In the last one month or so, there has been a series of opinion, articles and commentaries concerning the President of the Court of Appeal and Chairman of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, on her participation in the election tribunal.
The call on her to recuse herself in the ongoing presidential election tribunal is a simple simultaneous equation that has now assumed a quadratic dimension, with all the integers pointing in the direction that she may after all not heed this all important legal call.
This situation is further compounded by the notorious fact that integrity does not count in the political power acquisition process in Nigeria. What politicians do behind closed doors cannot be easily explained when the doors are finally opened. And even the Judiciary that has become frightened and intimidated by the orgy of corruption allegations and trials, is gradually losing its steam.
All the deals, negotiation process, horsetrading, gerrymandering, manipulations, and outright abuse of processes are some of the common lexicons that define the so-called integrity of those political actors in Nigeria.
In a sane society, where the word integrity truly carries its meaning, it will be pointless, flogging Justice Bulkachuwa with horse-whip in order to make her take the integrity pathway. In such saner climes, the interest of the state takes primacy over and above personal or individual interest.
The integrity of the state and the Judiciary is also well cultivated to “live to the true meaning of its creed”. In democratic societies, where the sanctity of elections is guaranteed, integrity runs on the lips of the political players as the common denominator in the electoral process.
In Nigeria, that is fast declining to a lawless and banana republic; we promote sins to high heavens but the sinners are never seen. Everyone is a saint, dressed in puritanical emblem, to live in self-denial.
We see the sinfully sinless souls everyday on the pulpit, be it in churches and mosques, in public places, in government circles and restaurants, in cinemas and public functions, in political gatherings, all singing the integrity chorus but without content and lyrics. But society at some point must recover itself from its self-inflicted malady. It gets to a point when a nation decides to live for public good in the overall interest of the citizenry.
A time to recover the country from its present political halitosis that has twisted its logic and confused its national vision. A time when men should speak up to create the necessary value addition to the narrative of sustaining our democracy.
The presidential election of 2019 has exposed the dubiety of those who claim integrity as their selling point. Evidence has shown that no matter what they voice out, what is central to those power oligarchs is how to acquire political power in a most conscienceless manner, while admonishing the losers to go to court; a refrain that has become the defining underpinning for desperation. Even the courts have become another Augean Stable in the conduct of elections.
The real voter exercises his franchise at the polling unit, the meddlesome interlopers count the votes, the transmitters get the outcome to the collation centres, then another round of election commences in the courts. At the collation point, it is another kettle of fish. A most disturbing scenario usually occurs, which also typifies the level of corruption in the society. It is at the collation point that we see Professors murmur some inaudible words, some develop sight problem unable to read what they have concocted, and yet others unable to justify the processes leading to the figures.
With ASUU on strike, the 2019 election came as a handy meal ticket for some academically lazy professors. When you listen to their presentation, one is inclined to question the validity of their professorial badge.
At the collation point, it is another round of election that drags on till eternity before the “desired” figures are released to suit the “desired” outcome. It takes the uncommon courage of any chairman of the electoral commission to do the ideal against the interest and desire of the ruling party.
In 2015, such uncommon courage came out visibly on the integrity warehouse, and an opposition party took the victory away. Nigeria, for the first time, in its 20 year old democracy, has recorded the highest number of election malpractice litigations. Albeit, an election conducted under a government, that prides itself, as one of integrity and anti-corruption. A number as high as 786 litigations is suggestive of electoral failure, shoddy preparation, manifest manipulation and inconclusive election.
The reason why this is so is very obvious. When the processes leading to the outcome of election are replete with abuses, sharp practices and fraud, those who run for election are bound to raise eyebrow. It is not so much about the outcome, but more of the processes leading to the outcome. Any election that is seen to be credible, free and fair, will not record such huge numbers of litigations. And the increasing figure of litigations has made the courts another platform for electoral contestation.
Elections are now three-pronged; the polling unit, the almighty national collation centre and the court. A victor at the polling unit may have his victory upturned at the collation centre and in some other situations, at the court. A supposed loser can also have his situation reversed at the court and or collation centre. In Nigeria, even when you are sworn in, your victory is not assured. Until you serve out your term of office, there is no respite because there is no rest of mind for anyone who procures victory through fraudulent means. The 2019 presidential election wears such toga.
The outcome does not reflect the wishes of majority of Nigerians, the mood of the country speaks palpably to this notorious fact. This is why the Appeal Court has a huge responsibility on its hands. The president of the Appeal Court, Justice Bulkachuwa, is a person of interest in this matter.
First, it has been established that her husband is a Senator-elect representing Bauchi North Senatorial District on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Her son is reportedly one of the chief campaigners for the APC presidential candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, whose election is being challenged at the tribunal. The APC is a defendant in this tribunal case. By the time you add up all the integers in this simultaneous equation, you will arrive at a threesome interest against the appellant; father, son and mother. The scale of justice becomes easily skewed against the appellant, in this case Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP).
Her being in the panel will automatically lead to a perception crisis, no matter how fair, objective and unbiased she might want to be. In order to remove such doubt, it is incumbent upon her to recuse herself from the process and trial, because the likelihood of her being a card carrying member of APC is very high, since her son and husband are confirmed to be APC members. But her objectivity has become a subject of concern also.
She created an impression, when she declared at the commencement of the proceedings, that no matter how credible elections are conducted, people will always complain. That is exactly the crux of the matter.
Coincidentally, this statement has also been peculiar with the APC. Such statement further aggravates the unsettling feeling of bias among the citizenry. Additionally, such statement places her in a more difficult position. An attempt to untangle herself from the stance adopted by the APC, during campaigns becomes nearly impossible. Thus, it is not surprising, that majority of Nigerians, particularly the opposition party, the PDP, who are the appellant in this case, are of the considered legal opinion that she recuses herself.
The legal test is simple: what would the ordinary man think, when confronted with this scenario? Would the ordinary man perceive that there is bias? If the answer is in the affirmative, I humbly suggest, that Justice Bulkachuwa recuses herself.
She may do so out of her own volition without digging further on the application before her. But in a country where honour, integrity and sins go together, requesting that she recuses herself will not come without a legal battle. It is very clear and manifestly unambiguous that her position as chairman of the tribunal may likely conflict with the interest of her husband and son. Consequently, she must take the road less travelled, where honour and integrity co-habit. This is a fair and reasonable request that if honoured, will at the very least, begin to restore some confidence in a people in dire need of healing.
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