Festus Keyamo, a former minister of state for labor and employment, was fined N10 million by a Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday for launching a baseless lawsuit against Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for president in the election on February 25.
In a decision, Justice James Omotosho fined Abubakar and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) N5 million each, for a total of N10 million against Keyamo.
Justice Omotosho ordered that the fine be paid “at 10% per annum until the cost is finally liquidated” after describing the lawsuit as “frivolous, vexatious, and abuse of court processes.”
The order came after an oral request for costs made by Oluwakemi Odogun, counsel for the ICPC, and Benson Igbanoi, lawyer for Atiku, after the suit was dismissed.
The lawsuit was filed on January 20 by Keyamo, who was also the spokesperson for the disbanded Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council (PCC).
He asked for a court order ordering the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to look into and prosecute Abubakar.
Keyamo based his move on allegations made by one of Abubakar’s aides, Michael Achimugu, that Achimugu colluded with former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007 while he was vice president to plunder the nation using what he called “Special Purpose Vehicles.”
After the 72-hour deadline he provided the three investigative agencies passed, the former minister filed the lawsuit.
He claimed Abubakar was ineligible to run in the election on February 25 because of violations of Section 96(1) of the Penal Code and Section 18(2) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022.
However, Atiku (the first defendant) filed a notice of preliminary objection through his attorney, requesting an order dismissing the case due to Atiku’s incapacity, lack of locus standi, lack of jurisdiction, and failure to disclose legitimate grounds for dismissal against him.
The competency of the lawsuit and the court’s jurisdiction were also contested by the EFCC, ICPC, and CCB in their respective preliminary objections.
Justice Omotosho announced his decision and stated that he needed to decide on two issues: whether the lawsuit was frivolous and if Keyamo could receive the remedy she was seeking.
The judge further stated that the locus standi of the applicant would be investigated while determining the court’s jurisdiction.
“The ability of a party to bring an action is known as locus standi. It queries what the plaintiff’s relationship to the defendants is.
In order to stop busybodies from filing lawsuits and keeping them from taking up the time of the court, he argued, adequate locus standi was required.
Although the court did not rule that the ex-minister had no right to request that Abubakar be investigated, he claimed that the ex-minister had failed to demonstrate how Abubakar’s acts had damaged him.
“A citizen of a nation has the right to report crime, and doing so cannot violate anyone’s fundamental rights.
However, he added, “the complainant is to make a complaint to the statutory agencies and not to drag the first defendant with the agencies to court to seek an order for the agencies to look into the suspect.
Justice Omotosho ruled, citing earlier instances to support his conclusion, that investigating authorities had the discretionary ability to look at any case and determine whether it would merit prosecution or not.
According to the law, the court cannot order investigative agencies to use their discretion.
The court read Keyamo’s letter, in which he gave the investigative authorities a 72-hour deadline to look into Abubakar, and noted that the Court of Appeal had warned public officials against abusing their authority in one of its rulings.
He claimed that giving statutory entities 72 hours to look into and pursue an alleged offense was unheard of.
“And a lawsuit was filed right away following the 72-hour period.
“The issue is whether 72 hours are enough time for the investigation and resolution of this kind of activity. “No, that’s the answer,” he said.
Omotosho stated: “This means that the action was filed in bad faith.” He claimed that Keyamo did not even give the statutory bodies a fair amount of time to respond before initiating the lawsuit.
According to him, the litigation was pointless and abused the legal system.
“Would the plaintiff, who purports to be a lawyer, believe that a suit requiring a statutory body will succeed given 72 hours?
He remarked, “The plaintiff should know that these agencies are at liberty as to when to investigate and when to conclude.”
He claimed Keyamo behaved like “an errand boy.”
He said that it was past time for public servants to be aware that statutory bodies shouldn’t be utilized to resolve political disputes.
So, the judge applauded the EFCC, ICPC, and CCB for not acting in a way that suggested Keyamo was giving them instructions.
“The plaintiff should know that such a suit will not succeed,” he declared.
Omotosho dismissed the case after describing it as frivolous, vexatious, and an abuse of the legal system.
Odogun, the attorney for ICPC, submitted a request for a N30 million fine shortly after the decision.
She stated that time and resources were wasted because the ICPC had been attentive in defending the case.
A N200 million fine against Keyamo was also requested by Abubakar’s attorney, Mr. Igbanoi, on the grounds that his client had previously run for vice president and the presidency.
However, O. C. Uju, the attorney for Keyamo, disagreed with the two attorneys who asked the court to reject their motion for a cost.
However, the judge imposed a N5 million penalties on Abubakar and the ICPC, respectively.