Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja on Tuesday denied claims by the House of Representatives that he issued an order stopping investigations into the allegations that Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, spent N10bn to charter a private jet for her trips in the last two years.
The judge therefore summoned the House to appear before the court on May 5 to “clear the air” on the issue.
The spokesman for the House of Representatives, Zakari Mohammed, had at a news conference on Monday, announced that the House had received a court order stopping the Public Accounts Committee from going ahead with the probe.
However, when the case came up for hearing on Tuesday, the obviously angry judge expressed shock at media reports that he had issued an interim injunction stopping the investigation.
Mohammed initially blamed journalists for the ‘misinformation’ before he was informed that it emanated from Mohammed.
To set the records straight, the judge adjourned the hearing and ordered the House to appear before the court on May 5 to explain where such order came from.
The House which is the 2nd defendant in the suit was not represented by any lawyer during Tuesday’s proceedings.
But the counsel for the National Assembly, Y. C. Maikyau (SAN), was present in court, alongside Etigwe Uwa (SAN), the counsel for the plaintiffs – Alison-Madueke and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
In a short ruling after both counsel had exonerated themselves from the report on the court order, the judge said, “I have seen a press release in the media said to have been issued by the House of Representatives that this court has made an order restraining the House from continuing with the probe.
“As far as I am concerned, and as the judge presiding over this case, no such order was made.”
Mohammed also noted that he only ordered the defendants – the National Assembly and the House – to be put on notice after the plaintiffs’ counsel moved an ex parte motion praying for an order of interim injunction to restrain the House from summoning the minister.
He said, “This court in a ruling directed the defendants to appear in this court on April 17 and show cause why the interim order should not be made.
“On April 17, the plaintiffs’ counsel informed the court that processes have not been served on the defendants owing to the Nyanya bomb blast and the court adjourned till today (Tuesday, April 29).
“As the press release was issued by the House which is the 2nd defendant in this suit, and as the House is not represented in court today, the only fair thing to do is to adjourn this matter and issue the House with a hearing notice to appear before the court and clear the air on whether it had been served with a restraining order issued by this court.”
The Director, Legal Services of the House of Representatives, is expected to appear before the court on May 5 to shed light on the false court order.
Earlier, counsel for the plaintiffs had washed his hands off the development.
The judge had wondered whether the plaintiffs’ counsel was behind the misinformation but Uwa spiritedly professed his innocence, laying the blame on the House.
“The press release was circulated to media houses by the House ,” he said.
Maikyau also distanced himself from the alleged restraining order but went ahead to apologise on behalf of the Director of Legal Services.
“There is no report that it was the Director of Legal Services of the National Assembly that was behind such information – I apologise,” he said.
He noted that it was strange that the report on the order was released on Monday, several days after the court directed the defendants to appear before it to show cause why the relief sought by the plaintiffs should not be granted.
“I knew that something was wrong because that order (to appear before the court) has been subsisting since April 14 and if any other order was made on April 17, it would have been published since,” Maikyau added.
In the suit, Alison-Madueke wants the court to make an order of interim injunction restraining the National Assembly and the House “whether by themselves, their members, committees or agents from summoning or directing the appearance of the applicants before any committee particularly the Public Accounts Committee set up by the House …”
The minister also asked the court to stop the committee from asking her or any official of the ministry or the NNPC to produce any papers, notes or other documents or give any evidence in line with a letter from the House dated March 26, 2014, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
She also asked for an order of interim injunction restraining the National Assembly and the House from issuing a warrant to compel her attendance, or the attendance of any official of the ministry or the NNPC, with regard to the investigation.
Meanwhile, the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, has said that the House had resolved to seek a legal opinion on Madueke’s decision to sue the legislature over the investigation.
Tambuwal clarified the stance of the House shortly after the judge denied issuing the reported order.
He said when he was briefed on the issue on Monday, his first reaction was to advise the Committee on Public Accounts to tarry awhile to enable the House to get the true picture of things.
Tambuwal spoke at Tuesday’s pleanary as some members complained that the Judiciary was interfering with the work of the legislature.
They had observed that this conflicted with the provisions of Sections 88/89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which empowers the National Assembly to investigate any official or agency of government for the purpose of exposing corruption.
Tambuwal said, “My attention was drawn to the matter that the minister, the NNPC and other stakeholders had gone to court.
“I immediately sought for consultations. The result of my consultations is to seek formal legal opinion on the status of the action, not necessarily because as a lawyer myself, I do not know the position of the law.”