Efforts by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Dieezani Alison-Madueke, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to stop their appearance before the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have run into a hitch, as a Federal High Court in Abuja has turned down their application for an interim injunction to stop the committee from inviting them.
The committee was supposed to commence the probe Monday into allegations that N10 billion had been expended by the state-run oil corporation to charter executive jets for the personal use of Alison-Madueke and her family.
One of the jets is a Challenger 850, while the other is a Global Express XRS, which was said to have cost NNPC €600,000 on a return charter trip to London.
Instead of granting the injunction in the minister and NNPC's favour, Justice Ahmed Ramat Muhammed directed the House of Representatives to appear before him to show cause why the interim orders being sought by the plaintiffs should not be granted.
The court further directed that the National Assembly and the House of Representatives, who are the first and second respondents, respectively, be served with the application for the injunction.
Justice Muhammed also ordered that the respondents be served with the motion on notice attached to the ex-parte application for the injunction.
The court further ordered that hearing notices be issued and served on the respondents. Instructively, the court paper distributed by NNPC's media department showed that the ex-parte application for the injunction was heard on April 14, 2014 while the case was adjourned to April 17.
No other supporting court paper was distributed by NNPC to show that the interim injunction or an order to maintain the status quo, as sought by the minister and the corporation, had been granted.
Alison-Madueke had through her lawyer, Etigwe Uwa (SAN), sought an order of interim injunction restraining the National Assembly and the House of Representatives and their committees from summoning her.
She also asked the court to restrain them from asking her to produce any papers, notes or other documents before them.
Alison-Madueke further asked the court to stop the National Assembly and the House of Representatives from issuing a warrant to compel her attendance before them with regards to the investigative public hearing on the lease of aircraft by her, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
In the alternative, she asked for an order of status quo directing the parties to maintain the current position as at the date of filing the suit. However, none of these orders was granted.
THISDAY further learnt that when the case came up on April 17, the court could not consider any further application because of the absence of the respondents.
Uwa, at this juncture, told the court that the respondents were only served the previous day and sought an adjournment.
The judge before adjoining to April 29 (today) noted that the court could not proceed with the case since the respondents were only served the previous day with the court's order directing them to show cause why the interim orders sought ex-parte should not be granted.
Despite the position of the court, the planned probe of the charter and maintenance of two private jets by the NNPC for Alison-Madueke, predictably hit the rocks yesterday when PAC announced that the House had been served court papers stopping the probe. The chairman of the committee, Hon. Adeola Solomon Olamilekan (APC, Lagos), told reporters that as they prepared to commence with the public hearing on the matter, the committee was told that an order restraining it had been submitted to the speaker's office.
"As we speak, there is a court order, which has been served to the Office of the Speaker, even though the committee has not obtained the copy of that order," Olamilekan said, stressing, "We expected that she should be here today. But we have been served with a court order, notifying us that they have gone to court."
He explained that the "nature of the court order is simple. They are just restraining us from carrying out our own investigation. I don't know what they are afraid of that they have gone to court. We shall wait and see."
But for the sudden appearance of the order, the PAC chairman noted that the committee's work would have proceeded without a hitch as within 24 hours it had received responses from some key dramatis personae in the probe saga, including the London-based Vistajet and Executive Jet Hangar.
However, the minister and NNPC, he said, had kept mum on the committee's memo soliciting for information on the matter from them.
"So far so good. For all the memos we have written, we got responses. We have received documents from Vistajet in London and also responses from Executive Jet Hangars about the flight details.
"As we speak, the only correspondence we have not received, which we were expecting to get upon their appearance is that of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Honourable Minister, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)," he said.
According to him, the committee was ready to proceed with the probe "but for the court documents we received telling us that we have to proceeded to court; that is the matter we want to investigate. So we have gone to court. If we decide to continue on the matter after the court paper, it would become sub-judice and contempt of court.
"It is programmed, it could have come last week but it came same day, today, when they were supposed to appear before the committee investigating the matter. This parliament is a creation of law and we cannot be seen to be flouting the law." Also speaking at the briefing, Hon. Zakari Mohammed (APC, Kwara) said the minister's action was a sign that the executive arm of government was bent on arm-twisting the legislature and stopping it in its anti-graft crusade.
"The import of this is that as legislators, we are supposed to fight corruption, but of course, this is another demonstration of the frustrations we face from government. This is a clear case of a matter which is under investigation, or supposedly will go into investigation, but is being frustrated," Zakari said.
"However, as a law abiding arm of government, we would tarry a while and take legal advice on this issue. May be that was why she did not show face today," he added.
Adding that the House was studying the papers and taking a position, Zakari, who is also the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, said: "Rather than leave the issue to speculation, we said let us inform you about the development, so that the Nigerian people would not be misinformed about the House.
"Our responsibility is to expose corruption. The House of Representatives, in its wisdom, took the decision to investigate this matter. They chose to wait until the day we said we would start this investigation for them to serve us this order.
"So it tells a lot about what they intend to achieve with this issue. We don't need to go into details. But of course we have come out formally and told you about the stand of the House."
The lawmaker further clarified that the committee would study the court papers and consult widely before taking the next line of action.
"There are court papers served by the court stopping us from further probing the issue of the chartered jets. We had a resolution on the floor of the House and it was referred to the Public Accounts Committee. At no point in time has the leadership of the House expressed fears that they were under any pressure.
"This is not the first time we are going into this kind of process. It is usual that when you are dealing with the high and mighty, people will presume that you will hit a brick wall, but we are very, very consistent.
"The only way you can stop us is through a process like the court case, which we consider as a temporary setback. We will seek legal opinion and the House will be advised appropriately.
"This setback is painful though, but we have to obey the laws of the land. There is nobody that is under pressure. All that was written was based on speculation. As for the court order, we do not know what will happen. We are watching," Zakari said.