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Tenure controversy: Court strikes out plea seeking to remove Fowler from office as FIRS chairman

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Justice Lewis Allagoa of the Federal High Court Kano, Monday struck out a plea that the Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Tunde Fowler, be asked to vacate his office on account of claims that his tenure has expired.

Allagoa made the order in Kano following a request by Johnmarry Jideobi, counsel to the plaintiff, Stanley Okwara. Mr Fowler’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro (SAN), who was supported by FIRS Director of Legal Services, Ike Odume; and counsel to the Attorney General of the Federation (the second defendant in the suit), T. A. Ghazalli, in a preliminary objection, asked the court judge to strike out Okwara’s suit

Citing copious legal authorities, Messrs Erokoro and Ghazalli told the court that Mr Okwara has no locus standi to file the suit and that it should be struck out as the court has no jurisdiction to entertain it.

The appropriate court to entertain the suit, argued the defendants’ lawyers, is the National Industrial Court. They submitted that Mr Okwara is wasting the time of the Federal High Court by filing the suit before it.

But Mr Okwara maintained that as a legal practitioner, he has the right to file the suit and he has a duty under the Legal Privileges Act to uphold the rule of law.

Okwara, an Abuja-based lawyer, in the suit (No FHC/KN/CS/141/2019), had asked a Federal High Court sitting in Kano to order Mr Fowler to vacate his office, which he claimed expired on August 18, 2019.

The plaintiff had claimed that Fowler was appointed on August 20, 2015, arguing that his tenure as FIRS Chairman lapsed after the 20th August, 2019.

He cited 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, which he said made Fowler’s continued stay in office illegal unless he is reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari. He also asked the court to order Fowler to return to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) all salaries. Emoluments and other monetary benefits he has enjoyed since the perceived cessation of his tenure.

But Erokoro countered the claims of the plaintiff’s lawyer.

In a notice of preliminary objection dated September 30 and filed on the same day, Mr Erokoro noted that Mr Okwara failed to disclose any 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.

“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 argued.

Erokoro also 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, Mr Erokoro said Okwara needs to have actual and real interest in the suit before he can sue.

“In this case,” Erokoro told the court, “the plaintiff’s alleged cause of action is that he is an unemployed legal practitioner. He alleges that the tenure of office of the Fist defendant (Fowler) has expired. How the purported expiration of the tenure of the first defendant affect 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.”

Other authorities cited by Erokoro to puncture Mr Okwarra’s claim that he has a locus to institute the suit include: Re-Ijelu Vs LSPDC (1192) NWLR (Pt 266) 414 at 422-432, Olorode V Oyebi (1981) in 1 SCNLR 390 at 400, 1984 5 SC P 1 at 16, Sunday Adegbite Taiwo V Serak Adegboro & Ors (2011) LPELR 3155 ( SC) at page 15 B and Nyesom V Peterside (2016 LPELR -40036 (SC); Barbus & Co Nig Ltd V Okafor-Udeji (2018) 11 NWLR (PT1630) 298 at 311-321, H-A and Emechebe V CETO Int Nig Ltd (2018 11 NWLR (pt 1631 520 at 537-538, C-A

Barry Chukwu, a lawyer with the FIRS, in an affidavit dated September 30, also told the court that the president forwarded Mr Fowler’s name for appointment as the substantive Executive Chairman of the FIRS on August 21, 2015 for confirmation by the Senate.

“Following a meeting by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 9th December, 2015, Fowler was confirmed as the substantive Executive Chairman of the FIRS.

“The following day, 10th December 2019, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, informed President Muhammadu Buhari of Fowler’s suitability for confirmation as substantive Executive Chairman of the FIRS.

“Based on this, Fowler’s appointment as Executive Chairman did not take effect on 20 August, 2015 when he was appointed as the acting FIRS Chairman,” he said.

In support of his position, he quoted from a letter by Saraki.

“Your Excellency may, therefore, wish to formally appoint the confirmed nominee as Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service,” Saraki’s letter, dated 15 December 2015, read in part.

Monday’s court proceedings lasted for over three hours, with Jideobi initially asking Justice Allagoa to throw out all the processes filed by the by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation as they were not filed within time.

Ghazalli countered him, citing the Independence Day public holiday as a reason. Allagoa allowed the counsel to the Attorney-General to orally move his motion to file out of time. He stood the court down for about seven minutes to enable the counsel serve the other.

When Messrs Erokoro and Ghazalli were done, Mr Jideobi told the court that Section 18 (1) of the Interpretations Act places a duty on him, as a legal practitioner to uphold the rule of law. He further maintained that a Supreme Court ruling gives precedence to the African Charter of Human Rights provisions over all local statutes. To this Justice Allagoa queried: “Änd also the constitution?

Allagoa fixed Friday, October 11, 2019 for a ruling on preliminary objection.

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44 workers sacked in Benue property company

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The Benue Investment and Property Company (BIPC), on Tuesday announced the sack of 44 workers it claimed were redundant.

Mr Alex Adum, its Managing Director, who announced this at his first accountability press briefing in Makurdi, said that their employment followed due processes, but “lacked business needs”.

According to him, the reduction in the workforce is part of an ongoing restructuring in the company, NAN reports

“All the affected staff have been redundant; I inherited a total of 204 workers, among those sacked were three Executive Directors and four General Managers.

“In 2016, BIPC had 66 staff; between 2016 and 2019, an additional 150 staff were employed,” he said.

Adums said that the company’s monthly wage bill rose to N37 million due to the number of employees.

The managing director said that he was aware of the criticisms the sack would attract, but declared that he was “doing it in good faith, and in the interest of Benue”.

He said that the company’s shares and assets had hugely depreciated due to misapplication of managerial principles.

“Previous administrations refused to apply sound managerial principles; they made the company a social service extension centre.

“They watched while the company collapsed, and left a lot of liabilities for the government to battle with,” he fumed.

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Supreme court fixes date to resume FG, senator Kashamu’s extradition legal battle

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The Supreme Court has fixed October 17 to resume hearing in an appeal filed by former Senator Buruji Kashamu challenging the Federal government’s move to extradite him to the United States of America (USA) for trial in an alleged hard drug trafficking offence

The long drawn legal battle started in 2014 by Kashamu at the Federal high court to thwart the request of the American government that he be extradited to USA to answer alleged criminal charges filed against him about heroine drug importation into the country.

It was gathered that ten other persons said to have been involved in the alleged drug offence have been tried, convicted and sentenced to various prison terms while Kashamu reportedly escaped and ran back to Nigeria prompting the extradition request against him.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) are the key respondents in the two appeals filed by Kashamu to stop the federal government from executing two Appeal Court judgments granted against him.

This is coming as the AGF is making moves to challenge together, the multiple lawsuits filed by Kashamu in various courts on ground of abuse of court processes and use of the suits to harass the Federal government and the NDLEA.

Apart from the two appeals pending in Supreme Court Kashamu has filed two fresh ones at the Federal high court in Abuja before Justice Okon Abang and another one at the Lagos division of the court before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke.

The hearing date has been communicated to parties involved in the legal tussle through issuance of hearing notice.

The Apex Court is to review the two judgments delivered in favour of the Federal Government by the Lagos division of Court of Appeal on May 4, 2018.

Kashamu had in his notice of appeal to Supreme Court complained that the Court of Appeal erred in law by voiding and setting aside the two judgments of the Federal High Court, Abuja which barred Federal Government from extraditing him to America.

The ex-senator is praying the Apex Court to set aside the decisions of the Court of Appeal as they affected him.

But government through the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, has joined issues with him over a counter prayer that the Supreme Court should uphold the judgments of the Court of Appeal meant for his extradition.

The AGF claimed that the Appeal Court was right in setting aside two judgments of the High Court because they were based on hearsay evidence of Kashamu before the court.

The AGF urged the Supreme Court to allow the judgments of the Court of Appeal to enable the Federal government extradite the Senator to USA to prove his innocence or otherwise in the hard drug trafficking criminal charge filed against him by the American government since 2015 when he was alleged to have escaped to Nigeria.

Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, is leading the legal team of the lawmaker while Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, is leading the Federal government legal team at the Apex Court.

The Court of Appeal had on May 4, 2018 delivered a judgment in favour of the federal government to extradite Kashamu who had engaged government in a long drawn legal battle since 2014.

The appellate court in the two separate judgments voided and set aside all orders made by a Federal High Court between 2014 and 2017 restraining the government from proceeding with the extradition.

Justice Joseph Ikyeghi in the judgments marked CA/L/1030/15 and CA/L/1030A/15 in the appeal filed by the AGF held that the orders granted Kashamu by Justice Okon Abang were invalid and unknown to laws because they were based on hearsays and speculations by Senator Kashamu.

The court held that the hearsay, saying that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was instigating the extradition was not established under any law.

The appeal court said that an affidavit deposed to by Kashamu on the issue was worthless and not in compliance with Evidence Act because the senator himself claimed that he was told by several persons who were not called to testify in court.

Justice Ikyeghi held that Justice Abang in his two judgments on the issue erred in law by playing undue reliance on affidavit that contravened Evidence Act to give judgment against the Federal government.

Consequently, the order of injunction stopping the extraction process was voided and set aside.

Justice Ikyeghi had agreed with counsel to the Federal Government Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, that a statutory body like the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) can only be prohibited from performing its statutory functions based on facts and not hearsays and speculations as in the instant case.

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Supreme court fixes date to resume FG, senator Kashamu’s extradition legal battle

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The Supreme Court has fixed October 17 to resume hearing in an appeal filed by former Senator Buruji Kashamu challenging the Federal government’s move to extradite him to the United States of America (USA) for trial in an alleged hard drug trafficking offence

The long drawn legal battle started in 2014 by Kashamu at the Federal high court to thwart the request of the American government that he be extradited to USA to answer alleged criminal charges filed against him about heroine drug importation into the country.

It was gathered that ten other persons said to have been involved in the alleged drug offence have been tried, convicted and sentenced to various prison terms while Kashamu reportedly escaped and ran back to Nigeria prompting the extradition request against him.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) are the key respondents in the two appeals filed by Kashamu to stop the federal government from executing two Appeal Court judgments granted against him.

This is coming as the AGF is making moves to challenge together, the multiple lawsuits filed by Kashamu in various courts on ground of abuse of court processes and use of the suits to harass the Federal government and the NDLEA.

Apart from the two appeals pending in Supreme Court Kashamu has filed two fresh ones at the Federal high court in Abuja before Justice Okon Abang and another one at the Lagos division of the court before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke.

The hearing date has been communicated to parties involved in the legal tussle through issuance of hearing notice.

The Apex Court is to review the two judgments delivered in favour of the Federal Government by the Lagos division of Court of Appeal on May 4, 2018.

Kashamu had in his notice of appeal to Supreme Court complained that the Court of Appeal erred in law by voiding and setting aside the two judgments of the Federal High Court, Abuja which barred Federal Government from extraditing him to America.

The ex-senator is praying the Apex Court to set aside the decisions of the Court of Appeal as they affected him.

But government through the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, has joined issues with him over a counter prayer that the Supreme Court should uphold the judgments of the Court of Appeal meant for his extradition.

The AGF claimed that the Appeal Court was right in setting aside two judgments of the High Court because they were based on hearsay evidence of Kashamu before the court.

The AGF urged the Supreme Court to allow the judgments of the Court of Appeal to enable the Federal government extradite the Senator to USA to prove his innocence or otherwise in the hard drug trafficking criminal charge filed against him by the American government since 2015 when he was alleged to have escaped to Nigeria.

Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, is leading the legal team of the lawmaker while Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, is leading the Federal government legal team at the Apex Court.

The Court of Appeal had on May 4, 2018 delivered a judgment in favour of the federal government to extradite Kashamu who had engaged government in a long drawn legal battle since 2014.

The appellate court in the two separate judgments voided and set aside all orders made by a Federal High Court between 2014 and 2017 restraining the government from proceeding with the extradition.

Justice Joseph Ikyeghi in the judgments marked CA/L/1030/15 and CA/L/1030A/15 in the appeal filed by the AGF held that the orders granted Kashamu by Justice Okon Abang were invalid and unknown to laws because they were based on hearsays and speculations by Senator Kashamu.

The court held that the hearsay, saying that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was instigating the extradition was not established under any law.

The appeal court said that an affidavit deposed to by Kashamu on the issue was worthless and not in compliance with Evidence Act because the senator himself claimed that he was told by several persons who were not called to testify in court.

Justice Ikyeghi held that Justice Abang in his two judgments on the issue erred in law by playing undue reliance on affidavit that contravened Evidence Act to give judgment against the Federal government.

Consequently, the order of injunction stopping the extraction process was voided and set aside.

Justice Ikyeghi had agreed with counsel to the Federal Government Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, that a statutory body like the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) can only be prohibited from performing its statutory functions based on facts and not hearsays and speculations as in the instant case.

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