BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA— The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, fixed June 19 for hearing in the suit challenging the powers of the Public Accounts Committee, PAC, of the House of Representatives to investigate Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, over allegations that she spent N10 billion on chartered private jets.
The court fixed the date on a day it ordered the House of Representatives to, as a matter of necessity, organise a press conference with a view to informing Nigerians that it was never at any time served with any court order that restrained any of its committees from going ahead with the probe.
The presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, made the order after counsel to the House of Representatives, Mr. A. B. Mahmood (SAN), apologised to the court over an erroneous claim by members of the probe committee led by its chairman, Solomon Olamilekan, who had at a press conference on April 28, alleged that they were served with a restraining order from the court that stopped further investigation into the allegation against the Minister.
They had reportedly accused the judiciary of attempting to usurp their oversight function, saying they would suspend the investigation to enable them study the said restraining order with a view to responding accordingly.
However, the Minister and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, plaintiffs in the matter, had since denied serving any restraining order on the House, as Justice Mohammed summoned the House to “come and clear the air” on the origin of the said order which he said never emanated from the court.
Though the House had, on two separate adjourned dates, declined to either honour the court’s summon or enter an appearance in the matter, it, however, subsequently briefed a lawyer that appeared for it yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Petroleum, through her lawyer, Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN), yesterday, vowed to produce a video clip of the said press conference where the House Committee members claimed that they were served with a restraining order stopping the probe.
Her threat followed claims by counsel to the House, Mahmood, that the probe committee was misquoted by the press, saying the House never had the intention to cause any embarrassment or disrespect the court.
Irked by the submission, the plaintiffs accused the House of treating the process of the court with utter disrespect, stressing that though the House was served with the court processes since April 16, it declined to appear in the matter until yesterday.
Alison-Madueke also told the court that she had deposed to an affidavit of facts that chronicled steps the House had taken so far, which she said was aimed at undermining the court.
Meanwhile, her effort to persuade the court to compel the House to enter an undertaking not to proceed with the probe, pending determination of the suit, proved abortive yesterday.
The plaintiffs are praying the court for an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants, whether by themselves, their members, committees or agents from summoning or directing them to appear before any committee, particularly the PAC, which was set up by the House to conduct the investigation.