LAW Challenges before Bulkachuwa
She assumed the role of the Acting President of Court of Appeal on November 21, 2012. Last Thursday, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa had a date with history following her inauguration as the first female President of the Court of Appeal since its inception in 1976.
She became the 6th President of the court after Justices Mamman Nasir, Mustapha Akanbi, Umaru Abdullahi, Ayo Salami and Dalhatu Adamu, who served the Nigerian judiciary between 1978 and 2012.
Justice Bulkachuwa’s appointment is coming at a critical time when the Nigerian judiciary is undergoing reforms.
During her period as the Acting President of the court, there was indeed a change in the modus operandi of the Court of Appeal in line with the dictates of the constitution of Nigeria.
It’s also reasoned that the change in the operation of the Appeal Court during Bulkachuwa’s acting capacity may have been accentuated by the reforms in the justice sector as well as ethical re-orientation of judicial officers which is the driven force of the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar.
Justice Bulkachuwa, who was born in March 1950, represents Gombe State in the Appeal Court. She was called to the Bar in 1976 and was elevated to the Appeal Court in 1998.
Before then, she had worked as a judge in the High Court of Bauchi State and served as the Chief Judge of Gombe State.
Among the high-profile matters she handled include the Sokoto State governorship election petition of 2007 and the case instituted by former Governor Timipre Sylva last year to challenge the nomination of Seriake Dickson as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate.
Before her appointment, she was the Presiding Judge of the Abuja Division of the court. She is due to retire in 2020.
Observers are of the opinion that the fact that the new helmsman of the Appeal Court was appointed at the period of ongoing reform in the justice sector makes it necessary for her to see her new role as a challenging one.
With the election year around the corner, observers also said the new head of the Appeal Court must buckle her shoes with a view to ensuring that pending election cases are speedily disposed in line with the requirements of the constitution.
Today, the nation’s judiciary is facing major challenges which Bulkachuwa would have to confront. Some of these challenges include delayed trial in both criminal and civil cases. In fact, the nation’s judicial system is beset with several deficiencies in its procedural set up that makes it very difficult to obtain justice and quick resolution of disputes in courts. Judges are also poorly equipped as our judges still write in long hands.
This explained why Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar in her address at the inauguration of Bulkachuwa, said her appointment came at a critical time in the history of judiciary in Nigeria. She charged her to reposition the Court of Appeal in line with the ongoing reforms in the judiciary.
“As I celebrate with you, let me also remind you that your appointment is coming at a critical time when the Nigerian judiciary is undergoing reforms. For this reason I charge you to make all efforts to reposition the court and ensure that confidence in the court is renewed.”
She further also urged the PCA to carry out her duties with all honesty, integrity and honour, stressing that the office of the PCA is very tasking and arduous.
She advised Bulkachuwa to shun all manner of political pressures in the discharge of the assignment.
She said, “In fulfilment of this noble role, I therefore enjoin you, as a custodian of this sacred position, to shun all forms of political pressures, and discharge your responsibilities in consonance with the oath of office you have just subscribed to.
“It is imperative for me to let you know that the task ahead is enormous and demanding. The judiciary no doubt has come a long way and we cannot afford to fail at this crucial point in our nascent democracy.”
Bulkachuwa assured of her commitment to the CJN’s fight against corruption in the judiciary.
“I stand on this honour in the crusade against corruption because our energies, faith and devotion which we bring to this endeavour will rekindle and build back the trust; and the glow from that fire can truly light not only the judiciary, but our great Nigeria in general. My distinguished colleagues, let’s not ask how we can tackle corruption but our main focus should be on what we can do to address corruption as an individual or collectively as a body. By doing so, we can rid the judiciary of corrupt practices.
“This is the time to get back on our feet and in doing so, we must remember that in every dark hour of our existence, a leadership of frankness and vigour that would bulwark freedom, justice, fairness and human rights is crucial to this institution.”
She also spoke of plans to enhance the information and communication technology skills of justices of the Court of Appeal, noting that an eight-man committee had already been set up to work out modalities for training and re-training of the judicial officers on information communication technology.
A legal practitioner, Akin Toye commended the confirmation of appointment of the new President of the Court of Appeal, saying it is a good experiment on how the female could turn around the nation’s judiciary for the better.
He said the PCA should complement the efforts of the CJN with a view to cleansing the bar and the bench of rot which has derailed the nation’s justice.
‘’She should do this with a sense of vigour, commitment and devotion to the ultimate will in the temple of justice. She should wear the fighting robe of an Amazon and armed with spirits to battle the odds and give Nigerians and Nigeria a befitting judiciary.”
Another lawyer, Austin Edwin advised the new president to move beyond rhetoric to fight corruption and other ills in the nation’s judiciary.
There is no doubt that the nation’s expectation on the turnaround of the appellate court by its new president is enormous for obvious reason. This expectation can indeed be met if Bulkachuwa fights like an Amazon and give Nigeria a judiciary that can stand the test of time.