Court Dismisses Suit against Fowler’s Tenure

Babatunde Fowler

A Federal High Court sitting in Kano, yesterday, dismissed a suit challenging the tenure of the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler.

The court, which was presided over by Justice Lewis Allagoa, dismissed the suit when it upheld the preliminary objection filed by Fowler’s counsel, Paul Erokoro, (SAN) that Stanley Okwara, the plaintiff, had no locus standi to file the suit.

Justice Allagoa came to the conclusion after an hour-long review of all the legal authorities cited by Erekoro, counsel to the Attorney-General of the Federation, T.A Ghazalli, who is the second defendant and counsel to the Plaintiff, JohnMary C. Jideobi.

Allagoa said he could not see how the right of the plaintiff had been affected by the non-appointment of the Executive Chairman, FIRS, after August 15.“In this case, the plaintiff said he is an unemployed legal practitioner. How specifically that affects his rights to file this suit is not disclosed,” said the judge.

He agreed with Fowler’s counsel that the plaintiff has no cause of action and that it was fatal to his suit that he didn’t file a pre-action notice to the court, as required by the Federal Inland Revenue Establishment Act (FIRSEA) 2007.

“I agree with the first defendant that the plaintiff ought to have served the defendant with a pre-action notice. Learned SAN asked the court to strike out the suit. I so hold,” Allagoa said.

The judge also upheld Erokoro’s submission that the suit should be struck out as there is no “justiciable cause of action.”

The FIRS Director of Legal Services, Ike Odume, saluted the court, saying: “My Lord, we thank you for being forthright in this matter. Thank you for doing justice. It cannot be less. I have been following this court from Enugu. I know you will always do justice. Thank you.

“My Lord, we will be asking for costs. We have come all the way from Abuja three times because of this matter. We will be asking for costs,” said Odume.

Allagoa, however, overruled Odume. He said: “Don’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer. Parties should bear their costs.”

About a fortnight ago, Fowler’s counsel, Erokoro, supported by Odume and counsel to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Ghazalli, in a preliminary objection, asked the court to strike out Okwara’s suit.

Erokoro and Ghazalli told the court that Okwara has no locus to file the suit in the first place and that the suit should be struck out as the court has no jurisdiction to entertain it. Both maintained that the proper place for the suit is the National Industrial Court.

But Okwara told the court that as a legal practitioner, he has fundamental human right to file the suit and he has a duty under the Legal Privileges Act to uphold the Rule of Law.

The plaintiff had asked the court in the suit (No. FHC/KN/CS/141/2019) to order Fowler to vacate his office, which, he claimed, expired on August 18, 2019.

Okwara claimed that Fowler was appointed on the August 20, 2015 and that his tenure had expired as FIRS Chairman after August 20, 2019.

Citing the provisions of Sections 3(2) (a), Section 4(a) and Section 11 (a)” of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 and the decision of the Supreme Court in Ogbuinyinya & Ors. vs. Obi Okudo & Ors. (1979) All N.L.R. 105, Okwara claimed Fowler has no business to continue to hold office.

He also asked the court for an order directing Fowler to refund to the Treasury Single Account of the Federation all the salaries, emoluments and other monetary benefits he has been drawing on the purse of the FIRS and file an affidavit of compliance within 14 days after the delivery of judgment in the suit.

But in a notice of preliminary objection dated September 30, and filed the same day, Erokoro noted that the Okwara has not disclosed a special interest.

Given Okwara’s failure to establish his locus standi to commence the suit and for failing to abide by Section 55 of the FIRS Establishment Act by filing a pre-action notice on the FIRS Chairman, for failing to present any reasonable cause of action, Erokoro asked the court to strike out the suit.

According to Erokoro, “when a plaintiff has not disclosed his standing to sue as in the instant case the question of whether other issues in the case deserve to be decided does not arise.”

He told the court that the adjudicatory machinery of the court cannot be activated as such powers can only be invoked by a litigant whose action is for the “determination of the civil rights and obligations of that person. That is the letter and the spirit of Sections 6 (6) b of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Citing Senator Abraham Adesanya Vs the President of Nigeria, (1986) 5 SC 112, Erokoro said the Okwara need to have actual and real interest in the suit before he can sue.

“In this case, the plaintiff’s alleged cause of action is that he is an unemployed legal practitioner. He alleges that the tenure of office of the first defendant has expired. How the purported expiration of the tenure of the first defendant affects him is not disclosed.

“The case of Ogbuiniya and Ors Vs Obi Okudo & Ors (1979) ALL NWLR 105 heavily relied on by the plaintiff is distinguishable from the instant case. In that case, the plaintiff’s case were affected because a judge gave a judgment against the plaintiff at a time he had ceased to be a judge of that court,” Erokoro told the court yesterday.