The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has fixed 2pm on Wednesday to rule on an application filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, asking the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to withdraw her membership of the five-man panel.
The panel fixed the time for ruling shortly after parties to the petition filed by Atiku and PDP presented brief oral arguments on the petitioner’s application on Wednesday.
Through their application filed through their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, on May 16, the petitioners urged Bulkachuwa to disqualify herself from further participating in the proceedings of the tribunal on the basis of alleged likelihood of bias.
The application was premised on the family ties which Bulkachuwa has with top members of the All Progressives Congress, the party whose victory is being challenged in the petition filed before the tribunal by both Atiku and the PDP.
They claimed that her husband, Adamu Bulkachuwa, being a senator-elect on the platform of the APC in Bauchi State, and her biological son, Aliyu Abubakar, being a governorship aspirant on the platform of the same party during the last electioneering in Gombe State, she would be biased against the petitioners in her handling of the proceedings.
In the course of the Wednesday’s hearing, the separate legal teams of the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the APC, filed counter-affidavits to oppose the application which they described as unmeritorious.
But in what appeared to be candid advice from the lawyer representing the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), urged Bulkachuwa to “leave the matter” for the sake of her name with her retirement from the bench only barely a year away.
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, you standing in as my parent, I will say, ‘Mum, leave the matter’.”
The PDP and Atiku had filed their petition before the tribunal to challenge the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives at the February 23.
Another Peter: Lauretta Onochie Denies APC Membership Three Times
The Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday screened President Muhammadu Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Ms. Lauretta Onochie, for the position of national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
However, there was a disagreement among members of the Senate Committee on INEC over the nomination.
Onochie, whose nomination has raised controversy over her alleged partisanship and for being a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), denied her membership of the ruling party three times before the Senate committee.
This was despite the fact that she deposed to an affidavit in an Abuja High court in June 2021 affirming her membership of APC.
The Senate Committee on INEC, headed by Senator Kabiru Gaya, screened Onochie along with five other nominees whose names were sent to the Senate for confirmation on October 12, 2020, by Buhari.
Nominees screened along with Onochie were Prof. Muhammad Kallah (Katsina), Prof. Kunle Ajayi (Ekiti), Mr. Saidu Ahmad (Jigawa), Prof. Sani Adam (North-central) and Dr. Baba Bila (North-east).
Addressing the committee, Onochie initially admitted to being a card-carrying member of APC, adding that she ceased being a member after Buhari was re-elected in 2019.
She said: “I have learned over the years to stand with the constitution and due process but not on partisanship or sentiments. Since 2019, I have not had anything to do with any political organisation, including Buhari support groups. When APC was doing re-validation of party members, I did not take part in that exercise.
“As I’m sitting down here, I’m not a member of any political party in this country. I’ve no partisanship in my blood. I have seen many petitions against my nomination not only from the PDP but also from some APC members. I’m not partisan. They know. It is about the law. No one has any reason to fear for my nomination as INEC commissioner representing Delta.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m madam due process. That’s why all the attacks. I follow due process; I follow the law.”
However, an affidavit dated 30th June 2021, she swore to at an FCT High Court, attached to one of the petitions against her, contradicted her claims.
She deposed to the affidavit at the court in a case involving her as plaintiff and Emeka Ugwuonye (defendant).
Onochie in her witness statement on oath said: “That I am also engaged in active politics and a member of Neighbourhood Watch and has also contested the local government elections under the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. I am also a member of the All Progressives Congress and a volunteer at the Buhari Support Organisation.”
Onochie told the committee that Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, a serving INEC National Commissioner from Delta State is actually representing Cross River on the board of the electoral body.
Senators Ifeanyi Ubah, Seriake Dickson, Istifanus Gyang, and Ike Ekweremadu, in their separate questions, asked Onochie again to confirm her membership of the APC, but three times, she disavowed the ruling party.
However, a suggestion by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central) that Onochie be placed on oath after she denied her APC membership was supported by Senator Lawal Gumau (Bauchi South).
But two PDP senators, Ekweremadu and Dickson, who objected on the ground that doing so will breach Senate rules that do not allow any nominee to be put on oath during screening.
Gaya upheld their objections, saying Onochie would not be placed on oath so as not to run afoul of the Senate rules.
Gaya subsequently adjourned the proceedings and said the report of his panel would be submitted to the Senate next week.
Buhari: We’ll Not Give Amnesty to Bandits, Terrorists, Others
President Muhammadu Buhari has ruled out the possibility of granting amnesty to bandits, kidnappers and insurgents in the country.
He said his government would continue to deal decisively with such criminals whom he said constitute a threat to the country and its people.
Mr Buhari stated this on Thursday while declaring open a joint security meeting of Northern State Governors’ Forum, Northern Traditional Rulers Council and delegation from the federal government in Kaduna State.
The president’s stance is coming on the heels of agitations by some northern leaders that repentant bandits be given amnesty.
Prominent amongst those canvassing amnesty for bandits are the Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, and an Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi.
Lawmakers from Zamfara have also called for amnesty for bandits who have killed and maimed others.
At the meeting in Kaduna, Mr Buhari said it was time to treat criminals as criminals and to stop ethnic profiling.
Represented by his Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, the president said security challenges confronting the nation had slowed down the emancipation of Nigerians from poverty and economic deprivation.
The president disclosed that he had already directed heads of security agencies to develop plans to end criminality in the country.
He said his government would continue to deal with insurgents, bandits and kidnappers.
“I must appreciate the efforts of the 19 Northern States Governors’ Forum for their contribution towards national growth and development, especially in this challenging period in our nation’s being where certain fundamental corporate existence needs to be frankly deliberated upon and actionable resolutions reached,” the president said.
“This meeting is coming at a time when the nation is making steady progress in addressing the many challenges impeding developmental and progress. We are providing critical infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports among others which are critical to economic prosperity of our people as well as opening up economic opportunities for our citizens to pursue legitimate aspirations that grow the economy.
“At the same time, we are confronting the various dimensions of security challenges that continue to slow down the emancipation of our people from poverty and economic deprivation. The Government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute a threat to innocent citizens across the country.
“Criminals are criminals and should be dealt with accordingly, without resorting to ethnic profiling. I have already tasked the new Service Chiefs to devise new strategies that will end this ugly situation where the lives of our people continue to be threatened by hoodlums and criminals.
“I expect that at this meeting, your Forum will also discuss and devise ways of building stronger collaboration with the security architecture and the people in defeating criminality across the region and the nation at large.
“It is pertinent to note that the increased realization of our security, democracy and development indices are inextricably linked. Democracy and rule of law promote stability and in turn reinforce the power to assert freedom and economic progress of our people.”
Ondo Monarchs Urge South West Governors to Cage Killer Herdsmen
The Ondo State Council of Obas, on Thursday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to caution his aides who comment on security of the country.
The traditional rulers, who reacted over the comments made by some aides of the President on the order of Akeredolu ejecting the herdsmen from all the forest reserves in the state, said the move was not to chase out the Fulani in the state but to save it from the activities of the bandits.
This was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of meeting of the monarchs in Akure, which was read by a former Chairman of the council and the Olukare of Ikareland, Oba Akadiri Momoh.
The monarchs said, “We are calling on President Buhari to show to the world that he is a father of all irrespective of ethnic affiliation as well as cautioned his aides to exercise restraints on issues that border on insecurity in the country.”
The obas urged “the governors in the South-West region, the South-West caucus in the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly to use constitutional means to rein the rampaging criminals masquerading as herdsmen across the region.”
The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Charles Titiloye, declared that the state had no plan to send anti-open grazing bill to the state House of Assembly at the moment.
He said what was on ground in the state currently was the order of the governor to be complied with within seven days.
Titiloye said, “I may not be able to reply whether the state is planning to send the anti-grazing bill or not because the governor has given an order and after the seven days ultimatum and there is no compliance, then we shall know what to do next.”
Reacting to the claim by the Northern Elders Forum that the herdsmen had freedom of movement, the commissioner explained that the governor’s order had not restrained anybody’s movement, but to flush out criminal elements among herdsmen in the state.
He said, “We are not restraining any movement. Forests have been turned to hideouts of criminals and in order to identify the real herdsmen and the criminal ones; that is why the order of the governor came.
“We know that after seven days, the criminal ones would not leave the forest reserves; and until then we shall know what step to take next.”