29 April 2014

Nigeria: N10 Billion Chartered Jet - Diezani Wants Court to Stop Probe

Photo: Vanguard

A Federal High Court in Abuja will this morning hear a suit filed by the petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, seeking to stop the House of Representatives from probing her over her alleged involvement in the spending of N10 billion to maintain a chartered Challenger 850 aircraft in two years.

The minister, Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNCP) had in a motion ex-parte on April 11 dragged the House of Representatives before the court, asking it for an order of interim injunction restraining them from summoning or directing her appearance before any committee, particularly the Public Accounts committee set up by the House.

The court also summoned the committee to appear before it over the probe.

She also wants the court to stop the defendants from asking her to present papers, notes or document before any such committee or the giving of any evidence by the relevant public officers.

The minister also wants the court to stop the defendants from issuing a warrant compelling her to attend the Public Accounts committee set up with regard to the investigative public hearing on the lease of aircraft by the NNPC pending the determination of the suit.

In his ruling on the matter, Justice Ahmed ordered the House of Representatives to appear before him and show cause why the request of the applicant should be granted by the court.

He however ordered the applicant to serve all the court papers on the defendants.

But the court processes were served on the office of the House speaker, Aminu Tambuwal , prior to yesterday (Monday).

Briefing newsmen on the development, House spokesman Hon. Zakari Mohammed described the court processes as "another demonstration of the frustrations faced from government" in the fight against corruption.

Mohammed (Kwara/APC) who briefed journalists alongside the chairman, Public Accounts Committee, Solomon Olamilekan (Lagos/APC), stated that the House will in the meantime put the probe on hold while seeking legal advice on the next line of action.

Mohammed said: "We expected that she (Alison-Madueke) should be here today. But we (House) have been served with court processes, notifying us that she and the NNPC have gone to court.

"The import of this is that, for us as legislators, it is our responsibility to expose corruption, but of course this is another demonstration of the frustrations we face from government.

"However, as a law-abiding arm of government, we would tarry a while and take legal advice about this issue. Maybe that was why she (Alison-Madueke) did not show face today (Monday). This is to tell you the kind of haste people go to condemn the legislature and the frustrations we face every day we embark on such investigations.

"This is a clear case of a matter which is under investigation, or supposedly will go into investigation, but is being frustrated. We are studying the papers and taking position."

Meanwhile, the chairman, Public Accounts Committee, Solomon Olamilekan, at the media briefing stated that it was curious that the petroleum minister decided to wait till the day scheduled to commence the public hearing to serve the court processes.

Olamilekan: "I don't know what they are afraid of that they have gone to court. We wait and see."

The PAC chairman stated that the NNPC and the petroleum minister have refused to provide to the committee information on moneys used in maintaining the chartered jets.

He however disclosed that the House committee was already in possession of flight details of the chartered jets.

"So far so good. For all the memos we have written, we got responses. We have received documents from Vistagate in London, and also responses from Execute Jet Hangers about the flight details and all that have also been served to the committee, as we speak. The only correspondence we have not received, which we were expecting to get upon their appearance, is that of the NNPC and the honourable minister of petroleum resources," he said.

Alison-Madueke has allegedly not only used the said chartered aircraft(s) for official matters, but also private trips, an allegation the NNPC has debunked. The NNPC insists that the practice (chartering aircraft) is common and acceptable in the local and international business environment in which it operates.

The House was said to have come under pressure to drop its probe of the petroleum minister and NNPC over the chartered jets, but the Public Accounts Committee debunked it yesterday.

Investigation revealed that backers of the petroleum minister have employed multiple strategies to frustrate the House probe. The plot includes blackmail tactics on the House speaker and members of the Public Accounts Committee.

Already, the premises of the National Assembly has been besieged daily by unprecedented group protests (mostly faceless) calling for the cancellation of the public hearing.

Also, spin doctors have been hired to deflect attention to the fact that Tambuwal also routinely uses chartered jets for his travels.

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