Rivers Murder Trial: Group Calls for Suspension of Court of Appeal President

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Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt

A non-governmental organisation, The Integrity, has called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to suspend the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, over her involvement in the murder trial of a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ojukaye Flag-Amachree.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt yesterday, the Executive Director of the group, Livingstone Wechie, said Bulkachuwa had demonstrated partisanship in the trial by constituting a three-member panel from outside Rivers State just grant bail to the accused person.
He said: “On behalf of my group and in line with our Justice and Citizens project, we join in the demand that Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa be suspended from office immediately as President of the Court of Appeal along with her special three-man hatchet Appeal Court Judges Panel mysteriously picked from other states to be dissolved in view of their unholy plot to ridicule the Nigerian Judiciary in their desperate bid to do nothing but entertain only an Appeal on bail application and quickly grant same at all cost to an APC scribe, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree standing trial for a capital offense of murder, in such an illegal and unjustifiable manner no Nigerian in that category has ever enjoyed.
“This singular act of the Appeal Court President is the height of judicial commercialisation, interest and show of political partisanship in Nigeria and so we have petitioned the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council insisting on the dissolution of the hatchet Panel while we commence necessary legal steps to rescue the judiciary from the endangerment of this bad arrangement.”
Wechie denied allegations by the APC that the Integrity Group was being sponsored in their whistle-blowing act concerning the intervention of the president of the court of appeal in the trial of Flag-Amachree.
His words: “Thus, contrary to the lethal and genetic lie telling skill of the APC in Rivers State, the mainstream civil society where we belong including the Civil Liberties Organisation is too big for you. As such we totally deny every allegation from the APC in Rivers State as per sponsorship of our demand for fair justice in this matter either by the Rivers state government or any other authority whatsoever.
“Therefore they are put to the strictest challenge and proof to provide both video, picture and audio evidence of the campaigned visit to Austin Opara which never held or forever remain silent. Austin Opara in his innocence is my kinsman from same community just as we are all Rivers and nothing more pretentious.

“Thus they should engage in the issues we have raised and stop chasing shadows such as the circulation of some ragtag press statements on Social Media which the most knowledgeable public should disregard as it further exposes their complicity in the matter except this is one of those “change” they promised.”

Flag-Amachree is currently awaiting trial and remanded in the Port Harcourt prisons on a three-count charge of conspiracy and murder having been accused of shooting one Smart Soberekon to death in Buguma, headquarters of Asari-Toru local government area of Rivers State during the April 11, 2015 General Election.

The court had refused to grant him bail and his lawyers went to the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt to challenge the refusal of the trial judge, Justice Margaret Opara, of the Rivers State High Court grant him bail.

The Integrity Group had earlier raised the alarm that Bulkachuwa was setting up a three-member panel of judges from outside the state, namely Hon. Justice Sidi Bage, (Lagos Division), Hon Justice A. O Lokulo Sodipe (Ekiti Division) and Hon. Justice Adamu Jauro (Jos Division) to hear the appeal.

The group maintained that “there are substantive and competent Judges of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt whose qualifications and capacity are not in question. Hence there is no known petition or an issue of bias against them by any of the parties as to occasion this mindless show of interest by the Court of Appeal President.”

It stated that the intervention of the president of the court of appeal was purely political, to grant reprieve to the accused person.