Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has dismissed a suit seeking to compel the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to investigate corruption allegations against the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiomhole.
The plaintiff, Bishop Osadolor Ochei, an Edo based cleric, had in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/628/2018, alleged that Oshiomhole who was sued as the 2nd respondent, while in office as governor, acquired properties in United States of America, South Africa and Dubai worth billions of U.S. dollars and far in excess of his legitimate income.
The clergy further told the court that Oshiomhole built a sprawling mansion worth more than N10billion in his home town known as Iyamho, while he was in office as governor.
According to him, “the said building was constructed by Verissimo, a South African architectural outfit. The said house of the 2nd respondent has swimming pools, water fountains, multiple theatres for cinema and live performances, huge event halls, bridges, man-made lake and lodges of different sizes among others.
“The said cost of building the mansion is well outside the 2nd respondent’s legitimate income. The 2nd respondent’s lifestyle and extent of the said property were not justified by his source of income.”
Prior to the suit, the applicant told the court that he had on November 4, 2016, sent a petition to the EFCC, detailing some corrupt practices he said the ex-governor was involved in.
It was his contention before Justice Anwuli Chikere that EFCC’s refusal to act on petitions containing “weighty allegations” against Oshiomhole, ran contrary to Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which enjoined the state to abolish corrupt practices.
But in her judgment, Justice Chikere upheld the preliminary objection raised in the suit by Oshiomhole to the effect that the action was statute-barred.
The court held that although EFCC has a statutory obligation to investigate corruption allegations, the case that was brought against Oshiomhole had become statute-barred. The court held that the applicant ought to have approached the court for order of mandamus, three months after EFCC refused to act on his petitions. Justice Chikere maintained that having failed to institute the action within the statutorily-allowed period, the applicant, therefore lacked the locus standi to sustain the suit. Consequently, the court said there was no need to consider the merit or otherwise of the allegations and affidavit evidence that were tendered against the APC chairman. It upheld separate preliminary objections that both Oshiomhole and the EFCC lodged against the suit. “In conclusion, this suit lacks merit and it is accordingly dismissed,” the court held.
However, the applicant, through his lawyer, Mrs. Uju Chukwura, vowed to appeal against the ruling, insisting that he had strong evidence to prove that the APC chairman corruptly enriched himself with funds he diverted from the public treasury.
The EFCC and Oshiomhole challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit. In a preliminary objection, EFCC it through its lawyer, Mrs. Best Ojukwu, argued queried the locus-standi of the applicant to file the action.
The agency maintained that it has the discretion to decide how to use its available manpower to carry out investigations into petitions that are submitted to it.
Although EFCC admitted that it was in receipt of petitions accusing Oshiomhole of complicity in acts of corruption, it however told the court that it was not under any obligation to report or give account of its investigations to any individual or under a timeline within which to carry out its functions. Consequently, EFCC urged the high court to dismiss the suit and decline request for an order of mandamus to compel it to initiate criminal proceedings against Oshiomhole.
“That investigation of cases is a holistic process which entails time, resources, inter-agency cooperation, interview of different persons and gathering of evidence over a long period of time depending on the nature of the case and other variables,” it told the court.
Similarly, Oshiomhole, through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Damian Dodo, also challenged the powers of the court to order EFCC to prosecute him on the basis of the suit. While acknowledging the powers of the anti-graft agency to probe financial and economic crimes, Oshiomhole, contended that the court could not okay him to be investigated on the strength of a petition he said was lodged against him since 2016. He argued that the suit had become statute- barred, saying the applicant ought to have instituted the action within three months after the first petition was filed against him before the EFCC. The APC chairman noted that the cleric first wrote a letter to the EFCC on October 28, 2016, drawing its attention to the allegations of financial misappropriation he made against him. He told the court that the applicant wrote another letter that was received by the anti-graft agency on December 13, 2016, reminding it of his pending petition that was allegedly not acted upon by the EFCC. “The action of the 1st respondent (EFCC) which is being subjected to review by the instant proceedings for judicial review, last occurred on December, 2016, while the proceeding for judicial review was commenced on June 13, 2018, 18 months after the occurrence of the alleged failure being complained about.
“The suit is statute-barred by virtue of the facts stated above and the applicant/respondent’s right of action (if any) has become unenforceable,” Oshiomhole contended. He maintained that the applicant failed to show how actions he took while in office as governor “affected him over and above other residents and indigenes of Edo State.
“This honourable court is robbed of jurisdiction to entertain this suit for failure of the applicant/respondent to commence this action within the time provided by extant rules of this honourable court and/or for failure to disclose locus standi to institute the action,” Oshiomhole added.