PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION PETITION TRIBUNAL, sitting in Abuja, Nigeria, will decide, May 22, if Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President of the Court of Appeal, will sit in the five-member panel hearing the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its Presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar’s petition challenging the declaration of President Buhari winner of February 23, presidential election by Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Wednesday, May 15, the tribunal would have begun pre-hearing session on Atiku and PDP petition. But Levy Uzoukwu, SAN, Counsel for PDP and Abubakar, filed oral application to be granted permission for all counsel to meet members of the panel in Chambers. Justice Bulkachuwa granted the request by standing down the scheduled pre-hearing.
Back from Chambers, Bulkachuwa disclosed the informal request by Atiku and PDP for her to “rescue herself” from sitting on the five-member panel for alleged fear of preconceived bias. She said such action needed to be formally brought to the court through application that should be argued by the parties.
The tribunal, then, fixed May 22, to entertain application seeking her withdrawal. “The counsels for the two petitioners have raised an issue in chambers directing me to recuse myself from hearing their petition”, Justice Bulkachuwa said:
“This matter has initially been brought to my attention in a letter from the office of the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, dated May 8. Their request is now in a public domain, but the counsel for the petitioners must approach the court with a formal application’’, she added.
Justice Bulkachuwa had assured Nigerians and the international community, at the inaugural sitting, May 8, that the tribunal would adhere to Nigerian Constitution, other relevant statutes and “international best practices.” And added: “Justice will be done to all parties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.
Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP are not taking Justice Bulkachuwa’s words for it. Uche Secondus, National Chairman of PDP, and Umaru Ibrahim Tsuari, National Secretary, in a letter to Justice Bulkachuwa, dated May 8, requested her to rescue herself from the five-member panel.
The letter titled: “A Request To Recuse Yourself From The Panel Hearing Petition No. CA/PEPC/002/2019”, reads in parts: “My Lord, it is no more a secret, that your dear husband, Hon Adamu Mohammed Bulkachuwa, contested the February 23, 2019 election for the position of Senator in Bauchi North Senatorial district and won same on the platform of the All Progressive Congress, APC”.
“This information is not just in the public domain but has dominated both public and private discussions to the extent that it has become a sore source of worry not just for members of our party but to the generality of Nigerians because of your very unique and critical position as the President of the Court of Appeal which is saddled with the sacred responsibility of hearing petitions arising from the presidential election.
“This fear was palpable enough just with you as the President of the Court of Appeal but has now been worsened and compounded by the discovery that you have decided to appoint yourself as chairman of the Panel to hear the petition.
“We are reasoning that, armed with this golden rule of justice as fair hearing and given your direct intimacy through your dear husband, with the APC, one of the parties in this Election petition, your lordship would have exercised your constitutional right and powers guardedly, judiciously and judicially, by excluding yourself from the panel of this honourable court sitting over the particular petition.
“It is based on the above premises, therefore that we are constrained to respectfully request for your Lordship to recuse yourself from presiding over and/or sitting as a member of the panel hearing the instant petition as it would be impossible for your lordship to convince any reasonable man that your dear husband never discussed this petition, which he is patently interested in its outcome with you, throughout the trial.”