Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Reprieve came the way of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila on Wednesday as a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has quashed the criminal charge filed against him by the African Peoples Party at the Grade 1 Area Court, Karishi, Abuja.
The decision was a sequel to an application for judicial review for an order of certiorari brought by Gbajabiamila.
In a motion on notice brought pursuant to Section 12 of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja Area Courts Act, 2010, Order 44 Rule (A) and (2) of the High Court of the FCT Rules 2018, the House of Representatives speaker challenged the criminal proceedings instituted against him by the African Peoples Party (APP).
The African People’s Party and Hon Anas Isa Mohammed who are respondents at the FCT High Court, had alleged at the Grade 1 Area Court, that Mr. Gbajabiamila lied on oath while filing Form CF001 of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during the last general elections to the effect that he was never convicted of any crime.
The respondents had contended that the speaker was found guilty of professional misconduct by the State Bar of Georgia, United States of America in 2007.
In his judgement on Wednesday, Justice Othman Musa quashed the criminal charge that was filed against Mr. Gbajabiamila at the Grade 1 Area Court, Karishi, Abuja, on the grounds that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to entertain and determine the matter.
“The lower court acted recklessly in a matter it has no jurisdiction to do so,” Justice Musa held.
In the suit marked: FCT/HC/BW/M/267/19, the judge further held that the allegation of disciplinary proceedings levelled against Mr. Gbajabiamila did not amount to a criminal conviction by a court of law.
Consequently, the court declared the proceedings and decisions of the Grade 1 Area Court of May 30, 2019, as “unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void.”
While delivering the verdict, the justice said if false information was given by Gbajabiamila in the course of filling out his INEC Form CF001 as alleged by the respondents, a criminal charge ought to have been filed against him at either the Federal High Court or the FCT High Court as prescribed by the Electoral Act as amended.
“The 1st respondent (APP) is not a legal officer of INEC. Criminal matters are only enforceable by a law enforcement agency, I so hold,” the judge said.
Citing the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Amaechi versus INEC 2008, Justice Musa averred that an indictment by a mere disciplinary committee or commission that is not a court of law recognised by the constitution does not amount to a criminal conviction.
It was also Gbajabiamila’s contention that the criminal allegation for which he was being charged at the Grade 1 Area Court, Abuja, was statute-barred as same was not filed within 14 days.
Citing Section 150 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) the Speaker equally questioned the Area Court’s jurisdiction to try the offence in criminal summons, adding that the respondent (APP), lacked the right to commence criminal proceedings of this nature against him.