17 March 2010

Nigeria: Court Stops Lagos Assembly From Probing Fashola

Lagos — The Lagos High Court, Ikorodu presided over by Justice Habeeb Abiru yesterday restrained the Lagos State House of Assembly from probing the alleged corruption made against the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) until they follow due process.

The court also resolved that before the probe can be done by the House the allegations by "The True Face of Lagos" must first be published in its Journal or in an official gazette of the Lagos State government.

The Judge in his judgment held that the group that made the publication in the Punch Newspaper of January 28, 2010 on the "True Face of Lagos" was faceless without any known address or location other than an e-mail address and no documents were published in the advertorial to support the allegations

It would be recalled that the court, presided over by Justice Abiru had on February 10 made an order restraining the Assembly from investigating the allegations of financial impropriety against the Governor Babatunde Fashola, pending the determination of the suit filed by a human rights activist and journalist, Mr. Richard Akinola. In the suit, Akinola is seeking an order of perpetual injunction stopping the house from probe.

The judge in his 28-page judgment said the action of the House of Assembly (defendant) in setting up and inaugurating a six-man committee to investigate allegations of financial impropriety leveled against the Executive and Legislative Arms of the Lagos State Government by a group published in The Punch Newspaper under the caption "The True Face of Lagos" pursuant to its resolution passed on January 28, 2010 without that resolution having been first published in its journal or in an official gazette of the Lagos State government is a fundamental breach of the provisions of section 128 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and is therefore unconstitutional, Illegal, unlawful, ultra vires and of no effect whatsoever.

According to the judge, the claims of the claimant succeeded in part. "The claim for a declaration that having to the surrounding circumstances the investigation by the defendant of allegation of financial impropriety leveled against the Executive and Legislative Arms of the Lagos State Government by a group published in The Punch Newspaper or by any other group is tainted with bias and programmed to a predetermined end fails and it is hereby refused."

He also stressed that they were bare allegations and were not contained in a petition addressed directly to the House of Assembly but published in an advertorial in the morning and it was on the same day that the House passed the resolution to set up a Committee to investigate them. He said it was not a case of the House reacting to public outcry against the allegations and no reason was adduced by the House for this urgent action.

The court after hearing the substantive suit along with a preliminary objection raised by the House of Assembly filed by its counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter as well as the locus standi of the claimant in instituting the suit, the judge held that the claimant is a responsible citizen of the country and as such has the locus standi to come before the court

Meanwhile arguing the substantive suit at the last date for the claimant, human rights lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu said his client did not have problems with the House investigating the allegations against the governor but that the members cannot at the same time investigate the same matter in which they are being accused.

Aturu said it would be against the principle of natural justice (nemo judex incasua sua, meaning that you cannot be a judge in your own matter) for the house to hear an allegation which it is also being accused, saying that the same allegations accused members of the House of illegally collecting N20 million each.

Referring to media reports where the speaker of the House, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji said that they are commencing the investigation to show the whole world that they are clean, Aturu said the members lacked the lawful right to investigate allegation in which they are named as accomplices.

On the issue of locus which the respondent counsel canvassed, Aturu said the claimant has legal right to bring the suit, saying he being a law-abiding Nigerian is obligated under fundamental objectives set forth in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

'On the issue of locus standi, we need to be consistent in our efforts at activism. This is a man who has been a journalist for over 28 years and you think he has no standi in this matter. We cannot continue to deny our people access to justice on the basis of standi,' Aturu said.

He further said the House in its effort to investigate the said allegation failed to comply with Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution wherein it is mandated to publish the said allegation in the official gazette of the state government.

He thereby urged the court to dismiss the objection raised by the House, describing it as fictitious and asked the court to grant the leave as sought by the claimant.

However, Keyamo in his response had prayed the court to refuse the leave sought by the claimant as the respondent (Lagos House of Assembly) did not have business being in court, adding that the House in seeking to investigate the allegation, was only doing its duty as set forth in the constitution and need not be dragged to court.

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