…As tribunal strikes out Atiku, PDP motion
Andrew Orolua , Abuja
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Wednesday in a split decision of four to one of its five man panel of justices struck out the application filed by Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seeking the disqualification of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa from the panel.
But in her dissenting ruling, Justice Bulkachuwa, who is also the President of Court of Appeal, disqualified herself and opted out of the panel on personal reasons.
She said that in view of the controversy the matter had generated, she would rescue herself from the panel.
Delivering the majority ruling, Justice Peter Olabisi Ige, said that the petitioners who filed the application had failed to provide evidence and prove the likelihood of bias they claimed in their application.
The panel had on Wednesday morning after taking arguments and submissions from lawyers representing the parties shifted the ruling till 2pm but could not reconvene until late in the evening.
The applicants through their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, had on May 16, sought private audience with members of the panel and the respondents where he 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 fact that Bulkachuwa’s husband was a top member of All Progressives Congress (APC) and senator- elect from Buachi State, a 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.
During the hearing on Wednesday, the legal teams of the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the APC, filed separate counter-affidavits to oppose the application which they described as unmeritorious.
But 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.