18 August 2008

Nigeria: El-Rufai Drags Senate to Court

Abuja — Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who was indicted by the Joint Senate Committee on FCT and Housing, which probed the sale of Federal Government houses and other related matters in the territory, has gone to a Federal High Court in Abuja, to seek an order of the court to quash the proceedings of the committee and his indictment.

Justice M.G. Umar, last Thursday, granted the former minister leave to enforce his fundamental human rights in the matter between him and the joint committee headed by Senator Abubakar Danso Sodangi.

The grant of leave to el-Rufai followed a motion ex-parte moved by Bamidele Aturu, consequent upon which Justice Umar was persuaded that the former Minister had shown a prima facie case for the enforcement of his right.

The joint committee had recently submitted an interim report on its public hearing into the affairs of the FCT from 1999 to 2007 to the Senate in which it, among other things, recommended that el-Rufai should be banned from holding any public office either now or in the future for gross abuse of office.

In the motion by the former minister, he is seeking leave to apply for the following reliefs:

- A declaration that the failure of the Joint Senate Committee on the FCT and Housing to avail him access to the petitions concerning him is unfair and constitutes a breach of his right to fair hearing

- A declaration that the membership of the joint senate committee by persons who are interested in the subject matter of the investigation is contrary to the principles of fair hearing and natural justice

- A declaration that the refusal of the committee to afford the former minister the opportunity to cross-examine those who allegedly wrote petitions and testified against him, and to afford him adequate time and facilities for his defence is tainted with bias, malice, prejudice, unfairness and constitutes a gross violation of his right to fair hearing

- A declaration that the recommendation of the joint senate committee that he is not a fit and proper person to hold public office is a fundamental breach of his right to participate directly in the governance of Nigeria

- An order quashing the proceedings and the interim report of the senate joint committee as unconstitutional, and of no effect

- An order prohibiting the respondents from deliberating upon or acting on the recommendations of the interim report as it affects him.

El-Rufai is basing his prayers on the ground that the said proceedings and report of the Senate committee breached his fundamental right to fair hearing guaranteed by Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and the Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

In granting el-Rufai's leave to enforce his fundamental human rights, the court also granted him leave to effect service of the court processes on the Senate, the Senate President and Senator Sodangi through the Clerk of the National Assembly who is joined in the suit as the fourth defendant.

The Minister of the FCT and the Justice Minister and Attorney-General of the Federation are joined in the suit as fifth and sixth defendants respectively.

The case has been adjourned to 28 August 2008.

In the affidavit filed in support of the suit, el-Rufai is calling the attention of the court to the failure of several members of the joint senate committee to declare their interest, adding that by failing to do so, they failed to excuse themselves from the assignment.

Sodangi, the third respondent, was said to have lost six structures to demolition during el-Rufai's tenure.

He was also said to have written to the former minister for re-allocation of the plots, but his request was denied on the ground that it would distort the FCT master plan.

Sodangi was said to have moved the motion with which the Senate authorised the public hearings without disclosing to his colleagues his pecuniary and other interests in the matter to be investigated.

The court papers also affirmed similar non-disclosure of interest by Senator Ikechukwu Obiorah, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Housing, who was said to have lost three Asokoro plots when el-Rufai was FCT minister.

Specifically, plots 279 and 469 were revoked for non-development, while plot 573 was originally allocated to the United Nations and there was no withdrawal or revocation of the plot before it was reallocated to the senator.

Senator Smart Adeyemi, another member of the committee, lost plots 3294 and 2841, and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), which he led, was evicted from FCTA property in Area 11.

Justice A.I. Chikere had, in 2006, nullified a House of Representatives resolution seeking to bar el-Rufai from public office.

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