The President of the Court of Appeal and Chairman of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, withdrew yesterday from the petiton filed by Atiku Abubakar and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Atiku and the PDP are challenging the outcome of the February 23 election won by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
They alleged, in a motion, that Justice Bulkachuwa was likely to be biased because her husband and son are members of the APC.
In a ruling, the five-man PEPT rejected Atiku’s and his party’s motion for being unmeritorious.
But, Justice Bulkachuwa elected to exclude herself from the tribunal on personal grounds.
In the lead ruling, Justice Olabisi Ige was of the view that the relationship between Justice Bulkachuwa and her husband, Adamu Bulkachuwa, who is a senator-elect, and her son Aliyu Abubakar, a governorship aspirant (both as members of the APC) was not sufficient to conclude that she would be biased in the handling of the case.
Justice Ige held that no inference of likelihood of bias could be made from the speech delivered by Justice Bulkachuwa at the inaugural sitting of the tribunal on May 8, to conclude that she had pre-judged the petitioners’ petition.
The judge noted that neither the husband nor the son was joined as a party to the petition and that neither of them was accused of any wrong doing in the petition filed by Atiku and his party.
Justice Ige equally noted that neither of the two men had been listed as part of APC’s witnesses in the petition.
He added: “To the petitioners/applicants, the above remark appears to them that the President of this court and Presiding Justice of this panel had already pre-judged the presidential election as well-conducted and that this petition is one of the complaints that come up, no matter how well election is conducted.
“I am of the solemn view that no such inference is discernible from the above quoted statement. The entire speech ought to be read as a whole in order to truly discover what the content of the inaugural speech portrayed.
“Concerning the complaints of the petitioners/applicants to the extent that the affinity between the Honourable President of this court will engender a likelihood of bias on the part of the Honourable President of this court, if she remains the Presiding Justice, I am of the firm view, that enough materials have not been placed before this court to show that the Presiding Justice of this panel is likely to be biased against the petitioners/applicants in the hearing and determination of the petition.
“I am of the view that the fact that the Honourable President of this court is the wife of Honourable Adamu Mohammed Bulkachuwa and the mother of Aliyu Haidir Abubakar are not weighty enough to impute likelihood of bias against the President of the Court of Appeal.
“The two of them are not parties to the petition before us, and have not shown to be listed as witnesses of the 3rd respondent (APC) in the petition before us.
“There is no allegation made against the spouse or the son of the Honourable President of this court in the petition of the petitioners/applicants. Their relationship with the Presiding Justice of this panel is not at all capable of causing likelihood of bias against any of the parties in the petition.
“The full court has been empanelled consisting of five Justices of this court, in full appreciation of the importance of due process and just dispensation of justice in the hearing and determination of this case relating to the presidential election, notwithstanding that the court will be duly constituted if it consists at least three Justices of the Court of Appeal.
“I have deeply ruminated over the affidavit evidence filed in support and against the application of the petitioners/applicants and the various submissions of the various learned counsel to the parties in this petition and I am of the view that the petitioners/applicants have not been able to positively establish the need for the Honourable President of this court and the Presiding Justice of this panel to recuse herself from further sitting or participating in the proceedings in this petition.
“Consequently, the petitioners’ application fails and it is hereby dismissed,” Justice Ige said.
Other members of the tribunal, including Justice Bulkachuwa, agreed with Justice Ige’s position in the lead ruling.
Shortly after the tribunal’s ruling was concluded, Justice Bulkachuwa said: “I am recusing myself from the panel for personal reasons”.
Justice Bulkachuwa said it was gratifying that the issue was resolved “based on the facts and the law” so that “another female judge will no longer have to face what I have faced”.
The President of the Court of Appeal assured all that a new presiding Justice would be appointed for the panel, but that the four remaining members would continue with the hearing of the preliminary applications pending the appointment of the new head of the panel.
No date was however chosen for further proceedings. The court’s registry will issue a fresh hearing notice on parties.
Lawyers in the case, including Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) for the petitoners; Wole Olanipekun (SAN) for the Buhari, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) for the APC, and Yunus Usman (SAN) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), praised Justice Bulkachuwa for her decision.
Olanipekun said the decision had saved the judiciary from an embarrassment.
Uzokuwku said his team filed the application interest to protect the right of their clients.
He added that the application was “never personal”, adding that it was carefully done “to respect the institution”.
Buhari and the APC had, in their separate responses to the motion filed by the PDP and Atiku, argued that the decision about whether or not Justice Bulkachuwa should withdraw her membership of the five-man panel set up to hear the petition by Atiku and the PDP was not for them to make.
In court documents they filed, in response to the motion by Atiku and the PDP, seeking Justice Bulkachuwa’s withdrawal from the case, Buhari and the APC argued that the decision was entirely that of the Court of Appeal President.
In the document filed for Buhari by his team of lawyers,led by Olanipekun (SAN), it was argued that although Justice Bulkachuwa, as the Court of Appeal President, reserves the constitutional powers to determine the composition of all election tribunals nationwide, the choice was for her to make whether or not to accede to the request by Atiku and the PDP that she recuse herself.
In the document filed for the APC by its Fagbemi-led legal team, it was argued that the reasons given by Atiku and the PDP to demand Justice Bulkachuwa’s withdrawal were mere blackmail.
The APC, however, urged Justice Bulkachuwa to protect her name and integrity by withdrawing her further participation in the hearing of the petitions by Atiku and PDP.
Fagbemi, APC’s lead lawyer, noted that it was fast becoming the norm to litigants to query the integrity of any judge they are not comfortable with.
He said: “As it is fast becoming the norm, and regrettably so, this is another havoc wreaked on the finest Nigerian jury.
“This is not the first time this is happening. Just recently, Justice Oyewole, whose immortal contribution was acknowledged by the counsel for the applicants a while ago, was written against not to be allowed to sit on the appeal panel on the Osun State governorship election petition.
“Nebulous as ‘likelihood of bias’ is, it has its own boundaries. The exhortation in all the authorities that have been cited recognise that each case will have to be dealt with on its own merit.
“The matter before the court has nothing to do with governorship or National Assembly elections. Whatever the constitution of a political party is, it is the Constitution of the country that is supreme.
“And nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution that the President is allowed to remove a governor or a member of the National Assembly.
“My conclusion, with respect, is that the application is blackmail. On the facts and the law, the application is most unmeritorious.
“But, with respect, next year, your lordship, the President of the Court of Appeal, will be bowing out gloriously by God’s grace.
“Your name, either the one you acquired before you got married or the one you acquired after you got married, none is for you alone.
“You hold them in trust and you have been blessed – being the first female President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria.
“My lord, your youthful look may confuse one. You are old enough to be my mother. My lord, if you are standing in as my parent, I will say, Mum, leave the matter,” Fagbemi said.
Exams postponed in Ekiti University after students protest
A protest by students of Ekiti State University, (EKSU), Ado Ekiti, has forced management to postpone the first semester examinations which were originally scheduled to begin on Monday, June 17.
In a news release issued on Sunday night and signed by the Registrar of the institution, Akin Arogundade, the new date for the examinations is now Monday, July 1.
The postponement according to the statement is to ensure security of lives and property on campus and its environs.
It failed to dwell on the effect of an earlier protest by students as a possible cause of the shift.
“Consequently, all academic activities on campus has been postponed until Monday, July 1, 2019, while students are expected back on campus on Sunday, June 30, 2019,” the statement said.
It directed all students preparing for exams to ensure payment of all necessary fees, as evidence of payment would be used for clearance and examination permit.
“The University community, parents, and guardians are assured of adequate security on campus as well as the safety of staff and students,” it said.
NAN recalls that the students held a peaceful protest early on Sunday to criticise the sudden fixing of the examinations without adequate lectures.
The protesters were also worried that many students might be denied participation as the data system had yet to capture all who had cleared their tuition. (NAN)
Presidency reacts to EU report on Nigeria’s 2019 elections
The presidency has welcomed the report of the European Union (EU) on the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, promising to analyse it fully and act on the recommendations in the best interest of the country.
Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, made this position known in a statement in Abuja on Saturday.
Mr Shehu noted that the EU observers were invited to the country by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and welcomed by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He stated that this action was a clear indication of the administration’s good intentions, commitment to a purely democratic process and desire to improve on the next elections.
The EU noted in their report that there were marked improvements from previous elections, although stating that more work needed to be done.
”The administration of President Buhari will work with all Nigerian citizens, state institutions, parties, civil society, the media and other experts to make sure that the improvements recommended by the EU are implemented, and that these areas of concern are addressed.
”It is noteworthy that INEC is in receipt of a number of recommendations that form a part of the EU report.
”The Presidency assures that the Commission is in safe hands and happy that they are currently engaged in root and branch reviews of the 2019 general elections and will input lessons learned into its recommendations for electoral and constitutional reforms.
”We believe that the commission conducted a good election and will continue to improve on its processes and procedures,” he said.
While it is regretted that the elections in a few parts of the country witnessed some violence, among other shortcomings highlighted by the EU, Mr Shehu said none of these hitches affected the overall outcome of the elections.
He said: ”Thankfully, EU did not question the results of the presidential election.
”For instance, on page 3 in its Executive Summary, the EU said: ‘positively, the elections were competitive, parties were overall able to campaign and civil society enhanced accountability’.’’
He said that the report also acknowledged that INEC made a number of improvements, including making electoral participation more accessible through simplified voting procedures.
According to the report, INEC made efforts to strengthen electoral integrity by issuing regulations making smart card readers mandatory.
Mr Shehu observed that on page 4 of the report, the EU noted that the elections were competitive with a large number of candidates for all seats although the competition was primarily between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.
He said the report further noted that ”parties and candidates were overall able to campaign, with freedoms of assembly, expression and movement broadly respected.
”On Page 5, the report noted that the EU EOM media monitoring over 46 days showed federal government-owned media’s commitment to balanced election coverage.
”It said that positively in almost all observations party agents received copies of the results forms, adding that the National Collation Centre for the presidential election was open to party agents and observers, and was continuously televised.
”Again on page 37, the report said the national collation centre for the presidential results was open to party agents, observers and the media with each state’s results projected on a large screen.”
The presidential aide added that the report acknowledged that there was continuous live television coverage and the media published the results as announced by INEC, thereby increasing access to results information.
He further noted that Page 41 under section ‘RESULTS AND STAKEHOLDER REACTION’, EU said: ‘‘YIAGA Africa announced that the results were consistent with its parallel vote tabulation that INDEPENDENTLY projected the results based on a sample of 1,515 polling units.
”The two leading parties won 96.8% of the valid votes between them.’’
According to him, this is further proof that the polls reflected the overall will of Nigerians, and that the world is solidly behind the election of President Buhari for a second term.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) in Nigeria had on Saturday briefed newsmen on the EU EOM’s report.
The Deputy Chief Observer for the EU, Hannah Roberts, addressed the news conference in Abuja, while Maria Arena, EU Chief Observer had earlier presented a final report with recommendations for electoral reforms.
The EU report prioritised seven recommendations of the 30, one of which was that Nigeria should Strengthen INEC procedures for the collation of results to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.
Another recommendation was that electoral tribunals cover pre-election cases in order to improve access to remedy and to avoid petitions being taken to different courts at the same time.
During the news conference, Hannah Roberts had said the EU EOM knew nothing about the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) server that was allegedly used to transmit results of the 2019 general elections.
The main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had claimed that an INEC server was used to transmit results of the election.
Suicide: NAFDAC announces plan to further regulate Sniper
The Nigerian government may direct a change in the package of ‘Sniper’, an agro-chemical that has increasingly become a choice killer for persons contemplating suicide, an official said.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said it is partnering with other relevant bodies on this as part of plans to discourage the use of Sniper as a tool for suicide.
This is in response to calls for a check on the proliferation and ease of access to Sniper in markets and streets across the nation.
According to Vanguard Newspaper, the Director General of NAFDAC, Christiana Adeyeye, said Sniper containers “could now be made very difficult to open, or may be turned into a spray rather than the liquid contents it is known for.”
The suicide rate has increased in Nigeria with Sniper among the agents popularly used.
Notable among the reported incidents is that of a 400-level student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Chukwuemeka Akachi.
That was before Ayomide and Ajani Damilola of the University of Lagos were reported to have killed themselves using the insecticide following the accusations that they stole clothes in their hostel.
Another 32-year-old banker and mother of two, identified as Peace, of Ughelli, Delta State, committed suicide over her husband’s alleged infidelity. She also took Sniper.
Sniper: An easy killer?
The ease of access to Sniper despite its wrong use has become a worry for many Nigerians.
Bottles of Sniper can be picked up easily on the streets as they are sold openly in the market.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the method used for 20 per cent of global suicides was through pesticide self-poisoning and they mostly occur in developing countries.
Suicide victims appear to find gulping the liquid content of the agro-chemical inside a white container an easier route out.
But experts argue that it is easier to die by a bullet on the forehead than to face the agony that follows after drinking sniper.
Mrs Adeyeye also discouraged the use of Sniper and other agro-chemicals for the preservation of food as they contain substances harmful to the human body.
“We also decry poor handling of foods in Nigeria by producers and sellers, because the populace and consumers are being exposed unduly to health risks from contaminants.
“The use of unapproved insecticides such as Sniper for the preservation of grains by unauthorised persons, the use of containers contaminated with hazardous chemicals such as fertilizer bags for grains or chemical drums and jerry cans for food storage are classic examples of a common practice among the market men and women due to ignorance,” the NAFDAC chief said.
Why Nigerians use Sniper indoors
Sniper is a DDVP, 2,2-Dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate compound, marketed in Nigeria by Swiss-Nigerian Chemical Company, as a synthetic organophosphorus. Many Nigerians have, however, converted it to an indoor insecticide.
Sniper is predominantly used as an insecticide because of its effectiveness in killing insects better than well-established brands of insecticide.
The demand is also fuelled by its affordability. A 100ml of sniper goes for between N200 and N300 while its competitors cost as much as N750 for 100ml.
“However, Nigerians may be paying a heavier price with their health in the long term, if the trend is left unchecked”, a microbiologist, Fatima Ahmed, explained.
“The instruction on Sniper says apply diluted portions to crops and there’s a ‘withdrawal’ time in which the crop should not be consumed so the active ingredient degrades to minimal level before consumption. Now compare this minute concentration to drinking from the original sniper bottle,” she noted in the report.
According to her, health experts have raised concerns over the indiscriminate use of Sniper pesticide in the control of mosquitoes, cockroaches and other household insects.
“They warned on its dangerous effects, especially to respiratory organs and even carcinogenic risks. A person may be exposed to the associated risk of Sniper through inhalation, absorption via the skin, ingestion, and eye contact.”
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