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Confusion As Court Hears House Defence Over Diezani Probe Tuesday

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA, April 28, (THEWILL) â€' A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja will Tuesday, continue hearing in the suit filed by the Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Allison-Madueke and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to stop the probe of the Minister by the House of Representatives over allegations of reckless spending of a whopping N10billion on aircraft charter.

But there appears to be confusion on the position of the court on the suit.

On Monday, the chairman of the House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, had erroneously claimed that the court had stopped the House from going ahead with the probe, alleging that it was a ploy to frustrate the House.

Some observers of the development however told THEWILL that the situation is confusing since the court's order which was supposed to have been served on the defendants since April 17 was not served until Monday when the Minister was supposed to appear before the House Committee.

The court had turned down the exparte application of the Minister and NNPC, seeking among others, to restrain the House of Representatives and its committees from proceeding with the investigation of the allegation as it ordered them to put the respondents on notice.

Justice Ahmed Mohammed, in a ruling on April 14 had directed the respondents (National Assembly and House of Reps) to appear before the court on the next adjourned date and show cause why the orders of interim injunction being sought by the applicants' motion on notice dated and filed on April 11 should not be granted.

The judge according to his ruling 'Directed that the respondents be served with the motion exparte dated and filed April 11 for interim orders of injunction.'

The respondents shall also be served with the originating summons, motion on notice for orders of interlocutory injunction and all other court processes along with this order.

Hearing notice to also be issued on the respondents.

'These orders are made pursuant to the provisions of Order 26 Rules 10 and 13 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedures) Rules 2009.'

The Petroleum Minister and NNPC had through their lawyer, Etigwe Uwa (SAN) filed the exparte application seeking to restrain the respondents, their agents or committee from summoning or directing the applicants to appear before any committees, particularly the House of Reps Public Accounts Committee, and requesting the applicants to produce any documents, notes or papers or directing any relevant officers of the applicants to give evidence in respect of the issue before any committees of the respondents as contained in a letter by the House of Reps, dated 26 March 2014 pending the determination of the motion on notice.

They also sought an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents from issuing a warrant to compel the attendance of the applicants before the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Reps 'with regard to the investigative public hearing on the lease of aircraft pending the determination of the motion on notice.'

Alternatively, they sought 'a status quo order directing parties to maintain the current position as at the date of the filing of this action with regard to the proposed public hearing in respect of the 3rd plaintiff's (NNPC's) leased aircraft pending the determination of the motion on notice.'

The case came up for hearing on April 17 but the court could not consider any further application because of the absence of the respondents.

Uwa had told the court that the respondents were only served the summons the previous day and sought an adjournment.

Before adjoining further hearing on the matter to April 29, Justice Mohammed said the court could not proceed with the case since the respondents were only served the court's order the previous day.

The plaintiffs, are by the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/295/2014 challenging the powers of the National Assembly to investigate their alleged spending of about N10billion to hire aircraft for the minister.

House Of Representatives Says It Will Study Court Order

The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, Monday at a press conference in Abuja described the action of the minister and the corporation as attempts by the Executive to frustrate the House from exercising its constitutional responsibilities.

He said the House was no longer going ahead with the investigation because the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Minister had secured a court order restraining the House from investigating the allegations of N10 billion expended on chartered jets.

Mohammed said the House was studying the court order and would take appropriate action.

'We expected that she should be here today. But we have been served with a court order, notifying us that they have gone to court. 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. However, as a law abiding arm of government, we would tarry a while and take a legal advice about this issue. May be that was why she did not show up today. This is to tell you the kind of frustrations we face every day we embark on investigation,' he said.

Mohammed addressed the press conference alongside the chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, Hon. Solomon Adeola Olamilekan.

According to Mohammed, 'This is a clear case of a matter which is under investigation, or supposedly will go into investigation, but is being frustrated. We are studying the papers and taking position.'

'They choose to wait until the day we said we would start this investigation for them to serve us this matter. 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 to tell you about the stand of the House.'

In his contribution, Olamilekan whose committee is mandated to carry out the investigation explained, 'Today is the 28th of April when the committee scheduled to receive the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources and other agencies that have stake in this investigation.'

'But as we speak, there is a court order, which has been served to the office of the Speaker, even though the committee has not gotten the copy of that order.'

On how far the Committee has gone with the investigation, Olamilekan said, 'So far, so good for all the memos we have written, we got responses. We have received documents from Vista Gate in London, and also responses from Executive Jet Hangers about the flight details and all that have also been served to the committee, as we speak. The only correspondence we have not received, which we were expecting to get upon their appearance is that of the NNPC and the Honourable Minister of Finance.'

Recall that the House had last month directed the Public Accounts Committee to investigate the alleged expenditure of N10 billion by the minister on charter of private jets both for official and family use after adopting a motion brought before it by Hon. Samuel Babatunde Adejare.

Adejare had in his motion alleged that the minister was involved in reckless spending amounting to N10 billion and argued that it was a violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

'This colossal waste is currently estimated at N10 billion, which include the payment of allowances to the crew for the trips, hanger packing and rent based on the lease agreement,' he had told his colleagues.