The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has petitioned the Court of Appeal over what he described as a deliberate ploy to truncate the constitutional deadline for the hearing of his petition challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the last presidential election.
He expressed worry in a letter dated May 31, 2019 that 11 days after the President of the Court of Appeal and erstwhile Chairperson of the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, disqualified herself from the tribunal, following the petition of the PDP and the Atiku/Obi’s legal team, the appellate court is yet to name her replacement.
The PDP and Atiku had based their application, among other things, on the ground that Bulkachuwa is the wife of Mr. Adamu Bulkachuwa, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and senator-elect for Bauchi North senatorial district, which is a political party involved in the suit.
However, in delivering the lead ruling on the application, Justice Peter Ige, said enough materials had not been presented before the court to show that Justice Bulkachuwa would be biased in the hearing and deciding on the petition.
He said the fact that being married to a senator-elect, who along with her son, is in the APC, would not lead to any bias in the case.
Bulkachuwa, however, withdrew from the tribunal for personal reasons after the court dismissed the application by the PDP and its candidate, asking her to recuse herself from the tribunal.
But Atiku in the letter through his counsel, urged the President of the Court of Appeal to appoint a replacement forthwith, since it knows the tribunal has a timeline to prosecute the petitions.
Atiku reminded the Appeal Court that already, 76 days have been expended out of the 180 days allowed by law, as stipulated in Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act (2010 as amended).
The petition stated: “I am one (Silas Joseph) of the counsel in the legal team prosecuting the above petition on behalf of the Petitioners.
“I have the authority of the Lead Counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), to write this letter. My Lord will recall that on May 22, 2019, the above-mentioned petition came up for a motion requesting that My Lord to recuse herself from further presiding or participating in this petition. At the end of the proceedings, My Lord graciously recused herself on ‘personal grounds’ and promised to appoint another justice to continue with the petition.
“My Lord, it is nine days since the date My Lord recused herself and nothing has been heard regarding the replacement that was to be made thereafter.
“Considering the strict requirement of keeping to the constitutional calendar for a petition and the obvious fact that time is also running fast against the petitioners. We pray My Lord to act timeously in appointing a replacement so that we will get a hearing notice and continue with the petition in the interest of justice.”