By Richard Akinnola
Expounding of the issue of forum shopping, which is regarded as an abuse of Court process, the Supreme court, per Chukwuma-Eneh, JSC stated as follows: “The term abuse of process connotes simply the misuse of Court’s process and it includes acts which otherwise interfere with the course of justice. Clearly, the acts include where without reasonable.
ground a party institutes frivolous, vexatious and oppressive actions and also by instituting of multiplicity of actions or is on a frolic act of forum-shopping i.e. seeking favourable Court to entertain a matter. It also includes depriving the court of jurisdiction. Arising from such acts the Court has the power to treat the acts as contemptuous of the Court which can apart from resorting to the use of its coercive powers of contempt can also order the action to be stayed (as has been done here in the appeal No. CA/S/EP/GV/10/2009 or dismiss it as the case may be.” – See Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi & anor. v. Independent National Electoral Commission & 2 Ors (No.2) (2010) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1224) 154 at 195.
The Supreme court in a number of cases, has often frowned at the flagrant abuse of court processes, particularly on similar matters that had been previously litigated.
It is against this backdrop that l view the recent suit filed at the Federal High court, Abuja by an amorphous group called the Incorporated trustees of Empowerment for unemployed Youths Initiative, seeking an order for the withdrawal of certificate of return issued to the Deputy Senate president, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
In the suit, the claimant is claiming that the deputy Senate president “is not a fit and proper person” to be so elected, having been allegedly convicted by a Los Angeles, California State Bar court on November 30, 1995.
The claimant further averred that Omo-Agege was allegedly sentenced to jail terms and suspended from law practice for two years for alleged felony.
Curiously, the gravamen of these claims have been previously pooh-poohed by another Abuja court as being patently false.
On January 30, this year, an Abuja High court had stated that there was no evidence that Senator Omo-Agege was convicted in the United States.
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Bwari had dismissed a suit seeking the removal of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as deputy senate president.
As reported in the Vanguard of January 30, 2020, the suit by the Incorporated Trustees of Patriotic Youth Organisation of Nigeria, had asked the court to void Omo-Agege’s election on the grounds that he submitted false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The group alleged that the deputy Senate president committed perjury when he denied been convicted by any court of law in the United States of America, the subject matter of this new suit.
But in his judgment, Justice Othman Musa, held that the defendant was not guilty of perjury as alleged by the claimants.
The judge said the case against the Senator in the US was a non-criminal trial by a judicial commission of inquiry in California, which did not amount to a conviction.
He added that since Omo-Agege challenged the case at the US Supreme Court and won, he was not obligated to disclose such information to INEC before contesting an election.
In dismissing the suit, the court awarded N1 million as costs against the claimant.
Interestingly, it’s on this same subject matter that had been litigated upon, that this new group is similarly asking the court to adjudicate, a move which amounts to a flagrant abuse of court process.
This has often been frowned at by the Supreme court in a plethora of cases.
In Lokpobiri v. Ogola(2016) 3 NWLR (pt. 1499) 328 at 367- 388 paras E-F; Ladejo v. Ajimobi (2016) 10 NWLR (PT. 1519) 88 at 128 paras A-B, the court held that where a court comes to the conclusion that its process is being abused, the appropriate order to make is that of dismissal of the process.
Without prejudice to the merit or otherwise of the present matter, it is important to respect the sanctity of our judiciary by not exposing it to ridicule with multiplicity of cases on same subject matter that had been previously litigated.
In the case of PDP v. Sheriff (2017) 15 NWLR (PT. 1588) 219 at 265-266 paras D-G, the Supreme court court held thus:
“….the basis of the rule on abuse of court process is the real possibility of two conflicting decisions in respect on one and the same subject matter. So, it is desirable that the issues common to both parties are heard and determined in only one court”.
It is my considered view that since the subject matter of this new suit had been litigated upon and judgement delivered, it amounts to an abuse of court process to again subject the court on another tortuous journey, in the same court of coordinate jurisdiction.