Abuja Court Stops House Of Reps From Probing Petroleum Minister Alison-Madueke Over N10b Scam

Efforts by the House of Representatives to probe how Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke spent over N10 billion of public funds to hire jets for personal pleasure suffered a temporary setback today as Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed of the  Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the federal lawmakers to stop the investigation. Justice Ramat Mohammed gave the order at the resumed hearing of the legal action instituted by the Minister against the House of Representatives and the Senate to stop  the plan by the House Committee on Public Accounts to carry out the probe on June 25, 26 and 27. Counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN) had asked the court for a preservative order pending the hearing of the substantive suit. He had urged the court to make the order, alleging that a letter dated May 23, 2014, by the House Committee on Public Accounts, inviting his clients for the probe, constituted a disrespect for the court. The plaintiffs are in their substantive suit, asking the court to declare that the National Assembly and the House of Representatives, who are the two defendants in the suit, lack the power to summon them without the consent of President Goodluck Jonathan. The judge in his ruling said the Committee on Public Accounts had no genuine reason to continue the probe on June 25, 26 and 27, 2014, having been aware of the pending suit seeking an order to restrain them from carrying out the investigation. He said the filing of the suit did not amount to usurping the legislative power of the National Assembly as the House Committee had argued in its letter. “The court has inherent power and the duty to intervene to protect its integrity in determining its processes; and the second defendant is bent on interrupting the processes filed in this suit. I hereby direct parties to maintain status quo in the matter from now till the next adjourned date when the matter will be heard,” the judge said. Justice Mohammed said the House of Representatives, in its letter, portrayed itself as if it could not be sued in court, adding that the court was created by section 6(1) of the constitution and given the judicial powers in section 6(6)(b) of the same constitution to determine “disputes between persons or between governments and between governments and persons”. The judge, who quoted the letter of invitation sent to the plaintiffs in his ruling, also dismissed the contention of the House that the suit filed by Alison-Madueke and others amounted to a usurpation of its legislative power. His words: “In fact the quoted portion of the second defendant’s (House of Representatives) letter is simply saying that the suit before this court is an usurpation of its powers under the constitution. The second defendant went as far as calling the conduct of this suit ridiculous and disrepute. “The House of Representatives, [2nd defendants] have issued a second letter to the plaintiff inviting her to appear before its Public Accounts Committee. In the said letter of invitation, the House of Representatives  said it derived its powers from section 4 of the 1999 constitution adding that such powers cannot be usurped by anybody or agent of government as such usurpation would bring the House into great disrepute and ridicule. “Now the 2nd defendant is bent on proceeding with the probe even when it is not only aware of the matter in court but also sent a legal representation. While agreeing that the House is acting within its constitutional powers, where any of its powers is challenged in court, the court can intervene and is so empowered by the provisions of section 6 [1] and [b] of the 1999 constitution. “This provision of the constitution gives the court the powers to determine dispute between persons, government and its agencies and I have not seeing or come across any law that says the National Assembly cannot be sued in court. “No institution should be restrained from carrying its constitutional duties but where in this case, the defendant is aware of the pendency of this case but desires to proceed with the issue before the court, the court has inherent powers to intervene. “Accordingly, I hereby order that all parties should maintain status quo pending the hearing of the suit which is adjourned to July 3, 2014. While I agree that the legislature has constitutional powers to exercise, I cannot, however, agree that where any of the powers of the legislature is being challenged in the court of law, the court should turn its back to the plaintiff for the fear of being accused of usurping the legislative power of the National Assembly.” Counsel for the House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Sadauki had earlier urged the court to refuse the application for an interim order insisting that it would amount to determining the relief of the plaintiffs in the substantive suit. He also refused to give an undertaking as requested by the plaintiffs’ counsel that the probe would be stopped pending the determination of the suit, stressing “I cannot stand here and give an undertaking that an arm of government will not carry out its constitutional duty.”


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