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What the law says about Justice Bulkachuwa on the presidential election tribunal

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What the law says about Justice Bulkachuwa on the presidential election tribunal

Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who is married to the All Progressives Congress’ Senator-Elect for Bauchi North, Adamu Bulkachuwa, is chairing the presidential election petition tribunal hearing the petition filed by PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, against President Muhammadu Buhari.

I have heard arguments about her suitability like these ones below by some prominent lawyers citing previous instances.

  • “Justice Kekere Ekun’s husband was an APC chieftain in Lagos when in 2016 she affirmed the PDP and Governor Nyesom Wike’s victory in the Rivers gubernatorial election.”
  • “Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa’s husband was in the ANPP when she adjudged Senator David Mark of the PDP to have defeated Usman Abubakar (Young Alhaji) of the ANPP in a tussle for one of the senatorial seats in Benue.”

The big question: Since when did it become justifiable in law to remedy an anomaly by citing past cases where it wasn’t challenged?

Bottom line: Only adjudicated cases on a particular subject matter can be used to support or disprove an argument. Anyone seeking to prove that Zainab Bulkachuwa can preside over a matter involving the APC, a party which her husband is a member of and on which platform he was recently elected senator, can only refer to decided cases supporting their argument and not ones where the issue was not raised.

I read Professor Itse Sagay’s book, Nigerian Law Of Contract, in the University and I have held him in high regard since then. But time and time again as a member of President Buhari’s government, he has gravely disappointed. I read Sagay say with sheer disgust, as the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, that no relationship can be found in the Judges Code of Conduct or in law to support the PDP’s call for Bulkachawa to step down as head of the presidential election tribunal.

We can’t safely put anything pass Sagay and the people he works for so maybe he has a copy of the ‘Judge’s Code of Conduct’ we don’t know about but the ‘Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers’ as we know it to be has been in operation since the 24th day of February 2016 and it clearly provides in Rule 12.1 that: A Judicial Officer should disqualify himself in a proceeding in which his impartiality may GENUINELY and REASONABLY be questioned…”

The APC, a political party to which her husband belongs is a party in the proceedings before Zainab Bulkachuwa and I wonder how anyone would argue that her impartiality cannot be ‘genuinely and reasonably’ questioned. It is a shame that respected legal luminaries are saying nothing in our laws covers the Bulkachuwa situation.

The sensitivity of this matter demands that utmost caution be exercised because the implications are quite weighty. We are dealing with the possibility of a presidential candidate being denied justice in a system many already deem rigged in favour of his adversary. Justice must be seen to be done. That an infraction has been perpetually ignored doesn’t in any way make it right and that ignorance can’t form a defence to any attempt to correct it. If anything, the PDP should be lauded for sparking the fires of change. Now is the time to put our house in order. It is not right for a judge to sit over a matter in which her spouse has an interest.

The introductory note on application of the code of conduct for Judicial officers clearly states that a violation of any of the rules contained in the code shall constitute judicial misconduct or misbehaviour and SHALL be liable to disciplinary action. Zainab Bulkachuwa is in contravention of Rule 12.1 of Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers and should be made to face disciplinary proceedings.

The National Judicial Council must wake up to its responsibilities and act in the best interest of the judiciary and the entire country at large. Her husband being not only a card-carrying member of the APC but also a senator elected on its platform forms a ‘genuine and reasonable’ basis to question her impartiality in a matter where the APC is a party. Shame on all the Senior advocates busy citing instances where it has happened in the past and telling us our laws are silent on this.

READ: On Justice Bulkachuwa, Buhari’s presidency warns PDP against attacking the judiciary. It should look in the mirror

Umar Sa'ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano

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