By Abdulwahab Abdulah
LAGOSâ€”A LAGOS High Court sitting in Ikorodu, yesterday, barred the panel put up by the state House of Assembly from investigating the alleged financial impropriety levelled at the state Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN.
The court presided by Justice Habeeb Abiru, in its judgment, granted an injunction restraining the lawmakers from proceeding with their investigation on the ground that they did not follow legal procedure in putting up its probe panel.
However, the court held that the lawmakers have the powers to investigate the executive arm of the government, especially when the issue was of public importance, stressing that it must, however, follow due process.
Abiru in his judgment declared that the â€œaction of the Defendant (House of Assembly) in setting up a six man committee to investigate allegations of financial impropriety levelled against the Executive and Legislative Arms of the Lagos State Government by a group published in The Punch Newspaper of January 28, 2010 under the caption, â€˜The true face of Lagosâ€™, pursuant to its resolution passed on January 28, 2010 without that resolutionÂ having been first published in its journal or in an official gazette of the Lagos State Government is a fundamental breach of the provisions of Section 128 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and is, therefore, unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, ultra-vires and of no effect whatsoever.â€
The court also granted an order of injunction, restraining the defendant from proceeding with or acting on its resolution of January 28, 2010, directing the investigation of allegation of financial impropriety leveled against the executive and legislative arms government without the resolution having been first published in its journal or in an official gazette of the Lagos State Government.
The petitioner, Mr. Richard Akinnola, a Lagos based journalist and rights activist had on February 8, 2010, prayed the court to determine whether the lawmaker can validly or lawfully investigate or cause to be investigated the said allegations.
Justice Abiru held that based on the principle of natural justice, the House can not act on the said purported newspaper publication, by â€œa faceless groupâ€ and at the same time sit in a judgment in its own case.
Allegations on pages of newspapers
The court aligned with the position of the claimant that allegations on the pages of a mere newspaper publication without formal petition, could not amount to due process in setting up an investigation panel and that the claimant had the locus standi to institute the case.
In his judgment, the court held that there was no evidence before it that the lawmakers followed due process in the formation of the panel.
Justice Abiru said: â€œThe only statement was that credited to the member representing Alimosho 1, Hon. Adelabu A. O., who raised the issue under â€œMatter of urgent Public Importance,â€ that the publication alleged that members received N20 Million each fromÂ theÂ Executive arm and shirked from their constitutional responsibilities to check the financial recklessness of the Executive.
â€œDoes it mean that if tomorrow another advertorial comes out from another faceless group accusing Members of the House of Assembly of collecting bribes from an agency of government, for example, and shirking from its responsibility that another committeeÂ will be set up to investigate same?Â What then happens to the business of lawmaking?Â And it is this that has caused so much unpleasant ripples within the polity.
â€œSomething is definitely not right. This court is not, and must not be understood to be castigating the members of the House or teaching them how to do their jobs; it is only raising questions that it thinks the members can take into consideration in future similar situation.â€