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Court Stops House Committee From Probing Diezani, NNPC

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The proposed probe of the Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) by the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee has been ordered to be put on hold.

Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja gave the order Thursday thus stopping the House Committee from going ahead with the probe triggered off by allegation that the Minister spent a whopping N10bn to charter private jet for official and personal use.

In a ruling, Justice Mohammed said the order would apply till July 3 when the substantive suit would be heard.

His ruling came as the House Committee on Public Accounts was perfecting its acts to start the probe on June 25.

The ruling was subsequent upon the applicaton by the counsel to the Minister and NNPC, Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN), for a preservative order pending the hearing of the suit.

The lawyer had urged the court to make the order, claiming that a letter dated May 23 by the House Committee on Public Accounts, inviting his clients for the probe, constituted a disrespect for the court.

The Minister and NNPC had challenged the powers of the National Assembly and the House of Representatives, who are the two defendants in the suit, to summon them

Ruling on the matter on Thursday, Justice Mohammed said the Committee on Public Accounts had no genuine reason to continue the probe on June 25, 26 and 27,, having been aware of the pending suit seeking an order to restrain them from carrying out the investigation.

He noted that the filing of the suit did not amount to usurping the legislative power of the National Assembly as the committee had contended 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 (Thursday) till the next adjourned date when the matter will be heard,'. Justice Mohammed said.

He 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'.

Quoting the letter of invitation sent to the plaintiffs in his ruling, the judge also dismissed the contention of the House of Representatives that the suit filed by Alison-Madueke and others amounted to a usurpation of its legislative power.

'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.

'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,' he said.

In an earlier submission, the counsel for the House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Sadauki, had 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.

But he would not give an undertaking as requested by the plaintiffs' counsel that the probe be stopped pending the determination of the suit.

'I cannot stand here and give an undertaking that an arm of government will not carry out its constitutional duty,' Sadauki said.

However, counsel to the National Assembly, Mr. Obasi Nwabueze, said he was not aware of the letter inviting the plaintiffs to appear before the House Committee on the stipulated dates and had therefore urged the court to apply its discretion on the issue.

Also, the lead counsel for the House of Representatives, Mr. A.B Mahmud, who was absent in court, sent a letter seeking the adjournment of hearing of the matter till either July 2 or 3.

The presiding judge after hearing all representations therefore adjourned further hearing in the matter till July 3 as he ordered that the status quo be also maintained .