Honourable Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, President, Court of Appeal

By Bayo Adekoya

* Serving With Integrity And Purpose

When men and women who have sacrificed for the peace of the nation are called, Honourable Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, President, Court of Appeal, will be mentioned.

Recently she stepped down as the Chairperson of the 2019 Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal, when the opposition party alleged that she would be biased in presiding over the case because both her husband and son are members of the ruling party.

Despite the tribunal ruling in her favour, as there was no proof of possibility of bias, Justice Bulkachuwa recused herself on “personal grounds”; and that singular decision earned her commendations even from the opposition party. Her action showed courage and patriotism, increasing the confidence that Nigerians have for the judiciary.
Her contribution to the Nigerian judiciary is unquantifiable; she has devoted her years to the selfless service of our great nation. This can be seen through her judgements that are littered in law reports.

An indigene of Nafada Local Government Area of Gombe State, Justice Bulkachuwa was born 6 March 1950 to the family of Alhaji Abubakar Gidado EL-Nafaty in Bauchi, Bauchi State. She began her Primary Education at Tudun Wada Primary School, Kaduna in 1957 before moving to Senior Primary School, Maiduguri Road, Kaduna in 1961, where she acquired her First School Leaving Certificate in 1963. She later enrolled at Queen Elizabeth School, Ilorin where she obtained her West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1968.

She proceeded to Abdullahi Bayero College/Ahmadu Bello University Kano between 1971 and 1972 for her GCE ‘A’ Levels and in 1975 she obtained her LL.B (Hons) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. She attended the Nigerian Law School between 1975 and 1976.
She worked hard and tirelessly and rose through the various ladder of courts, from a pupil state counsel Grade I to become the President Court of Appeal.

Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa started her work career as a National Youth Service Corp member on primary assignment at the Ministry of Justice, Kaduna in 1976. She rose through the cadre to become a Chief Magistrate from 1985 to 1987. Her commitment to service led to her appointment as a High Court Judge in 1987.
At the creation of Gombe State, she was deployed and sworn in as the Chief Judge of Gombe State Judiciary in 1997. Thereafter, she was appointed as Justice, Court of Appeal (JCA) in 1998.

Honourable Justice Bulkachuwa became the President, Court of Appeal in April, 2014. She has received a substantial number of awards, notable among which are two National Awards; Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR)) and Commander of the Order of the

Federal Republic (CFR) in 2008 and 2014 respectively. She is a member of numerous professional bodies and has served on various Judicial Committees. She has also attended workshops and seminars in Nigeria and overseas.

She is married to Ambassador Adamu Bulkachuwa, who is the Sarkin Bai Katagum and the District Head of Bulkachuwa and blessed with children and grandchildren.

‘Funding To The Court Of Appeal Should Be Increased’

In this interview, Justice Bulkachuwa talks about her job as the President, Court of Appeal, challenges the court is facing as well as why she had to recuse herself from the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, among others. Excerpts.

Since you were sworn in as the President of the Court of Appeal in April 2017, how has the journey been?

It has been hectic, particularly as the court is vast, it has the largest number of divisions in the country. We have over 80 justices (the justices have been going and coming), and a staff strength of 3, 000 or so. There is the administration and everything. In 2015, we had the election petition tribunals to run and the 2019 election tribunal. It has been very hectic.

As the first female president, what challenges are you facing?

The first challenge is funding. If we have been adequately funded within the Court of Appeal, we would have been one of the best in the world. We have inadequate courtrooms, we need housing because our justices who are all over the country need to be adequately accommodated; but they are not well accommodated. We don’t have sufficient quarters to house our staff. For our courtrooms, we need sufficient boxes (as judges that’s our tool of trade). The modern trend now is having e-Court systems, we don’t have the funding to purchase whatever we want.
The federal system has ensured that we get our funding as and when due although it is inadequate. It should be increased so that at least our work will be easier. Let’s take the instance of vehicles. You will find out that the justices of the Supreme Court on appointment are given three cars. In the Federal High Court, it is two cars but in the Court of Appeal we can only get one at a time; and then after four or five years (they are supposed to be replaced every four years), you will find out that they are not replaced. Maybe after six years or so and then you will find out that some of them will have to wait a while to get their second vehicle, that is part of our challenges.

Let’s talk about your achievements and changes you brought to bear on the Court of Appeal.

One of my most important achievements is making my justices happy, comfortable and giving them good working environment. I have been able to achieve that. So far, at least from the way I met the Court of Appeal, it is different now. We have renovated most of our quarters (the ones we can); we have commissioned modern courtrooms in Ibadan, Lagos, Jos, they have all been commissioned during my time and I pray Ilorin’s courtroom will be commissioned before I leave.

How did you feel when you were made to step down from the Presidential Election Tribunal?

When I assigned that case to myself as the chairman, my only feeling then, being the number one, is that I should adequately ensure that justice was done. It never occurred to me that my husband as a politician could be an issue. To be candid, I never thought of that, being that I married him over 30 years ago. When I married him, I was a judicial officer, he was a politician, so the two never merged. He does his politics and I do my judicial work; that is why I make it a point of duty to stay in my office, finish all I have to do before I go back home, and as soon as I get back home, I am a housewife. It never occurred to me that that was an issue, all that I wanted to do was to ensure that justice was done in that case,

But when they raised it, they wrote a letter to me on a Friday. I usually leave for home on Fridays very early. I was at home with my children and grandchildren. They were all there, it was a busy occasion, and at 8pm I started seeing on the television that this is what is happening. I was shocked because they were showing a copy of the letter on television.

I didn’t say anything, I didn’t discuss it with anybody, when I came on Monday, I saw the letter. I told my colleagues because then we were having a conference over the applications that were brought and I said ‘this is what has happened,’ that I ‘don’t like the way and manner they did it, if it is going to be official, let it be official.’ They said ‘the decision is yours, take whatever decision you want to.’ I said no problem, let’s go to court and see what would happen.

Two days later, we went into court, they raised it again that they had written a letter to me and expected me to recuse myself. They initially said they had a private issue they wanted to discuss with me. So we went into my chambers, that is the justices on the panel, counsels who were representing the parties, they raised it. Then I said why did you release the letter, that you should have at least allowed me to see the letter before taking a decision, you put it on the public domain and ‘now you want me to recuse myself silently?’

I said: ‘no, my integrity is at stake. Let us go back to court, bring a formal application then we can decide on it, and then we will give you our views.’ They wrote the application, the others replied, but I never participated in the arguments, because we had a conference. I didn’t join them. I just retired to my office. So when they finished they brought it to me. I said read it, they read it and I said ok I agree, you have stated the law as it is, let us go back to court.

It was after the ruling was read that was when I told them I am recuing myself for personal reasons because the issue had been raised, even if I decided I would still have it at the back of my mind that were it not for my husband and my son, maybe my decision would have been different, that was why I recused myself.

How did you feel with the reactions from the public following that singular decision?

I felt happy, at least I was vindicated. I have no ulterior motives at all. If I hadn’t recused, I would have felt miserable. I start each case with a clear conscience. I usually go through the matter, facts without knowing what will be the final decision. Once I decide this is what I am going to write and do, that I am clear in my mind that what I have done is the correct thing that should have been done, then I forget about it.

Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa: The Woman who Came, Saw and Achieved

Since His Lordship Justice Zainab Amina Bulkachuwa was confirmed as the President of the Court of Appeal on April 17, 2014; the responsibility of administering this huge appellate court system rests on the shoulders of this woman who emerged from humble beginnings and defied the odds that were stacked against her by reason of historical and cultural circumstances.
From that period to the present, she has brought to bear great changes in the appellate court, no doubt being an outstanding justice, an administrator and a good manager of resources who further contributed to the development of the Court of Appeal because she understands the administration of the court.

Some of her achievements since she took over as President, Court of Appeal include:
• Lagos court complex remodeling and upgrading – 2013-2015
• Ibadan court complex completion and commissioning – 2014
• Owerri court complex completion and commissioning – 2015
• Calabar court complex completion and commissioning – 2018
• Ekiti court complex renovation – 2016
• Kaduna court complex expansion (additional offices and store) – 2018
• Abuja court complex –
•Warehouse – 2015
• Remodelling of two court halls at Abuja Division – 2019
• Additional chambers for EPT – 2019
• Provision of LAN and Internet facilities – 2019
• Port Harcourt court complex remodeling and furnishing – 2017
• Renovation of Sokoto court complex (Ongoing)
• Benin City court complex flood control (Ongoing)
• Construction and remodeling of Justices quarters (In almost all the divisions)
• Ilorin court complex (Ongoing and to be completed by end of 2019)
• Yola court complex (Ongoing and to be completed by end of 2019)
• Construction of HPCA official quarters, Mabushi – 2017
• Expansion of Lagos court complex with additional Mediation Centre, chambers and offices (Ongoing)
• Abuja Division Mediation Centre – 2018

Culled from The News Nigeria

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