse herself from presiding and participating in the hearing of the applicants’ petition before the tribunal.
“Consequently, the application is hereby dismissed for lacking in merit”, Justice Igeh held in the unanimous ruling.
Nevertheless, despite this ruling Justice Bulkachuwa still went ahead to step down.
Earlier at Wednesday’s proceedings, Atiku and the PDP lead counsel, Levi Uzoukwu (SAN), argued that his clients through exhibit 2 – 4 “which in unequivocal manner presented the relationship between the President of the Appeal Court, the husband and son, who are prominent members of the third respondent (APC)” was enough to disqualify Bulkachuwa from the panel.
He said husband and son campaigned vigorously for the second respondent (Buhari).
He stated further that from the exhibits before the court there is likelihood of bias on the part of Justice Bulkachuwa.
The petitioners’ counsel told the tribunal that Justice Bulkachuwa is the biological mother of one Aliyu Haidar Abubakar, a prominent card carrying member of the APC and a gubernatorial aspirant in his home state at the last general elections.
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 , recognised 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 hve been blessed – being the first female President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria.”