UPDATE: Bulkachuwa bows out as Appeal Court President, Dongban-Mensem takes over

President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa will today, Friday bow out of the nation’s judiciary, having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.

The most senior Justice of the appellate court, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem will take over from Bulkachuwa as the acting President of the court.

Speaking at a valedictory session in honour of the retiring President of the Court of Appeal, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN) lamented the low number of female justices on the bench of the Court of Appeal, noting that the figure reflects the poor gender diversity of the country.

The NBA boss, who traced the first appointment of a female to the bench of the appellate court to 1987, following the elevation of Justice Aloma Mukhtar, disclosed that out of the 86 justices of the Court of Appeal only 23 are female.

Usoro, however, called for more inclusion of more female Justices into the bench of the appellate court adding that “Prior to the elevation of Mukhtar JCA (as she then was), our appellate courts, notably, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were all male-dominated, and this, in a society where it is believed has a higher population of females, in real terms”.

He further noted that after the elevation of Mukhtar, it took another six years before the second female Justice of the Court of Appeal, the late Justice Atinuke Ige was appointed to the Court of Appeal bench in 1993.

He said, “Indeed, the number of female justices of the Court of Appeal reached 10 only in 2005 with the elevation of Denton-West JCA, 18 years after the elevation of Mukhtar (as she then was) and 12 years after the elevation of Ige JCA.

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“As at date, out of the 86 Justices of the Court of Appeal, only 23, barely 30% are female. With such a poor record in gender diversity, the epoch-making achievement of Bulkachuwa truly calls for celebration and corrective steps in enlarging the coast of our diversity and gender inclusion”.

The NBA boss, in addition, called for the appointment of more Justices of the Court of Appeal, noting that as the ones currently serving, particularly in some very busy divisions, “have been greatly overworked not just because of the litigious nature of Nigerians generally, but because of the paucity in the aggregate number of JCA”.

He said to pave way for those appointments, there is need for a concomitant amendment of the provisions of the Court of Appeal Act to allow for the appointment of sufficient number of JCA that would ensure that no division of the Court of Appeal would have less than 6 JCA, while very busy divisions like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt should have nothing less than 10 to 15 JCA.

“In the recent posting of the Justices of the Court of Appeal that we have been privileged to see, a number of the divisions that have only three Justices posted thereto which means amongst others that such divisions do not have the quorum of five Justices for the constitution of a full-court for the hearing of any matter that can only be heard by a full-court.

“Such divisions would not form the three Justices quorum for the hearing of ordinary matters if one or two Justices are indisposed or unavailable for whatever reasons on any day for the court sitting.

“The Justices in those divisions would be overworked and prone to work stress and fatigue with the resultant health challenges. Very urgent attention needs to be paid to this lacuna, for access to justice becomes meaningless and unattainable when and if the courts are incapable of sitting due to lack of quorum”, he said.

Usoro while congratulating Justice Bulkachuwa for a successful service at the nation’s judiciary, wished her peace and good health on retirement, stating that justice Bulkachuwa is only retiring into the country’s reserve bench and may be called to national duty in the continuing task of nation-building.

Justice Bulkachuwa, who is the first female President of the Court of Appeal, graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1975 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1976.

Bulkachuwa although started her bench career as a magistrate in 1980 and become a High Court judge in 1987, before her elevation to the bench of the Court of Appeal on December 9, 1998.

While she acted as President in 2012, she became a substantive President in April, 2014.

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