Bulkachuwa: Judges Married To Politicians Won’t Influence Justice Delivery.

Legal luminaries have declared that the fact that some judges are married to top politicians does not necessarily obstruct the dispensation of justice to aggrieved citizens. They made this assertion yesterday following the request by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the Court of Appeal president, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to recuse herself from the presidential election petition tribunal hearing Alhaji Atiku’s challenge of the outcome of the last presidential election won by President Muhammadu Buhari. The PDP had based its argument on the fact that  Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband , Adamu Mohammed Bulkachwa, is a  senator-elect for Bauchi North Senatorial district on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). 

In a letter to Justice Bulkachuwa on Thursday, the PDP insisted that her family interest – her husband belonging to and supporting the president’s party – would impede the wheel of justice for the PDP quest to obtain justice from a tribunal she heads. However, legal practitioners who spoke on the matter contended that the PDP does not have the legal backing to demand that the Appeal Court President withdraw from the five-man panel of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

The lawyers, mostly professors of law and senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) told LEADERSHIP Weekend in separate interviews that the PDP petition was neither backed by the provisions of the Judicial Code of Conduct nor the 1999 Constitution, as amended. They averred that none of the relations of Justice Bulkachuwa or those of his husband are parties in the presidential election suit before her, just as her husband is not among the litigants. The hearing in the presidential election petition, they said, had just started and there is nothing she or the panel she is presiding over has done that  showed bias or amounted to denial of fair hearing  against the PDP, which could have been part of the basis for the petition. 

The lawyers held that litigants cannot chose for themselves the judges that should sit in their matters, just as the PDP cannot be availed the privilege they sought since, they further held, it is never done where the rule of law prevails. The senior lawyers recalled that the same Justice Bulkachuwa had adjudicated on matters involving PDP and other opposition parties in the past and no bias allegation was raised, noting that this call by the PDP smacks of mischief and desperation on its part. The lawyers said Senator-elect Adamu Bulkachuwa did not just become a politician overnight, as he was first a PDP member in the House of Representatives and later became a senator under All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) while his spouse, Justice Bulkachuwa, was elevated from her position as a Chief Judge to the position of Justice of the Court of Appeal. 

They said while sitting as a justice of the appellate court, she participated and presided over many high profile political cases and there was no complaint from any quarters that her spouse was a politician. They particularly cited the case of Usman Abubakar (Young Alhaji) Vs Senator David Mark in which Justice Bulkachuwa, who presided over the case at the Court of Appeal in Jos, Plateau State, affirmed Mark’s election and the PDP hailed the judgment in complimentary terms, without raising any objection as to the political affiliation of her spouse. Curiously, Young Alhaji and Adamu Bulkachuwa, they said, belonged to the same party then. Consequently, they asked the judiciary and National Judicial Council (NJC) to ignore PDP’s demand or petition because even if a substitute is introduced, PDP will still find something wrong in the person due to its level of desperation.

 They, however, noted it was up to Justice Bulkachuwa to decide whether to recuse herself or not; otherwise there is no law that mandates her to recuse herself simply because her husband belongs to a party whose members are in dispute with members of another party. Speaking on the matter, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) said, “There is no connection, no relationship that can be found in judges’ code of conduct or in law. Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband is a senator-elect; he is entirely in his own business; he is not the one in the court; it is not that Justice Bulkachuwa’s relation is a party in the suit before her. That his husband, who was a former member of the PDP, is now in the APC is not enough ground to recuse herself in a matter involving members of either party. ‘’This smacks of desperation, absolute display of political hooliganism and mischief which the PDP began to exhibit since it lost the presidential election. It is as if they have lost everything including their senses; there is nothing they have not been attacking. 

They see everything good belonging to the other side as the cause of their travails or loss in the election. Sagay urged the Judiciary to ignore the party’s complaint  “because even if you bring a substitute, PDP will still find something wrong in the person. ‘’This tells how bad PDP’s case is: when you feel you have a bad case, that is the kind of madness you will descend to if you are as well desperate. Since I was born, I’ve never witnessed this level of expressions of bitterness and desperation by a set of people. If truly it is all about service to Nigeria, why will they have to go to this extremity with expression of bitterness over their loss in an election. They must be ignored,” he added. A Nigerian professor of public law and president of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) said, ‘’This is a very sensitive issue which I cannot just dabble into by making comments. The matter is already before the court and it is only the judge that can evaluate it properly and do what is right. ‘’I know Justice Bulkachuwa very well; she’s person of high repute and integrity. She is highly uncompromising and I am confident she will do what is right based on the facts brought before her by the PDP.”

 On his part, Emeka Ngige (SAN) said, ‘’Issue of bias or likelihood of bias is a constitutional matter anchored on the right to fair hearing. Hon Justice Bulkachuwa’s position is an invidious one having regard to the office which she occupies and the expectation that she should be beyond reproach. She is unfortunately vulnerable to attacks because her spouse is a practicing politician. ‘’I believe there ought to be a holistic review by NJC on issue of judicial officers whose spouses are politicians participating, handling or presiding over political cases. Senator-elect Adamu Bulkachuwa did not just become a politician overnight. He was a PDP member in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003, and later became a senator under ANPP while his spouse, Hon Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, was elevated from her position as a Chief Judge  in 1998 to the position of Justice of Court of Appeal.   “While sitting as a justice of the appellate court, she participated and presided over many high profile political cases and there was no protest by PDP that her spouse is a politician. One of the notable cases which she presided in 2008 or thereabouts was the case of Usman Abubakar (Young Alhaji) Vs Senator David Mark. In that particular case the election of Senator David Mark was affirmed by the court of appeal and PDP hailed the judgment in complimentary terms; they did not raise any objection as to the political affiliation of her spouse. 

Today the table appeared to  have changed; she’s now being pressured  to recuse herself because of her spouse’s membership of APC. So you can see the double standards by the political class. ‘’Be that as it may, the issue of judicial officers with politically active spouses calls for the intervention of the NJC. I believe time has come for NJC to issue  some holistic guidelines for judicial officers married to politicians. The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) ought to be in the forefront for the articulation of these guidelines but, unfortunately, the association has lost focus and is now in coma;  otherwise, it ought to have recommended some draft guidelines  to NJC. “I sincerely believe that judicial officers married to politicians should be insulated from political cases, particularly election petitions and appeals arising therefrom. 

These judicial officers can’t be blamed  simply because they are married to politicians spouses, but public interest requires that they do not get involved in these political cases. ‘’So the issue must be comprehensively reviewed by the appropriate authorities or bodies. I will not say  PDP has no right to raise the objection  against the PCA (president  of court of Appeal) and neither will I blame the President of the Court of Appeal for presiding over the presidential election petition case when she is married to a politically exposed person. “It’s not unusual for serving presidents of court of appeal to preside over such high profile election cases. It’s my hope she will dispassionately treat the issues raised in the PDP letter and come to a reasonable and fair decision. May God guide her aright in taking a decision on the issue.” Another lawyer, Barr Abanika Muktar, who weighed in with his own perspective, faulted PDP’s position and advised the party to focus its resources in proving its case at the tribunal. “The PDP’s petition is historical and the first of its kind. Several spouses of sitting judges have been participating or holding political offices without this sort of objection raised in the first place. ‘’Going by PDP’s assumption, Justice Eberechi Wike should have been transferred out of Rivers State where her husband is a state governor. That should have been the case with Justices Mary Odili, Binta Nyako, Maryann Anenih, The late Justice Ogundare of blessed memory and Justice Adekeye who were husband and wife respectively made it to the Supreme Court just as former Chief Judge of Niger State, Justice Fati Abubakar’s husband, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was a head of state. Justice Rosaline  Bozimo’s husband was appointed by former President Obasanjo as Minister of Police Affairs. “Justice K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun’s husband is an APC chieftain in Lagos State, yet she delivered the Supreme Court lead judgement that affirmed Governor Wike’s election in 2016 even after the same election had been annulled by both the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. ‘’The PDP’s petition lacks legal backing: it is not supported by provisions of the judicial code of conduct and the constitution. It is as well not supported by historical examples. They should rather expend their energies in strengthening their case at the election petition tribunal instead of wasting their 180 days’ provision,” Muktar stated.