FORMER vice president Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has been advised by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to file a formal request demanding that its chairman Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa resign her position because of fears over a conflict of loyalty.
Under Nigeria’s constitutional arrangement, the court of appeal president presides over the Presidential Elections Tribunal. Justice Bulkachuwa will thus preside over the ongoing legal battle between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP presidential candidate Alhaji Abubakar, as she is the head of Nigeria’s Court of Appeal.
However, Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband Adamu Bulkachuwa, is member of the APC and recently got elected as the senator representing Bauchi North Senatorial District. Consequently, the PDP’s national working committee (NWC) has asked Justice Bulkachuwa to excuse herself from the tribunal that is determining the winner of the February 23 polls.
At a sitting earlier today, however, the election tribunal asked Alhaji Abubakar, to file a formal application asking the Justice Bulkachuwa, to withdraw as a member of the tribunal. Announcing the tribunal’s decision, Justice Bulkachuwa said that the petitioners’ legal team led by Dr Livy Uzoukwu, asked her to stand down as did the PDP national chairman Prince Uche Secondus.
She added that since the matter was already in the public domain, the panel had decided to have the issue treated openly. Responding, Mr Uzoukwu agreed with the decision and said his team would file a formal application to that effect tomorrow.
Justice Bulkachuwa subsequently adjourned the case until May 22 for the hearing of the petitioners’ application. In its letter received to the Court of Appeal’s president’s office in Abuja, on May 9, the PDP had alleged that as the chairman of the five-man panel, Justice Bulkachuwa would likely be biased in the handling of the tribunal’s proceedings because of her ties to family members belonging to the APC.
In its letter, the party also complained that Justice Bulkachuwa could have by a comment she made during the inaugural sitting of the tribunal on Wednesday, prejudged its petition challenging the outcome of the February 23, 2019, presidential election. It stated that Justice Bulkachuwa’s claim in her speech to the effect that there would always be complaints no matter how an election was well-conducted, had rocked its confidence in the panel led by her.