A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday gave an order restraining the House of Representatives from going ahead with the probe of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, over allegation that she spent N10bn on a chartered aircraft.
The order is to subsist till July 3 when the court will hear the substantive suit which was filed by Alison-Madueke, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed gave the order ahead of the plan by the House Committee on Public Accounts to carry out the probe on June 25, 26 and 27, 2014.
The order followed an application by the counsel for the plaintiffs in the suit, Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN).
Ewa had accused the committee of disregarding the authority of the court in its letter dated May 23, 2014, inviting his clients for the probe.
The plaintiffs are, through 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, lacked the power to summon them without the consent of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The judge, in his ruling on Thursday, dismissed the reasons adduced by the CPA for insisting on continuing the probe on June 25, 26 and 27, 2014, despite being aware of the pending suit.
He said the court had the duty to protect its integrity as 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,” the judge said.
Justice Mohammed said the House, in its letter, portrayed itself as if it could not be sued , adding that the court was created by Section 6(1) of the 1999 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 usurpation of its legislative power.
He said, “In fact the quoted portion of the second defendant’s (House of Representatives) letter is simply saying that the suit before this court is 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.”
Earlier, 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.
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.
“I cannot stand here and give an undertaking that an arm of government will not carry out its constitutional duty,” Sadauki said.
The counsel for the National Assembly, Mr. Obasi Nwabueze, had on his part 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.
The lead counsel for the House, Mr. A.B. Mahmud, was absent from court on Thursday but had sent a letter to the court, urging it to adjourn hearing of the matter till either July 2 or 3.
The matter was fixed for July 3 for hearing.
Efforts by our correspondents to reach the committee Chairman, Solomon Olamilekan, on the ruling failed as he neither picked calls to his telephone line nor responded to text messages.
He had on Tuesday vowed to resume the probe on June 26 so long as he had not been served with any court orders stopping the investigation.
But two other principal officers of the House – the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila – said the lawmakers had no option but to abide by the court ruling.
Ogor said he preferred to read the details of the decision before taking a categorical stance.
He said, “We respect the law, but I have not seen the details of the decision of the court. We respect the law, but let me see the ruling of the court.
“We have to avoid the confusion created the last time when there was a purported restraining order that was non-existent.”
Gbajabiamila, however, noted that much as the ruling was “unbelievable”, the House was left with no option but to comply with the decision of the court.
The mail read, “Unbelievable. We have no choice but to abide by the court ruling.
“We must respect the majesty of our courts, whether or not we like the ruling.”
The PUNCH had reported exclusively on Wednesday that there was uncertainty over the probe.
Besides the “tremendous pressure” reportedly mounted on the committee to soft – pedal on the probe, Alison-Madueke had filed cases in separate courts, all seeking to stop the House from proceeding with the investigation.