Alex Enumah in Abuja
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has declared that the National Assembly lacks the powers to carry out criminal investigation with the intent of indicting or absolving anyone from the allegations he or she is being investigated.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole made the declaration last Tuesday, while delivering judgment in a suit filed by Festus Keyamo challenging the powers of the lawmakers to investigate him and recommend for his investigation by the police over criminal allegations made against the then Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Delivering judgment in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/163/2009), the court declared as null and void, the practice of the National Assembly (in this case the House of Representatives), investigating criminal allegations against individuals and producing reports/resolutions indicting or absolving those individuals or directing law enforcement agents or the executive as to what should be done.
Justice Kolawole agreed with the plaintiff that by virtue of Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, or any other extant legislation, the National Assembly is not constitutionally or legally empowered to investigate criminal allegations and absolve or indict any individual of those allegations.
In addition, the court held, â€œthat the House of Representativeâ€™s Resolution dated March 3, 2009 to the effect that certain annexures attached to Festus Keyamoâ€™s letter dated October 19, 2008 and addressed to Hon. Dimeji Bankole (who was then the Speaker, House of Representatives, Federal Republic of Nigeria), are faulty and baseless, to the extent that it absolves certain of its principal officers and management from criminal allegations made against them, and accuses Keyamo of unwholesome conduct, is null, void and of no effect.
â€œThat by virtue of Section 88 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended and any other extant law, the National Assembly is not constitutionally or legally empowered to make recommendations or pass any resolution concerning the conduct of any person, including Keyamo who is not charged or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for: Executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly and; Disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
Also declared as null and void is the resolution of the House of Representatives dated March 3, 2009 especially as it concerns the conduct of Keyamo.
Consequently, the court said the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) are restrained from compulsorily giving effect to the Resolution of the House of Representatives dated March 3, 2009 as it concerns Keyamo.
Keyamo had in the suit prayed the court to determine whether by the provision of section 88 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the National Assembly has the powers to investigate criminal allegations, absolve or indict any individual persons of such allegations, and also compel or mandate any security agency to investigate the plaintiff or any other person.
The House of Representatives had on March 3, 2009, during Plenary resolved, â€œThat the committee having found that Keyamoâ€™s letter is faulty and baseless in its allegations, urge the House to prevail on the inspector-general of police and/or other relevant security agencies to investigate how the annexures/documents attached to Keyamoâ€™s letter were obtained.â€
The House of Representatives then went ahead and â€œabsolvedâ€ the then Speaker (Mr. Dimeji Bankole) of the criminal allegations leveled against him in the said publication for which Keyamo sought explanations.
Keyamo believed that the Resolution of the House of Representatives exceeded its powers as prescribed by the 1999 Constitution and other relevant laws.
He also believed that the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Services were likely to act on the said Resolution under the mistaken belief that the House of Representatives had the constitutional powers to â€˜prevail onâ€™ them or mandate them to investigate any allegation.
Following a publication on September 22, 2008, by a National Magazine, Newswatch, titled â€œDirty Car dealâ€, which alleged that there were fraudulent dealings by the leadership and management of the House of Representatives in the purchase of 380 units of 407 Peugeot cars for its members from Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited, the plaintiff wrote a letter dated October 19, 2008 addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives demanding for an open response to the said allegations.
The then Speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, instead of replying the said letter, referred the letter to House Committee on Ethics and Privileges which he himself constituted.
After its investigation the lawmakers â€œabsolvedâ€ the then Speaker (Mr. Dimeji Bankole) of the criminal allegations leveled against him in the said publication for which Keyamo sought explanations, prompting him to approach the court for determination of the powers of the legislators in the said matter.