By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA— Failure of the House of Representatives to honour the summons issued against it by the Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, stalled hearing on the suit by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Trial judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed had, on April 29, directed the lower House to appear before him yesterday to explain the origin of the restraining order it said stopped its Public Accounts Committee, PAC, from investigating allegation that the Minister spent N10 billion on chartered private jets.
Members of the committee, led by its Chairman, Solomon Olamilekan, had at a press conference held on April 28, said they were served with a restraining order from the court, stopping further investigation into the allegation against the Minister.
They accused the judiciary of attempting to usurp their oversight function, saying they would suspend the investigation to study the said restraining order with a view to responding accordingly.
Minister, NNPC, court deny order
However, the Minister and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, who are the plaintiffs in the matter, had since denied serving any restraining order on the House, even as the court also denied issuing such order.
Consequently, Justice Mohammed, on the last adjourned date, summoned the House to “come and clear the air” on whether it was actually restrained from going ahead with the probe.
At the resumed sitting yesterday, though the National Assembly, which was joined as the 1st respondent in the suit, was represented by its lawyer Mr. Yakubu Mikyau (SAN), no lawyer appeared for the House of Representatives.
However, both Mikyau and Madueke’s lawyer, Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN), told the court that they earlier received a call from Mr. A. B. Mammud (SAN), who said he had been briefed by the Speaker of the House but was yet to receive copies of the relevant court processes.
Though Madueke’s lawyer urged the court to take decisive action against the House for “disrespecting the direct orders of this court,” Mikyau, pleaded with the court for a short adjournment on behalf of the House.
‘House must appear in court’
In a short ruling, Justice Mohammed insisted that the House must appear before him to explain where it got the said restraining order from.
“Is it not in everybody’s interest to know what document the 2nd defendant relied upon to make a press statement that it was stopped by this court?” the judge queried.
“In the interest of justice, I will excuse the absence of the 2nd defendant in court today, believing that as a responsible arm of government the 2nd defen-dant will appear on the next adjourn date,” he added.
The matter was subsequently adjourned to May 26, even as the court directed that fresh hearing notice be served on the House.
In the suit, 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.
They are also seeking an order of the court stopping the committee from asking 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, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
More so, the plaintiffs are urging the court to issue an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants from issuing a warrant to compel the Minister’s attendance, or the attendance of any official of the ministry or NNPC with regard to the investigation and to also in the alternative, make an order of status quo, directing the parties to maintain the current position with regard to the investigation, as of the date of filing of the suit.