Group to Bulkachuwa: Withdraw from Atiku’s election petition
Anti-corruption organisation and judiciary watchdog, Access to Justice, has advised the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to recuse herself from the court’s panel hearing the petitions filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
The petitions are challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, in the February 23 presidential election.
The group said the decision was necessary in order to avoid conflict of interest.
Its position was contained in a statement made available to journalists on Sunday by its convener, Joseph Otteh.
It noted that there were reports suggesting that Bulkachuwa is married to a senator-elect who is a member of the APC.
It said the call for Bulkachuwa’s recusal from the case became even more pressing, against the backdrop of the insinuation that the ruling APC hounded the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, out of office to seize control of the judiciary ahead of post-election litigation.
The group said, “In ordinary circumstances, there would be no question of whether the President of the Court of Appeal can, or should participate in tribunals adjudicating election petitions involving her spouse’s party, but these are no ordinary or normal times.
“The Nigerian judiciary is facing very heightened levels of public scrutiny, and the performances of some judicial bodies have raised red flags concerning judicial independence and integrity.
“There are now far more than normal anxieties about the judiciary’s strength of character. Many keen observers of the judiciary are already worried that the judiciary has been overawed by the government given, particularly, the example of the bizarre way the removed Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was ‘guillotined’ by a supposedly ‘judicial’ body.
“Maybe at some time in the future, it will not be a problem for a Justice of the Court of Appeal to adjudicate cases where his or her spouse has some immediate or remote interest, but at this time, there will be conflicting perceptions, even of reasonable people, given the prevailing context, of whether justice will impartially be done in such a case.
“And justice, as Nigerian courts have said over and over again, is based on the perception of reasonable people more than (even) the purity of a judge’s conscience.” Punch