The immediate past Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr Festus Keyamo (SAN) got more than he bargained for on Monday as a Federal High Court, Abuja, awarded a N10 million fine against him for filing a frivolous suit against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in the Feb. 25 poll.
It awarded N5 million fine each in favour of Atiku and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) totalling N10 million.
In a ruling, Justice James Omotosho, described Keyamo’s suit as frivolous, vexatious and abuse of court processes and directed that the fine should be paid at 10 percent per annum until the cost is finally liquidated.
The order followed an oral application by counsel to Atiku, Mr Benson Igbanoi, and ICPC counsel, Mr Oluwakemi Odogun, asking for cost after the case was dismissed.
Keyamo, who was also the spokesperson of the dissolved Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, had in the suit seeking an order compelling the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to probe and prosecute Atiku.
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.”
He averred that Atiku was in violation of Section 18(2) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, and Section 96(1) of the Penal Code, and therefore not qualified to contest the 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 judgment, 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.
He declared: “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 though the court did not say that the ex-minister did not have a right to write statutory agencies to investigate Atiku, but that he had not shown why he was affected by Atiku’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.
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”.
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. The plainitiff who is supposed to be a lawyer would think that a suit compelling a statutory body will success giving 72 hours?
“The plaintiff should know that these agencies are at liberty on when to investigate and when to conclude.”
He said Keyamo acted as if he was “an errand boy”, adding” it was high time public officers knew that statutory agencies should not be used to settle political discord.”