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Court of Appeal President ShouldReconsider Her Participation in the Election Petition Tribunal in the PDP v. APC case, Taking Full Account of Current Climate of Public Trust in Judiciary

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Access to Justice Media Advisory 

Date: 12 May 2019

Of late, there have been strong speculations that the Buhari government is heavily invested in efforts to achieve the best possible outcomes from electoral courts in any election litigation involving the ruling partythrough any means possible. Many believe this is the reason the government worked hand in glove with the Code of Conduct Tribunal and removed Justice Walter Onnoghen from office as Chief Justice of Nigeria applying bizarre legal procedures. The dust has not settled from that incident. 

The Court of Appeal President, Hon. Justice ZainabAdamu Bulkachuwa is reportedly married to a Senator of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party and the she has not publicly denied this claim. We note that the Court of Appeal President is not however sitting on an election petition involving her spouse personally but that involving her spouse’s political party and platform.  

In ordinary circumstances, there would be no question of whether the President of the Court of Appeal can, or should participate in tribunals adjudicating election petitions involving her spouse’s party. But these are no ordinary or normal times. The Nigerian judiciary is facing very heightened levels of public scrutiny, and the performance of some judicial bodies have raised red flags concerning judicial independence and integrity. There are now far more than normal anxieties about the Judiciary’s strength of character. Many keen observers of the Judiciary are already worried that the Judiciary has been overawed by the government given,particularly, the example of the bizarre way the removed Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was “guillotined” by a supposedly “judicial” body.

Given the present context, it may be difficult for judicial officers to bank on the moral capital of the Judiciary as an institution as a basis of comfort when they sit on cases where some familial, fiduciary or other interests are implicated, for the stock value of that capital has descended a few notches over time and survives mostly through its clichés than its substance. Maybe at some time in the future, it will not be a problem for a Justice of the Court of Appeal to adjudicate cases where his or her significant other has some immediate or remote interest, but, at this time, there will be conflicting perceptions, even of reasonable people, given the prevailing context, of whether justice will impartially be done in such a case. And justice, as Nigerian courts have said over and over again, is based on the perception of reasonable people more than (even) the purity of a Judge’s conscience.  

Access to Justice urges the President of the Court of Appeal to re-consider her membership of the tribunal hearing the election petition against the declared winner of the 2019 elections, not because she will not be a fair-minded and impartial Justice, but because the perceptions of reasonable members of the public matter the more.   

Joseph Otteh,

Convener, Access to Justice.

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