By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, granted a request by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to challenge the legality of a move by the House of Representatives to hold a public hearing over allegation that N10 billion was spent on chartered jet by the Minister.
The court in a ruling yesterday, okayed an amended originating summons that was entered against the National Assembly and the House of Representatives by the plaintiffs.
Justice Mohammed said he granted the application considering that it did not in any way change the character of the claims in the original suit that was filed by the plaintiffs.
The suit is basically challenging the powers of the Public Accountability Committee, PAC, of the House of Representatives, to probe the allegation against the Minister.
At the resumed sitting on the matter yesterday, the court further dismissed contention by the House that allowing the plaintiffs to amend the original suit would amount to an abuse of judicial process, noting that it was the first time the plaintiffs are making such application since the case started.
More so, the court yesterday said it would go ahead and determine whether or not the proposed investigative public hearing by the House of Representatives is not illegal, null and void for failure to comply with the requirement of section 88 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), requiring that the resolutions in respect of such public hearings or investigations be published in the prescribed manner.
However, the court turned down a separate request by the duo of Madueke and the NNPC to further amend the suit to include seeking the pronouncement of the court on whether or not the powers conferred on the National Assembly in section 88 extend to holding hearings on petitions written against MDAs of government or carrying out oversight visits by relevant committees of the two chambers to the MDAs to conduct examination of their activities in relation to their nominal roll, budget progress reports, among others.
The court said the prayer, if granted, would change the nature of claims in the original motion before it.
It will be recalled that the high court had earlier stopped the House of Representatives from going ahead with the probe of the Minister and the NNPC over the alleged private jet scandal.
Justice Mohammed ordered the House to maintain status quo on the matter pending the determination of the suit.
Specifically, the plaintiffs are among other things, seeking, ” A declaration that having regard to the provisions of Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended and Section 8 of the Legislatives Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act Cap. L12 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2010, the Respondents or any of their Committees are precluded from summoning the Applicants to appear before them for the purpose of giving evidence and or producing any papers, books, records or other documents which relate to the unpublished official records of the applicants without the consent of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria first and obtained by the respondents or their Committees.
“A declaration that having regard to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered, especially Sections 88 and 89 thereof, the Respondents acted ultra vires their powers and functions by sending out invitations to the Applicants and agencies under their control when such invitations are not for the purpose of enabling the Respondents make laws or correct any defect in existing laws.”
They are praying the court to quash the invitation and declare that the House of Representatives lacked the powers to invite them when such invitations are not for the purpose of enabling the Respondents make laws or correct any defect in existing laws.
Meanwhile, the court yesterday adjourned the matter to November 19 for hearing.