IDEAS Radio 24 May 2019 

Episode 36: Justice Bulkachuwa recuses herself from Presidential Election Tribunal

Rotimi Sankore: Hello and welcome to Countdown 2019 with me Rotimi Sankore on Nigeria Info 99.3.  Sincere apologies, technical problems. We start as usual with the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, we also have in the studio Georges Macnobelson-Idowu, Nigeria Info Politics Editor.  Welcome Ayo and Georges.

Ayo Obe: Hi, hi Rotimi.

Georges Macnobleson-Idowu: Thank you Rotimi.

RS: So, our two big issues on the IDEAS segment, we will lead with Justice Bulkachuwa … 

AO: Bulkachuwa, the President of the Court of Appeal …

RS: … the President of the Court of Appeal that has stepped down from … 

AO: Recused herself.

RS: … recused herself from election tribunal process, stating private reasons, even though the courts ruled that her presence would not impact on … negative … 

AO: Would not affect the integrity or the impartiality of the … 

RS: Yes, but nevertheless, she voluntarily …

AO: Yes, I think that … while I … I mean I have to say that I think there are two different sides to this difficult coin.  Because Justice Bulkachuwa is not the first female judge to have a husband involved in politics, and … or in … and as I’ve mentioned on … in other places, she’s … other judges have had their spouse involved in one thing or the other that might … 

RS: I was going to ask: Is that she is female, or that she’s a spouse?  I don’t think that the problem is that she’s female.

AO: Well it is, because we hardly tend to know the spouses of the male judges, it’s very rare that we know what the spouses of the male judges are involved in, whereas we tend to know what the spouses of the female judges, who they are, and what they are doing.  In fact, it’s not just that sometimes they are prominent in their own right, as was the case of Justice Atinuke Ige, or Justice Mary Odili, or … Justice in fact, Abubakar, Justice Fati Abubakar. They all had husbands who were … 

RS: The wife of the former Military Head of State.

AO:  … of the former Head of State, yes.  They all had husbands who were prominent in their own right, so we tend to know them.  But we, even if we … there would always be that inquiry, that what is the, who is the husband, what is his influence? and so on.  So that people … for example we have Justice Kekere-Ekun in the … Supreme Court. People will be looking to see: Well, what … where the husband’s political sympathies lie, and as it happens in her case, he was somebody who had contributed money to the Atiku …  So that I think that there is a tendency to look at what female judges are likely to do, as if they, their own judicial oath that they took, means less than it does in the case of the male, men

RS: Men

AO: … men, and I think the focus ought to be less perhaps on their agenda and their husbands, but whether or not they are capable of adhering to the judicial oath that they swore to.

RS: Ok, I would say that I agree with that, because on one of our programmes here, Morning CrossFire, when one of the headlines relating to Justice Bulkachuwa was read, I just found it offensive, because it suggested that because she’s a wife, she’s not capable of independent thinking.  And I said: Look, wives are capable of independent thinking, for sure. So that is not the issue. The issue is that she’s a spouse. But that newspaper … put ‘Wife’ so much up front, that it suggested that she was a lesser being because she was a woman … because she is a woman, (sorry), and I just found it outrightly not acceptable  But what, the point you are making now, is also disturbing: that women  justices in this context tend to come under more scrutiny … 

AO: Under more scrutiny, I mean … 

RS:  … than their male colleagues, for precisely the same reason.

AO: Yes, we tend to … I mean we just tend to know that there are judges … and this is at the High Court, at the Court of Appeal, and at the Supreme Court … we tend to know who the husbands and we never, it’s hardly a question when it comes to the male judges, unless the wife of a male judge is particularly prominent, we don’t make that  inquiry. And while I think that Justice Bulkachuwa has taken a decision which, as she says is for personal reasons, and I can sympathise with it, and I can understand it, but at the same time, I feel that there are other precedents whereby female judges have been involved in cases, and will continue to be involved in cases, without their having to stand down because their husbands are connected.  I mean, , look at … there was the former deputy Governor of Lagos State, his wife is a High Court Judge; a former Senior Adviser to Governor Tinubu, his wife is a High Court Judge in Lagos. And I dare say that if we focus on whether they are doing their work as judges, and adhering to their judicial oath, because quite frankly Justice Bulkachuwa stepping down as the … has not quietened those who are baying for blood, rather they have said: Yes, but  she has already constituted the panel, and that quite frankly, as the President of the Court of Appeal she’s in charge of the whole Election Petition, or the election tribunal process, and … so that if we are going to … it’s almost as if throwing a little bit of meat to the sharks, has only enraged them more. So I think that … 

RS: But on the ruling itself, that her presence there would not affect, or not have affected the integrity of the process, is it something that we can look into and see whether that ruling itself is …

AO: I really … I’m not sure there’s a lot of meat in that because the ruling has been given, but the judge herself has decided to step down, and I think that it’s, in a way it may be … you could even take it as a kind of political decision not to allow the opposition to have further ground for undermining or challenging the … impugning the integrity of any decision that might be given by the Court of Appeal, knowing that the matter is going to go to the Supreme  Court, and what are we going to do there? Are we going to start looking at the women judges who have connections to the PDP and start saying that … and start picking and choosing amongst them. It’s something that we have to start from a position of: A judicial oath is taken.

RS: Ok alright.  So, if you’re not following what we are discussing, to summarise the courts ruled that the presence of … the presence of the President of the Court of Appeal

AO: The President of the Court of Appeal … 

RS: President of the Court of Appeal as head of the Election … 

AO: … the Election Tribunal which will hear the petition … 

RS: … for the Presidential election, and whose spouse is an APC Senator-elect, the court ruled that her presence would not affect the integrity.  But nevertheless she resigned for, … she stepped aside for private reasons, she recused herself.

On a related matter which is breaking news and we have to take it quickly before the ad break and maybe even come back to it again, because it is big and it is significant, and Georges will help us with some of the calculations here.  The Supreme Court has ruled today, that in Zamfara State all the APC Candidates from Zamfara State, the Governor, the Senators, the House of Reps, everybody is out … 

AO: That the party did not validly present any candidates, yes …  

RS:  … because there was no primary. 

AO: Yes.

RS: Ok.  So now, the Supreme Court itself had come under X-ray because of the way in which Justice Onnoghen was forced to step out, 

AO: Yes.

RS: … and everyone … that disagreed with it swore that the Supreme Court had been set up to never take … 

AO: … any anti-APC decision.  Same thing that they said about the Independent National Election Commission.  I think that you know, in all of these matters, there are going to be decisions that some parties like and there are going to be decisions that some parties don’t like.  We remember election petitions in 2007: the Supreme Court held that the election conducted with unnumbered ballot papers, you remember they had to rush them in at the last minute because of the determined attempts by President Obasanjo then, to prevent his Vice President Atiku from running, until the Supreme Court said he could run.  There wasn’t enough time to number the ballot papers, and of course, the election was a travesty in terms of integrity, but when it got to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court still upheld the election. So there are going to be some that we like  and there are going to be some that we don’t like. And that in the end, just as in the United States many people looked at the way the Supreme Court decided that hanging chads case and people were not satisfied … 

RS: Hanging chad being the paper that is not properly punctured by the voting machine … 

AO: … yes, the votes that allowed George Bush to become President of the United States.  These are things that we may not like, but in the end we have to decide: Are we going to build a better institution, or are we going to tear it down every time and think that we are going to have something spring up fully formed and perfect if we do that every time.  And I think that in the end, the decisions that are made, they will not satisfy everybody, but we are still at the ‘building of institutions’ stage, and the idea that people will have a decision that they will accept, is an important one.  

RS: Ok.

AO: We may not … we have no idea what will happen with regard to the Presidential election petition, either at the Court of Appeal, or if there’s an appeal to the Supreme Court.

RS: Ok. We have to take an ad break now, when we come back we’ll look at the numbers.