The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has petitioned the president of the Court of Appeal, Zainab Bulkachuwa, to withdraw from the five-member panel of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
The PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, filed a petition in March 2019 against the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the February 23 presidential election.
Bulkachuwa presided over the five-member panel of the court that conducted the opening of the petition's pre-hearing in Abuja on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
In a letter dated May 8 and addressed to Bulkachuwa's office by the main opposition party, it requested the judge to recuse herself from the panel because she's the wife of Adamu Bulkachuwa who was recently elected the Bauchi North Senator on the platform of Buhari's ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The PDP remarked that it was extremely surprised by the development because it was another judge, Justice Abdul Aboki, who presided over a previous ex-parte application regarding the petition on March 7.
The party said it's worrying that she has decided to appoint herself the chairman of the panel despite that members of her family, especially her husband, are active members of the APC which is a respondent in the suit.
The party also expressed dismay with the judge's comment on Wednesday when she mentioned that there are bound to be complaints no matter how well an election is conducted in Nigeria. The party said the comment rocked its confidence in a panel presided over by her to determine the fate of an election she might already consider to be very well conducted.
"The question then is how can a petitioner convince Your Lordship otherwise over an election, which in Your Lordship's opinion, was very well 'conducted'?"
The party further commented that the judge should have adhered by another one of her comments where she said that judges sitting in the panel must be divested from all forms of bias.
The party said, "We are reasoning that, armed with this golden rule of justice and fair hearing and given your direct intimacy, through your dear husband, with the APC, one of the parties in this election petition, Your Lordship, would have exercised your constitutional right and powers guardedly, judiciously and judicially, by excluding yourself from the panel of this honourable court's sitting over this particular petition.
"This is the only way you could have divested yourself from all forms of bias and be seen to be fair, both to yourself, our party, that is contesting against your husband's party in this petition, and indeed, all Nigerians, who are keenly interested in the just, transparently impartial and unbiased determination of this petition over an election which outcome obviously did not respect their wishes as expressed through their votes."
The party asked her to recuse herself because it would be impossible to convince anyone that she'd never discuss the petition, throughout the trial, with her husband who is interested in its outcome.
"This is so because justice must not only be done but must be manifestly seen to be done," the party said.
The petition was signed by party chairman, Uche Secondus, and its national secretary, Senator Umaru Tsauri.
Atiku vs Buhari
INEC crowned Buhari winner of the February 23 election with 15,191,847 of the total votes cast while Atiku gained 11,262,978 votes.
However, in a petition filed before the tribunal, Atiku claimed that he actually won the election with 1.6 million more votes than Buhari according to an internal compilation of results he claimed was obtained from INEC's server.
According to the result obtained from the INEC server as claimed by Atiku in his petition, the former vice president actually scored 18,356,732 votes while Buhari scored 16,741,430 votes. This does not include results from Rivers State which had allegedly not been transmitted at the time Atiku claims the data was captured.
While filing its response before the tribunal on April 11, INEC accused Atiku and the PDP of producing fake election results to prove their case.
"INEC specifically denies the existence of electronic transmission of results and it is unknown to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)," the commission noted in its response.
Atiku also accused Buhari of not possessing the educational qualification to contest, alleging that he submitted false academic documents to INEC to aid his qualification.
In their counter to Atiku's petition, Buhari and the APC said the former vice president is not qualified to contest for the presidency because he was born in Adamawa State at a time when it was Northern Cameroon before it voted during a 1961 referendum to align with Nigeria.
The pre-hearing session of PDP's petition will commence on May 15.