By Taiye Agbaje
Abuja, June 5, 2023
A Federal High Court, Abuja on Monday, awarded a N10 million fine against Mr. Festus Keyamo, the immediate-past Minister of State for Labour and Employment, for filing a frivolous suit against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s presidential candidate in the Feb. 25 election.
Justice James Omotosho, in a ruling, awarded a N5 million fine each in favour of Abubakar and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), making a N10 million against Keyamo.
Justice Omotosho, who described the suit as “frivolous, vexatious and abuse of court processes,” directed that the fine should be paid “at 10 per cent per annum until the cost is finally liquidated.”
The order followed an oral application by counsel for Atiku, Benson Igbanoi, and that of the ICPC, Oluwakemi Odogun, asking for cost after the matter was dismissed.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Keyamo, who was also the spokesperson of the dissolved Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), had filed the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/84/2023 on Jan. 20.
In the application, he had sought an order compelling the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to probe and prosecute Abubakar.
Keyamo based his action on the ground of claims by one of Abubakar’s aides, Michael Achimugu, that between 1999 and 2007 when he was vice president, he (Achimugu) conspired with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo to rip off the country using what he termed “Special Purpose Vehicles.”
The ex-minister filed the suit after the 72-hour ultimatum he gave the three investigating agencies elapsed.
He alleged that Abubakar was in violation of Section 18(2) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, and Section 96(1) of the Penal Code, hence, unqualified to contest in Feb. 25 poll.
But Atiku (1st defendant), through his lawyer, filed a notice of preliminary objection, seeking for an order dismissing the suit for being incompetent, lack of locus standi, want of jurisdiction and for non-disclosure of reasonable cause against him.
The EFCC, ICPC and the CCB, in their separate preliminary objections, also challenged the competency of the suit and jurisdiction of the court.
Delivering the ruling, Justice Omotosho held that he had two issues for determination and that was whether the suit was frivolous and whether the relief sought by Keyamo could be granted.
The judge, who said the jurisdiction of the court would be determined, also said that the locus standi of the applicant would also be looked into.
“Locus standi is the capacity of a party to institute an action. It interrogates what is the business of the plaintiff with the defendants
“The need for proper locus standi is to prevent busy body from instituting a suit and restraining them from wasting the time of the court,” he said.
He said though the court did not say that the ex-minister did not have a right to write statutory agencies to investigate Abubakar, but that he had not shown why he was affected by Abubakar’s action.
“A citizen of a country has a right to report crime and that cannot be an infraction on fundamental rights of any person.
“But the complainant is to complain to the statutory agencies and not to drag the 1st defendant with the agencies to court to seek an order to compel the agencies to investigate the suspect,” he said.
Justice Omotosho held that investigating authorities had the discretionary powers to investigate any case and to know if such case would warrant any prosecution or not, citing previous cases to back his decision.
“The law is that the court cannot compel investigating agencies to perform their discretionary powers,’ he said.
The judge, who read Keyamo’s letter wherein he gave the investigating agencies 72-hour ultimatum to investigate Abubakar, said the Court of Appeal in one of its decisions, cautioned public officers against abuse of powers.
He said that it was unheard of that a citizen would give statutory agencies 72-hour to investigate and prosecute an alleged offence.
“And immediately after the 72 hours, an action was filed.
“The question is, is 72 hours sufficient for the investigation and conclusion of action of this nature. The answer is no,” he said.
Omotosho, who said that Keyamo did not even give a reasonable time for the statutory bodies to act before filing the suit, said: “This means that the action was filed in bad faith.”
He said the case was frivolous and an abuse of court process.
“The plaintiff who is supposed to be a lawyer would think that a suit compelling a statutory body will succeed within the given 72 hours?
“The plaintiff should know that these agencies are at liberty on when to investigate and when to conclude,” he said.
He said Keyamo acted as if he was “an errand boy.”
He said it was high time public officers knew that statutory agencies should not be used to settle political discord.
The judge, therefore, commended the EFCC, ICPC and the CCB for refusing to act in a way that would suggest that Keyamo was giving them directive.
“The plaintiff should know that such suit will not succeed,” he said.
Omotosho, who described the suit as frivolous, vexatious and abuse of court process, consequently dismissed the suit.
Shortly after the ruling, ICPC’s lawyer, Odogun, asked for a N30 million fine in favour of his client.
She argued that the ICPC had been diligent in defending the matter and that time and resources had been wasted.
Also, Abubakar’s lawyer, Mr Igbanoi, prayed the court for a N200 million fine against Keyamo, considering that his client was former vice president and presidential candidate in the last election.
But Keyamo’s counsel, O. C. Uju, disagreed with the two lawyers asking the court to dismiss their application for a cost.
The judge, however, awarded a N5 million fine each in favour of Abubakar and ICPC.