A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, awarded a N10 million fine against the immediate-past Minister of State for Labour and Employment and Spokesperson of Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Mr. Festus Keyamo, for filing a “frivolous suit” against the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate in the February 25, 2023, election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).
However, in a swift reaction, Keyamo on Monday, vowed to file an appeal against the decision of the court, stressing that the, “struggle on this issue continues.”
But weighing in on the matter, Phrank Shuibu, who is the Special Assistant on Public Communication to Atiku Abubakar, called on Keyamo, to throw his law certificate into the dustbin following the defeat he suffered at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Justice James Omotosho, in a ruling, awarded a N5 million fine each in favour of Abubakar and the ICPC, making it 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.
Keyamo had filed the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/84/2023 on January 20, 2023.
In the application, he had sought an order compelling the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to probe and prosecute Abubakar.
Keyamo had 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 conspired with ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo to rip off the country using what he termed “Special Purpose Vehicles.”
The ex-minister had filed the suit after the 72-hour ultimatum he gave the three investigating agencies elapsed.
He had 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, had also challenged the competency of the suit and the jurisdiction of the court.
Delivering the ruling, Justice Omotosho held that he had two issues for determination which were 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 noted 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 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 Keyamo did not even give a reasonable time for the statutory bodies to act before filing the suit, added, “This means that the action was filed in bad faith.”
He said the case was frivolous and an abuse of court process.
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.
Meanwhile, in a statement from his Assistant Head of Chambers, the former minister vowed to appeal the court’s decision.
The statement explained: “Earlier today, a Federal High Court in Abuja dismissed the case filed by Festus Keyamo, against the candidate of the PDP in the last Presidential Election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar over the SPV saga principally because the court was of the opinion that the law-enforcement agencies were not given enough time to commence investigations before the suit was filed, amongst other sundry reasons.
“Our client respectfully disagrees with the reasons for the said decision because the law-enforcement agencies did not indicate their willingness to commence investigations, even if they were given more time.
“We want to establish a legal principle that the society cannot wait as infinitum for law-enforcement agencies to do their statutory duties. The suit was designed to prompt the agencies to show their readiness to investigate.
“We are immediately filing an appeal against the said decision to the Court of Appeal as the struggle on this issue continues.”
In his reaction, Shuibu, called on Keyamo, to throw his law certificate into the dustbin following the defeat he suffered at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Shuibu explained: “Eager to satisfy his paymasters, Keyamo did not wait for up to three days for the EFCC and other agencies to act on his petition but hurriedly filed a suit before the court seeking an order to mandate the agencies to act on his petition.”
Shaibu, said the latest judgment was a reflection of Keyamo’s incompetence as a lawyer.
Shaibu said the judgment was clear evidence that the former minister was only playing cheap politics.
He added: “Keyamo’s incompetence has been confirmed by Justice Omotosho. One wonders how he was elevated to the rank of senior advocate. Despite several clarifications that the allegations levelled against Atiku were trumped up, Keyamo refused to listen to reason.
“Rather than act like a refined lawyer as expected of a senior advocate, he decided to act like a political jobber. Now, he has been disgraced before the entire world. This was a man who served under the legendary, Chief Gani Fwehinmi? What a shame!”
Shaibu said Keyamo’s latest defeat was not surprising given the fact that he had lost many high profile cases in court while he was an EFCC prosecutor.
He said, “When the jobless former minister was filing the frivolous case, we informed Nigerians that he would lose. The prediction was in line with his antecedent as a failed EFCC prosecutor. Today, we have been justified.
“He was the EFCC prosecutor against Governor Timipre Sylva but he lost the case. He represented the EFCC against Femi Fani-Kayode and also lost.
“Even the case he instituted against the Lagos State House of Assembly during the Tinubu certificate scandal marked ID/639M/99, Keyamo didn’t do better. In the case of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, in which Keyamo was the lead prosecutor, it also ended in another an abysmal failure.
“Keyamo made a name for himself by constantly filing frivolous suits in order to entertain the media. He needs to throw his law certificate into the dustbin so he can face his job as a social media influencer.”