By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The coast is now clear for the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila as an Abuja High Court on Wednesday voided the criminal charge brought against him at the Grade 1 Area Court, Karishi, Abuja.
In the matter of an application for judicial review for an order of certiorari, the House of Representative Speaker 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, challenged the criminal proceedings instituted against him by the African Peoples Party.
The African Peoples Party and Hon Anas Is a Mohammed who 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.
Delivering judgement on the matter on Wednesday, the presiding judge, Justice Othman Musa quashed the criminal charge that was filed against Mr. Gbajabiamila at the Grade 1 Area Court, Karishi, Abuja on the ground 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 does 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, are a “unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void.”
While delivering the verdict, Justice said if a false information was given by Gbajabiamila in the course of filing out his INEC Form CF001 as alleged by the respondents, a criminal charge ought to have been filed against the Speaker 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.
“The order of 26 February, 2007 of the State Bar of Georgia, United States of America against Hon Gbajabiamila does not amount to a criminal offence known by any Nigerian law.
“I therefore, hold the view that the direct criminal complaint against Gbajabiamila was misconceived.
“Having dutifully combed through all the facts and the laws that have been presented before the court, and having soberly reflected on the robust arguments of counsel in the matter, I am satisfied that the reliefs of the application (Gbajabiamila) are granted.
“Consequently, an order is hereby made nullifying the entire proceedings of the Grade 1 Area Court, Karishi, Abuja. The charges in suit no: CR/349/2019 and Motion No: M/19/2019 between African Peoples Party (APP) Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila are hereby quashed,” Justice Musa declared.
In a motion on notice filed and dated June 11, 2019, Gbajabiamila through his counsel, Mr. Oluwole Adaja, urged the court to void the proceedings, decisions and criminal charge of the Grade 1 Area Court, Abuja.
He predicated his application on the following grounds.
“The Area Court of the FCT, Abuja lacks the jurisdiction to try the Applicant (Gbajabiamila) for an offence wholly committed outside the FCT, Abuja.
“The Area Court of the FCT, Abuja lacks the jurisdiction to make any pronouncement as to the truthfulness or falsehood of any information contained in the affidavit deposed to by a candidate of a political party pursuant to Section 31 of the Electoral Act, 2010.”
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 against of this nature against him.