A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday rejected the application by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to restrain the House of Representatives from probing the allegation that she spent N10bn on a chartered aircraft.
Counsel for Alison-Madueke and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN), had urged Justice Ahmed Mohammed to restrain the House Committee on Public Accounts from going ahead with the probe pending the hearing of their substantive suit.
The filed the suit to stop the probe which the committee had now scheduled to commence on June 17.
Alison-Madueke, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the NNPC are the plaintiffs in the suit, while the National Assembly and the House of Representatives are the first and second defendants respectively.
Uwa had on Monday opposed an oral application for an adjournment by the counsel for the House, Mr. A.B. Mahmud (SAN). He had argued that the matter was for the defendants to show cause why they should not be restrained from going on with the probe.
But Mahmud said he was just briefed about the matter and that he was not aware of what transpired in the previous proceedings when the order to show cause was made.
He said he had only prepared for the substantive suit, which the court had ordered the plaintiffs to serve on his client after the proceedings of April 29.
The court had ordered the processes to be served on the House after it refused to grant a restraining order against the defendants which the plaintiffs had applied for through a motion ex parte.
In spite of the judge’s position, the spokesman for the House, Zakari Mohammed, had announced at a news conference that the House had received a court order stopping the PAC from going ahead with the probe.
The following day, the judge denied the claim and ordered the House to appear before the court on May 5 to “clear the air” on the issue.
When the House failed to do so on May 5, the judge adjourned till Monday (yesterday) but insisted on its appearance.
During the hearing on Monday, Uwa argued that the “court should restrain the defendants from going ahead with the probe having been served with the processes of the pending suit.”
He said it was the only way the court could restore its dignity.
“We may come back to this court next time and discover that what we are asking the court to restrain has occurred,” Uwa added.
But Mahmud said granting such a restraining order would amount to the judiciary interfering with the statutory duty of the National Assembly.
“The Supreme Court has cautioned that in cases like this, courts should be reluctant to grant order that could restrain a statutory body from carrying out its duty,” Mahmud said.
Counsel for the National Assembly, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), informed the court that he had two pending applications before the court.
One of the applications was to regularise his briefs, while the other was seeking the name of the National Assembly to be struck out as a defendant because the Senate was not participating in the probe.
After a lengthy argument between the lawyers, the court adjourned the matter till June 19.
“In the interim parties shall respond to all pending applications served on them,” the judge ruled.
Following an apology tendered by Mahmud on behalf of his client, Justice Mohammed ordered the House to immediately organise a press conference to clarify the wrong information it fed the public on April 29 that the court had restrained its committee from further carrying out the probe.
“This must be done so that we can clarify the issue once and for all and put it behind us,” the judge said.
Uwa and Maikyau expressed dissatisfaction that neither the spokesman for the House, Mr. Mohammed nor any other official of the House appeared in court on Monday and on May 5 to respond to the summons of the court to clarify the misinformation.
Mahmud said that Mohammed was on a medical trip out of the country, but the two other lawyers said his absence showed that the House was taking the court for granted.
Last Thursday, Alison-Madueke and the NNPC filed another suit through Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) at the FHC, Abuja.
They are through the suit, which has yet to be assigned to a judge, asking the court to among others, declare that the National Assembly lacks the power to summon them or any of their officials to face probe without first obtaining the consent of the President.