By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, insisted yesterday, that no amount of litigation would stop the Federal Government from prosecuting any person or oil marketer found to have defrauded Nigerians through fraudulent subsidy claims last year.
The AGF who made the declaration while refuting allegation that he said “indicted fuel marketers won’t be prosecuted”, said the reason why none of the purported oil thieves fingered by the Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee has been charged to court was due to the strong adherence of President Goodluck Jonathan to the principle of the rule of law.
Addressing a press conference at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, Adoke who spoke through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, said the court order which on Wednesday restrained the Federal Government from acting on the House of Reps subsidy probe report, was only in relation to one of the accused oil companies, Integrated Oil and Gas Limited.
Stressing that “the report of the Farouk Lawan-led panel is not useless”, the AGF, said President Jonathan has since forwarded copies of the report to both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for further scrutiny.
He maintained that the House of Reps lacked the powers to indict anyone in Nigeria of any crime, saying such function is the exclusive preserve of the Police, EFCC or ICPC.
He said until these government agencies recommend any person or company involved in the alleged oil subsidy fraud for prosecution, the report of the House Committee would remain at the level of mere “fact finding.”
He argued that, “if next week the report of the investigating agencies on any of oil companies indicted by the House of Representatives Committee is out and it is reliable and conclusive, the Federal Government will go to court and prosecute the companies”.
In a statement he read before the press conference, he said: “The principle of rule of law which is a strong pillar upon which this government operates and that means that where parties have turned their case to a court of law; parties will not take laws into their hands but stay actions till the final determination of the case by the court.
“The Federal Government will prosecute all those found culpable of corrupt practices on the basis of the investigations of competent statutory agencies vested with powers to conduct criminal investigations and prosecution will commence thereafter.
“The present suit instituted by Integrated Oil and Gas Limited does not in any way fetter the powers of the agencies investigating the matter; it does not restrain the government from prosecuting and recovering money due to the federal government by marketers found culpable of violating the laws of the land.
“The AGF will not condone corruption and illegality but will always stand by the rule of law and due process at all times”.
It will be recalled that the high court presided by Justice Gladys Olotu, ordered that status quo should be maintained regarding the implementation of the subsidy probe report.
The order was sequel to an interlocutory application that was filed by Integrated Oil and Gas Limited which is reportedly owned by the former Minister of Interior, Captain Emeka Iheanacho.
In its report, the House of Reps Ad-hoc Committee, alleged that the company illegally collected petroleum subsidy funds from the Federal Government, saying it is liable to refund the sum of N13, 252, 055, 429.00 into the federation account.
Dissatisfied with the recommendation of the probe committee, the oil company approached the high court, asking it to go ahead and determine “whether having regard to the provision of section 6(1) and (6) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), it is competent for the 1st and 2nd defendants, (House of Reps and Farouk Lawan), in the exercise of their powers under section 88(1) (a) (b) (i) (ii) of the Constitution, to take a decision or adjudge that the Petroleum Products in respect of which the plaintiff received subsidy refunds in the sum of N13, 252, 055, 429.00, from the Federal Government is not sustainable and therefore not good enough to attract any subsidy payment.
“Assuming without conceding that the answer to question one is in the affirmative, whether the 1st and 2nd defendants were not bound to make available to the plaintiff, particulars of the allegations concerning the importation, distribution and consumption of petroleum products and/or the payment of subsidy by the Federal Government from the year 2006 to year 2011, in so far as they affect the plaintiff and afford the plaintiff as opportunity of making representations to them in respect thereof, before taking a decision or adjudging that part of the subsidy refunds paid to the plaintiff by the Federal Government in respect of petroleum products imported by the plaintiff between 2008 and 2011 were not sustainable and therefore not good enough to attract any subsidy refunds and consequently that the plaintiff should refund the sum of 13, 252, 055, 429.00, to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
As well as, “whether it is lawful for any of the defendants to act or take any action or step against the plaintiff or any of its officers, servants, agents or representatives, in respect of any matter relating to, pertaining to, connected with or arising from the report of the House of Representatives’Ad-hoc Committee on the monitoring of the subsidy regime, as adopted and/or approved by the 1st defendant in its resolution passed on 25thApril, 2012, in so far as it affects the plaintiff.”
Besides the AGF and the IGP, others joined as defendants in the suit were the House of Representatives, Hon. Farouk M. Lawan (for himself and on behalf of the House of Reps Ad-hoc Committee on the Monitoring of the subsidy regime), the EFCC and the ICPC.
Meanwhile, hearing on the case was adjourned till October 18.