The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is weighing his options on how to get the Court of Appeal to proceed with the hearing of his petition, challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The hearing of the petition suffered a major setback on May 22 when the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, stepped aside from the tribunal’s sitting, after the judicial panel had delivered judgment in a petition in which Atiku and the PDP demanded that she should not be part of the panel due to perceived conflict of interest.
The tribunal, on May 22, had dismissed the petition in which Atiku and the PDP alleged that they might suffer a miscarriage of justice given the fact that Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband, Adamu Bulkachuwa, who is a senator-elect, and her son, Aliyu Abubakar, a governorship aspirant, belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But despite the dismissal of the petition, Justice Bulkachuwa decided to step aside for personal reasons.
However, since her stepping aside, Justice Bulkachuwa has not nominated her replacement at the tribunal, thereby stalling the hearing of the petition. Statutorily, the five-man tribunal is expected to deliver its judgment 180 days from the day the petition is filed. Atiku and the PDP filed their petition against the emergence of President Buhari on March 18.
Justice Bulkachuwa’s delay in naming her replacement prompted Atiku’s lawyers to file a fresh petition last week over what they described as a deliberate ploy to truncate the constitutional deadline for the hearing of his petition.
Sources close to the former vice-president told ThisDay on Wednesday, June 5, that he was considering what other steps to take to get Justice Bulkachuwa to perform her statutory duty.
Among the options Atiku is considering include writing a fresh petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC) or resorting to diplomacy in getting the trial started.
One of the sources who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on the legal team of Atiku, who craved anonymity, said they would wait and see the outcome of their letter before taking any further decisions.
His words: “We have written a letter complaining that there is a delay. So, if we wait for sometimes and no action is taken, we will proceed with the next step, which may involve submitting a fresh petition to the NJC or using diplomatic approach.”
Another source said the PDP’s legal team had not received any response to the letter it wrote to the Appeal Court president, asking her to appoint a replacement. “If there is no response to our letter, a meeting would be called to see what steps to be taken next Just as the meeting decided to write the letter, so another meeting would decide the next option,” the source said.
Also reacting to the delay on the part of Justice Bulkachuwa to appoint her replacement, a lawyer, Kalu Kalu, said she had no choice but to do so. According to him, the delay may be part of a larger plan to delay further hearing of the petition. He, however, advised against going to court to force Justice Bulkachuwa to appoint a replacement.
But Kalu agreed that Atiku could approach the NJC over alleged dereliction of duty on the part of the president of Court of Appeal or still employ some level of diplomacy in handling the matter.
Meanwhile, a political ally of Atiku, Comrade Timi Frank had earlier expressed hope that despite the second term swearing-in ceremony of President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, May 29, the PDP presidential candidate will be declared winner by the judiciary.
According to him, supporters of the former vice president would wait for the Supreme Court’s pronouncement between Buhari and Atiku. “We remain hopeful that the judiciary would restore our stolen mandate,” he said.