“If the reason for asking Justice Bulkachuwa to rescue herself was because she is married to a politician, how many other female judges are married to politicians? Should we then ask them to resign?”- Yunus Usman SAN (counsel to INEC in 2019 Presidential Election Petition)

The marriage of lawyers(later Judges) and politicians is quite common with notable marriages being that of the Ige, Odili, Nyako, Nwosu-Iheme, Wike, Anenih and Pedro families having the mixture of a political spouse and a Judge.

While it is predictable at the start of a marriage that a particular spouse may become a Judge, the decision to enter politics is usually made at advanced ages and one wonders why a career path would be affected by a decision of a spouse to enter politics made at a later time in the marital relationship.

A situation such as the one which has now happened in the matter of Justice Bulkachuwa was merely a matter of time as many Judges in Nigeria have spouses who are active politicians. There are very many of such marriages and a clear judicial position on the issue is already needed with nothing definitive available yet.

If Justice Bulkachuwa had pressed on with the case following the petition tribunal panel’s refusal of the PDP’s motion to have her step down on the grounds of her marriage to an elected APC Senator, she would have been right in Law. This was the view of the counsels to INEC, Yunus Usman and the counsel to the APC Wole Olanipekun and was importantly upheld by the rest of the panel.

Justice Bulkachuwa only excused herself on mere personal reasons which she gave as a need to avoid the same for other female justices in future. From all indications, she defeated her own purpose with her decision.

The precedent she has set only encourages the next woman that finds herself in the same position also rescues herself from the case even if the panel does not consider the marriage sufficient grounds as Justice Bulkachuwa did. Her action in this issue is becoming popular as what is honorable to do even if it is not yet settled as a matter of Law.

She has unknowingly endorsed the continuation when women/men who are Judges but have husbands/wives in political parties are again poked with the same argument that the PDP counsels used. They would want to take the path of honour which it appears as if Justice Bulkachuwa has spelt out in this matter.

Of course, her Judgement if she had continued with the case would come under political questioning especially if she ends up giving a judgement that favors the APC where her husband belongs. This would not still render the judgement wrong or unacceptable all the same. It will remain a matter for the peppersoup joint discussions and not a real legal issue having been settled by the panel.

Nigerians are left to wonder and imagine if the PDP would have raised the same had her husband belonged instead to the PDP. The PDP counsels would not have considered raising the issue of her husband’s partisanship if he was in the PDP instead and one wonders why Justice Bulkachuwa made it enough reason even though her respectable self may be guided by some intuition she has reached which mere observers have not.

Calling a woman’s integrity into question on account of their family relationships is becoming recurrent as women who duly fit into positions most times have relationship with someone in the political circle and it is always being waved in their faces to obstruct what would rather be their professional and career advancement. It is a sort of gender discrimination.

The Bulkachuwa family is from a disadvantaged region of the country in Bauchi with only 44 Medical Doctors as disclosed recently by the Governor and 1.3 million out-of-school children. Justice Bulkachuwa as a woman must have undergone further disadvantage due to prevailing social customs in the North of Nigeria that are oppressive of girlchild education and professional advancement.

The few who manage to scale the odds like Justice Bulkachuwa should be rather encouraged and made examples for Parents to educate their girlchild. What better way can this be done than through Justice Bulkachuwa presiding and giving judgement on a case with so much popular public acclaim with both local and international interest. No other golden opportunity to encourage women and even men from the Northern parts has been so presented to the country.

This high profile case that would have added to her prestige and professional sense of accomplishment is being taken off her hands not on the grounds of any personal misconduct but mere marital affiliation to a politician who became one after they married while she was already toeing the path of becoming a Judge.

The same can be said of Amina Zakari who received a chance appointment to head the Independent National Electoral Commission like any Nigerian would and proceed to do with pride. Opposition merely traced her relationships and used it to discredit her appointment. Is it possible today for a successful woman or man not to have a relation to someone in the political circle somehow? This affinity-argument would disqualify many as we cannot control which relative enters politics and which does not.

The legal maxim Nemo Judex in Causa Sua(no man shall be a Judge in his own cause) cannot be said to be applicable here. Her husband and herself are not parties to the suit.

Despite understanding the need to view the matter from the position of gender equality, there is a need too to view it from the position of realism. Would it really be possible for a Judge to give judgement against her partners political party?

Well, the nature of Judgements is that they are based on juristic reasons known as ‘rationes decidendi’. The reasons for the judgement must be clearly given by a Judge and it is not so easy to make them up while giving the judgement. They have to be clearly and logically joined till they reach a conclusion that is the judgement.

Also, she is not the only Judge on the panel as it is a form of jury. The other judges on the panel would be giving their judgements too and since it is the majority decision that matters. Justice would still get to reflect in the matter even if her own judgement carries the suspected yet unproven tint of bias.

Perhaps, for criminal trials, the spouse should not be capable of sitting as a Judge. However, for instances such as the recent Bulkachuwa incident, the spouse should be allowed to continue with the proceedings as it is a different matter wherein her husband is not a party to the suit nor is she herself.

Justice Bulkachuwa is leaving a big hint on what to do in such circumstances with the decision she made. Perhaps, the Judge should decide if s/he wants to continue or not as Justice Bulkachuwa has done.

In future instances, the decision should be made by the Judge on if to sit or not as Justice Bulkachuwa has done. She chose herself to leave even when she could continue. This can be seen as the standard she has set.

It is important to add that in event another Judge in the same set of circumstances chooses to continue, Nigerians must be willing to view the judgement as the outcome of the legal process without any complain or grumble especially where the spouse is not directly involved in the suit as it is with the elected Bauchi North Senator Bulkachuwa.

Considering the political sensitivity of the presidential electoral tribunal, the decision to take her hands off would also be correct as in event of APC winning the petition, the opposition PDP can no longer claim the Judge was biased if they decide to go further in the hierarchy of courts. They would need now to market another narrative entirely if they insist on refuting the result of the judgement should it go in favour of the APC.

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Twitter @Koye_tolu.
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