By Alaba Yusuf
Life is just too full of strife, cruelty and absurdity, so much so that the mere perception of a tiny patch of a baby’s excreta on a big pot of gbegiri soup can ruin the appetite of an entire array of guests at any important party, mostly the owambe where ewedu and gbegiri are match-made for tasty amala. This shows the nexus between perception and reality. And humans don’t joke about both. For reputation is life.
Even in the medical line, there is an unwritten code of practice that excuses a surgeon from operating on patients with close family ties, such as spouse or immediate siblings. Many a doctor would rather invite scalpel from other professional colleagues than make a guinea pig of his son or wife. Reason: man is susceptible to emotional roller coasters. A doctor whose wife or child dies in his hands during surgical operation may be ruined for life, psychologically. Even drivers don’t fancy driving a vehicle bearing the dead body of their blood relations.
In fact, no discipline of human endeavour demonstrates the need to stay off issues concerning immediate relatives more than the noble profession of law, where learned judges of the wig and gown are morally advised to recuse themselves whenever members of the public could read reasonable line of doubt or bias into the judgement coming from a case in which the presiding judge is deemed or suspected to have or show personal interest. Hence the birth of the legal phrase that “you cannot be a judge in your own case.”
According to e-library Wikipedia, “Nemo judex in causa sua (or Nemo judex in sua causa)” is a Latin phrase that means, literally, ‘no-one should be a judge in his own case.’ It is a principle of natural justice that no person can adjudicate on a case in which they have an interest. Undoubtedly, this is fundamental to natural law as well as the social contract that binds mankind.
Consequently, this salient legal norm was further given chiseled teeth to bite by “the titan of a judge”, the mathematician-turned-radical jurist, Lord Alfred Denning of Great Britain (1899-1999). Baron Denning left behind the evergreen legacy of justice for the underdog otherwise known as “the little man.” The erudite jurist had famously advised judges to recuse themselves from any case in which there is a suspicion of interest or bias on the judges’ part. For justice cannot be said to have been done without being seen to have been done. Here perception adorns the garb of reality.
In other words, according to Lord Denning, a high proportion of the reputation of a judge sitting in the hallowed chamber of justice has much to do with public perception; of citizen’s trust and confidence that a court of law is actually dispensing judgement without fear or favour, influence or intimidation of any kind.
The aforementioned therefore questions the appropriateness or suitability of the current President of Nigeria’s Court of Appeal, the Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, a wife of Bauchi North Senator-elect from the All Progressives Congress, whose party’s presidential candidate, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and his APC party are both standing trial in the court chaired by Justice Bulkachuwa. Is this a mere coincidence or a solid ground for perceived bias?
Therefore, this cruel date with fate has set tongues wagging. Trust Nigerians, despite their faith in religion, they still doubt a situation where a woman, a wife, will be a judge in a case that concerns the enticing political existence of her husband or his party, and defiantly go against him and impartially rule in the interest of law and order! Such a rarity may end a marriage, or at least create a huge gulf in any filial bond. How many compatriots would risk their homes for unlicensed public good?
Meanwhile, one does not need to be so schooled in law of jurisprudence to align the graphs of doubt being painted on Justice Bulkachuwa’s legal canvass. Even a layman can quickly fix the puzzle and lay claim to the connection between the proverbial witch that cried in the night and the infant that died at dawn.
Sadly however, the pervading situation is never the fault of her Lordship Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who has been President of the Court of Appeal since 2014. Notwithstanding, the place of fate in this critical case is immense and cannot be swept under the carpet. To be candid, the most honourable thing to do in this historic juncture, in national interest, would be for Her Lordship to step out of her exalted stool in this particular case, and let her colleagues without alleged special interest to carry out justice that everyone could have confidence in and be proud of. That way, history would etch Justice Bulkachuwa’s name in gold.
Furthermore, it is safe to say that anything short of a recuse of herself from the throne of justice in this presidential tribunal case in which a huge proportion of global opinion envisages the likelihood of doubt or bias, could only tantamount to digging up an old wound of law that presents a jurist with alleged vested interest in a case insisting on sitting to dispense judgement that may never enjoy the trust, confidence and hope of the “little man”. Thus it will not just be bad and sad, but will also register as an enormous deficit in the world history of legal accomplishments. Law is universal and Nigeria cannot be an exemption.
Finally, like the Yoruba proverbial parlance, only the “Almighty can judge a man who shares a piece of meat for others with his own teeth and claims he has been equitable”. Hence, I don’t envy the precarious situation of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who has to determine whether to help Nigeria dispense impartial judgement in a landmark presidential election petition or stand by her hubby, APC Senator-elect Mohammed Bulkachuwa, who’s also reported to be a bosom friend of Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transport and Director General of General Buhari’s presidential campaign at the last polls. What a heavy moral burden of law that Her Lordship alone can choose to carry at great risk to her esteemed reputation, or drop it for the sake of the greater joy for the greater majority of Nigerians. History is waiting, marker in hand. Time is now, recuse and continue to be useful to humanity, my Lord.
▪ Yusuf, journalist and strategic commentator, wrote from London