Barring any last-minute change, there are strong indications that another female judge will be replacing the former Presiding Judge of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa who disqualified herself from the panel.
The panel is billed to resume sitting today after about three weeks’ indefinite adjournment.
The tribunal will specifically be hearing a petition challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The tribunal had, on May 22, adjourned further hearing in the petition the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, filed against the outcome of the presidential poll.
Justice Bulkachuwa disqualified herself following a motion the petitioners filed to challenge her decision to preside over the five-member panel tribunal.
PDP and Atiku had insisted that Justice Bulkachuwa’s involvement was prejudicial to their case against President Buhari, since her husband and son, are card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which is the 3rd Respondent in the petition.
However, a top source at the appellate, who spoke to New Telegraph on the condition of anonymity, said that one Justice Monica Dongban-Menssem who is currently serving under the Enugu Division of the court, may take over from the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA).
According to the source, “Another female Justice of the Court will replace the PCA on the panel. She is from the Enugu Division of the court. She will appear with the remaining four members of the panel tomorrow (today).”
When asked who will preside over the panel, the source said: “I can’t really say for now, but it should be the most Senior Justice of the five-man panel.”
Other Justices on the panel are Abdu Aboki, Peter Ige, Samuel Oseji and Joseph Ikyegh.
PDP and Atiku had earlier expressed concerns over delay in the appointment of Justice Bulkachuwa’s replacement.
In a letter they sent to Justice Bulkachuwa on May 31, the petitioners decried that they were already running against time considering that the case against Buhari must be concluded and judgement delivered within 180 days.
Counting from today, about 90 days is gone out of the 180 days the Electoral Act provided for the hearing and determination of election petition.
This invariably means that petitioners have barely 90 days left to call witnesses and adduce evidence that the 2019 presidential election was manipulated.
The available days will equally be shared by all the Respondents in the matter – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Buhari and the APC – who are all expected to defend the outcome of the election.
Specifically, the petitioners are challenging the declaration by INEC that President Buhari garnered a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat Atiku who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes in the disputed presidential election.
Dissatisfied with the result, Atiku had vowed to upturn it in court. In their joint petition, Atiku and the PDP insisted that data they secured from INEC’s server revealed that they clearly defeated President Buhari with over 1.6 million votes.