A federal high court judge in Abuja denies issuing an order restraining the House of Representatives from investigating Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister of petroleum resources, over allegations of financial impropriety
| By Anayo Ezugwu | May 12, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
CONFUSION! This aptly describes the controversy that has trailed the reported court injunction restraining the House of Representatives from investigating Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister of petroleum resources. It was reported in some sections of the media on Monday, April 28, that an Abuja Federal High Court had restrained the House committee on public accounts from summoning Alison-Madueke over allegations that she spent more than N10 billion of public funds in the leasing of private jets for two years.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, the presiding judge, on Tuesday, April 29, denied claims by the House that he issued any order stopping investigations into the allegations. The judge expressed shock at media reports that he had issued an interim injunction stopping the investigation. He initially blamed journalists for the misinformation before he was informed that it emanated from the House spokesman. To set the records straight, the judge adjourned hearing on the suit and ordered the House Committee on Public Accounts members to appear before him on May 5, to explain where such an order came from.
The House, which is the second defendant in the suit, was not represented by any lawyer during Tuesday’s proceedings. But Yakubu Maikyau, counsel for the National Assembly, was present in court, alongside Etigwe Uwa, counsel for the plaintiffs and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. In a short ruling after both counsel had exonerated themselves from the report on the court order, the judge said, “I have seen a press release in the media said to have been issued by the House of Representatives that this court has made an order restraining the House from continuing with the probe. As far as I am concerned, and as the judge presiding over this case, no such order was made.”
Justice Mohammed also noted that he only ordered the defendants – the National Assembly and the House – to be put on notice after the plaintiffs’ counsel moved an ex parte motion praying for an order of interim injunction to restrain the House from summoning the minister. “This court in a ruling directed the defendants to appear in this court on April 17 and show causes why the interim order should not be made. On April 17, the plaintiffs’ counsel informed the court that processes have not been served on the defendants owing to the Nyanya bomb blast and the court adjourned till today, Tuesday, April 29. As the press release was issued by the House which is the second defendant in this suit, and as the House is not represented in court today, the only fair thing to do is to adjourn this matter and issue the House with a hearing notice to appear before the court and clear the air on whether it had been served with a restraining order issued by this court.”
Earlier, counsel for the plaintiffs had washed his hands off the development. The judge had wondered whether the plaintiffs’ counsel was behind the misinformation but counsel for the plaintiffs spiritedly professed his innocence, laying the blame on the House. Maikyau also distanced himself from the alleged restraining order but went ahead to apologise on behalf of the Director of Legal Services of the National Assembly.
He noted that it was strange that the report on the order was released on Monday, several days after the court directed the defendants to appear before it to show causes why the relief sought by the plaintiffs should not be granted. “I knew that something was wrong because that order (to appear before the court) has been subsisting since April 14 and if any other order was made on April 17, it would have been published since,” Maikyau said.
Zakari Mohammed, House of Representatives spokesman, had, at a news conference on Monday, April 28, announced that the House had received a court order stopping the Public Accounts Committee from going ahead with the probe. He said that the minister’s action was a sign that the executive arm of government was bent on arm-twisting the legislature and stopping it in its anti-graft crusade. “The import of this is that as legislators, we are supposed to fight corruption but, of course, this is another demonstration of the frustrations we face from government. This is a clear case of a matter which is under investigation, or supposedly will go into investigation, but is being frustrated. However, as a law abiding arm of government, we would tarry a while and take legal advice on this issue. May be that was why she did not show face today (Monday). Rather than leave the issue to speculation, we said let us inform you about the development, so that the Nigerian people would not be misinformed about the House.
“Our responsibility is to expose corruption. The House of Representatives, in its wisdom, took the decision to investigate this matter. They chose to wait until the day we said we would start this investigation for them to serve us this order. So, it tells a lot about what they intend to achieve with this issue. We don’t need to go into details. But, of course, we have come out formally and told you about the stand of the House. There are court papers served by the court stopping us from further probing the issue of the chartered jets. We had a resolution on the floor of the House and it was referred to the Public Accounts Committee. At no point in time has the leadership of the House expressed fears that they were under any pressure. This is not the first time we are going into this kind of process. It is usual that when you are dealing with the high and mighty, people will presume that you will hit a brick wall, but we are very, very consistent. The only way you can stop us is through a process like the court case, which we consider as a temporary setback. We will seek legal opinion and the House will be advised appropriately. This setback is painful though, but we have to obey the laws of the land. There is nobody that is under pressure. All that was written was based on speculation. As for the court order, we do not know what will happen. We are watching,” he said.
In her suit, Alison-Madueke wants the court to make an order of interim injunction restraining the National Assembly and the House, whether by themselves, their members, committees or agents from summoning or directing the appearance of the applicants before any committee particularly the Public Accounts Committee set up by the House. The minister also asked the court to stop the committee from asking her or any official of the ministry or the NNPC to produce any papers, notes or other documents or give any evidence in line with a letter from the House dated March 26, 2014, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice. She equally asked for an order of interim injunction restraining the National Assembly and the House from issuing a warrant to compel her attendance, or the attendance of any official of the ministry or the NNPC, with regard to the investigation.