The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on Friday told the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja that President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa’s close family ties to top members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would hinder her from handling the proceedings of the tribunal without bias.
The party said her husband Adamu Bulkachuwa won a senatorial seat in the National Assembly poll on the platform of the APC, while her son, Aliyu Haidar Abubakar, campaigned for President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the February 23 presidential poll and was also a governorship aspirant of the party in Gombe state.
They claimed Bulkachuwa who heads the five-man presidential election petition tribunal cannot fairly hear and determine the instant petition without eliciting the suspicion and anxiety of all right-thinking persons.
The petitioners insisted on Justice Bulkachuwa disqualifying herself as a member and head of the tribunal.
Demanding her replacement on the panel, they urged her to rescue herself from further participation in the proceedings of the tribunal.
The affidavit deposed to by the Deputy National Secretary of the PDP, Emmanuel Agbo, filed in support of the motion read in part,
“I know that as a spouse of Adamu Bulkachuwa, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa is so closely related to Adamu Bulkachuwa that she cannot fairly hear and determine the instant petition without eliciting the suspicion and anxiety of all right thinking persons, including myself.”
“The Court of Appeal has more than 80 justices who are able and competent to participate in the hearing and determination of the extant petition in the absence of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.
“I also know that her biological son, Aliyu Haidar Abubakar is a card-carrying member of the 3rd respondent (APC) and he contested the governorship primary election of the 3rd respondent in Gombe State.
“Attached hereto and marked Exhibit 2 is a printout made today from the Facebook page named Aliyu Haidar Abubakar Volunteer Group containing his campaign posters, photographs and various posts showing his campaign messages for himself and the 2nd respondent, both of whom contested on the platform of the 3rd respondent.
“I also attach hereto and marked Exhibit 3 a printout of a Daily Post online news publication in which Aliyu Abubakar was prominently featured as the son of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa and who contested the governorship primary of Gombe State on the platform of the 3rd respondent.”
They added that Bauchi State, which was one of the three senatorial districts Bulkachuwa’s husband would be representing at the Senate when sworn in, “is one of the focal states in which the petitioners/applicants have all alleged that electoral infractions occurred”.
They therefore sought
“an order that Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President of the Court of Appeal, and the presiding justice of the panel hearing petition numbered CA/PEPC/2019 be recused from further sitting or participating in the proceedings in this petition and be replaced by another justice of this honourable court to sit in her place to hear and determine the petition”.
Bulkachuwa, who led a five-man panel of the tribunal during Wednesday’s proceedings had directed the petitioners to file a formal application that would be heard and ruled upon in the open court.
In a letter signed by its National Chairman, Uche Secondus, and it’s National Secretary, Umaru Tsauri, the PDP complained that Bulkachuwa could have by a comment she made during the inaugural sitting of the tribunal on May 8 prejudged its petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election.
It stated that 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.
Secondus and the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, attended Wednesday’s proceedings.
Bulkachuwa appeared to have initially overlooked the earlier letter sent by the PDP asking her to withdraw from the panel until the petitioners’ lead counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), requested a meeting between the panel members and the representatives of the legal teams of the parties to the case on Wednesday.
Uzoukwu made the request for the meeting shortly after lawyers announced their appearances at the beginning of Wednesday’s proceedings.
The lawyers representing the respondents – Independent National Electoral Commission, President Muhammadu Buhari and APC – did not oppose the request for the meeting.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) led Buhari’s legal team, while Mr Yunus Usman (SAN) led the INEC’s team, and Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) APC’s team.
Ten lawyers, with two representing each of the PDP, Atiku, INEC, Buhari and the APC met with the panel members in chambers.
At the end of the meeting, Bulkachuwa while announcing the decision of the panel following the meeting with the lawyers, said Uzoukwu requested that she should recuse herself from the panel at the meeting.
She said the request by Uzoukwu was based on the reasons cited by the PDP in its letter earlier sent to her on May 9.
She said since the matter was already in the public domain, the panel had decided to have the issue treated openly.
Uzoukwu said on Wednesday his team would file a formal application to that effect on Thursday.
The respondents’ lawyers said they would need time to respond to the application.
The tribunal then directed the petitioners to file their application and adjourned till May 22 for its hearing.
In compliance with the directive, the motion signed by a member of the petitioners’ legal team, Prof Maxwell Gidado (SAN), was filed on Thursday.
The motion was served on the three respondents on Friday, and the respondents are expected to file their replies to the motion on Monday.
The petition jointly filed by Atiku and the PDP is one of the four filed before the tribunal to challenge Buhari’s victory at the poll.