26 June 2014, Abuja – A Federal High Court in Abuja has urged the House of Representatives to take note of the fact that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had filed a case and should therefore not do anything that would frustrate the outcome of the case. Although, the court refused the minister’s application for an interim order to stop the House from going ahead with the probe of the allegation that N10 billion was spent to hire aircraft, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, however, directed that a copy of his ruling be served on the Inspector General of Police (IG) so that he would not accede to order of the legislators to arrest the minister.
Justice Kolawole explained that he turned down the request for injunction because the statutory time given to the House to respond to the suit had not elapsed.
He warned that if the House refused to comply with the legal principle of lis pendis, the court would not hesitate to commence contempt proceedings against it and declare any decision reached by the House a nullity.
Justice Kolawole said a party who was aware of a pending matter in court but took further steps risked contempt.
He said just as the legislators havw powers under the constitution to make laws for good governance of the country, the court would not share its powers under section 6 (6) of the constitution with any other arm of government.
The case was adjourned to July 9 for hearing on the motion for injunction.
The minister and the NNPC had through their lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), applied to the court for an interlocutory injunction to stop the National Assembly from summoning them for the purposes of giving evidence or producing any papers, books, records or other documents which relate to the unpublished official records of the applicants pending the hearing and final determination of the substantive suit filed by them.
In the alternative, they asked the court to issue an order for the maintenance of the status quo pending the hearing and final determination of the substantive suit filed by them.
They contended that the respondents (Senate and House of Representatives) cannot investigate criminal matters since there not a court of law.
They accused the lawmakers of abusing their powers in carrying out their oversight functions by indiscriminately dishing out invitations to them to attend series and several meetings that had to do with the way and manner they daily exercise and discharge their statutory functions.
According to them, the invitations by the House were not connected with the purpose of making laws or correcting defects in existing laws.
They said: “Within the space of one calendar year, we have been inundated with several invitations, numbering well over 40, from the several committees set up by the respondents to allegedly carry out oversight functions on the applicants.
“These several invitations which are not remotely related to the exercise of the respondents’ functions are hindering the applicants from effectively carrying out their own constitutionally and statutorily assigned responsibilities as they are regularly and serially forced to commit time, materials, personnel, energy, and huge resources to attend these frequent invitations, thus leaving them with little or no time to do their main job.”
In a written address in support of the application for interlocutory injunction by Ozekhome, he asked the court to, in the interim, restrain the lawmakers from further sending out invitations to the applicants for the purpose of appearing before them to answer to allegations of fraud, corruption or other criminal activities in the agencies under the applicants’ supervision or control, pending the hearing and final determination of the substantive suit filed by the applicants.
They also wanted an order restraining the respondents from further conducting direct personal or physical probe, inquiry and/or investigation into any alleged fraud, corruption, or other criminal activities said to have occurred in the applicants’ establishment or agencies under the applicant’s supervision or control, pending the hearing and final determination of the substantive suit.
Ozekhome argued that the lawmakers had been in usurping the powers and functions of the executive arm of government, by carrying out functions outside the scope and purview of Sections 4, 88 and 89 of the Constitution.
According to him, the respondents and their committees cannot personally, or physically investigate the respondents, but are only constitutionally mandated to cause other security agencies such as the Police, EFCC, ICPC, among others to carry out such investigations.
He said: “It is also the contention of the applicants that the respondents cannot investigate criminal matters not being courts of law, and that in purportedly carrying out their oversight functions, they have subjected same to abuse by indiscriminately dishing out invitations to the applicants to attend series and several meetings that have to do with the way and manner the applicants daily exercise and discharge their statutory functions, which are not connected with the purpose of making laws or correcting defects in existing laws.”
These several invitations which are not remotely related to the exercise of the respondents’ functions are hindering the applicants from effectively carrying out their own constitutionally and statutorily assigned responsibilities as they are regularly and serially forced to commit time, materials, personnel, energy, and huge resources to attend these frequent invitations, thus leaving them with little or no time to do their main job.”
He explained that since the filing of this suit, the lawmakers had not shown any intention of allowing the court decide one way or the other as to the existing rights of both parties with respect to the subject matter before the court and in line with extant provisions guiding both Houses with regards to matters litigated before a court of competent jurisdiction where interpretation as to how the conduct of their constitutionally assigned role is the subject matter of litigation.
“They insist on carrying out the investigations by June 17, and compelling the applicants to pay their gross earnings into the Federation Account, notwithstanding the contention of the applicants that only the net proceeds of their earnings ought to be paid into the Federation Account,” he added.
– This Day