In what some observers have described as part of a growing display of judicial confusion that needs to be checked in good time, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has again been forced to adjourn till May 26 hearing in suit brought by the Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, seeking to stop the probe by the House of Representatives of the alleged N10billion spent on chartering private jets for her official and personal use.
The adjournment was the result of the failure of the House of Representatives to appear before the court as ordered by the presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed,to show to the court the purported order stopping it from going ahead with the investigation of the Minister for allegedly spending about N10billion in hiring aircraft.
The court insisted on Monday that the order it made on April 29 stood and that the House must obey the order by appearing before it.
The order followed media reports quoting the House of Representatives’ spokesman, Zakari Mohammed as claiming that the planned investigation of Alison-Madueke and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation by the House’s Committee on Public Accounts had been stopped by the court.
The House reportedly told the media on April 28 that it was suspending its investigation following a purported order from the court.
But on Monday, the House was neither represented by its official nor a lawyer,thus prompting the plaintiff’s lawyer, Etigwe Uwa (SAN) to observe that the House of Reps (which is the 2nd defendant in the case) was treating the case with levity. He therefore urged the court to compel the appearance in court of the House.
Lamenting that the House had consistently refused to appear in court despite being served with court processes and hearing notices as directed by the court, Uwa said even when the House was served with the court’s order to show cause why the plaintiffs’ prayer restraining order and order for maintenance of status quo, as contained in its motion on notice, should not be granted, the House not only ignored the court, but also went ahead to address a press conference where it claimed to have been restrained by the court.
“After that, an order directing the 2nd defendant to appear and explain its position. We also confirmed this morning that hearing notices were served on the defendants as was directed by the court on the last date. In the circumstance, the 2nd defendant has not treated this matter with the seriousness it deserved.
“The 2nd defendant did not explain why it is only this morning that a counsel is being instructed. Our position is that as regard the substantive suit, we do not oppose an adjournment.
“With regard to the non-appearance of the 2nd defendant in spite of the order of this court, to appear and explain the source of the order in question, we urged the court to make an appropriate order to bring the 2nd defendant before this court in line with the order made, and also, direction that will allow the rest in this matter to be preserved in the interim,” Uwa said.
He the court of a telephone conversation between him and a new lawyer, Mr A. B. Mahmoud (SAN) engaged by the House, saying Mahmoud had told him he was briefed on telephone to handle the case, and that he could not attend court because he had not received the court processes from his client.
Uwa said Mahmoud, who promised to send a junior colleague, requested for an adjournment to enable him file the necessary response.
But when the young man stood up to announce that he was from A.B. Mamoud’s chambers, he said he was only asked to witness proceedings and not to participate.
However, the judge refused to recognise him for not being properly dressed as he was only dressed in a suit without a wig and robe.
Lawyer to the first defendant (National Assembly), Yakubu Maikyau (SAN) confirmed that the House instructed A. B. Mahmoud to handle the case some minutes before the court’s proceedings.
He therefore urged the court to grant the House some indulgence, by granting an adjournment to enable its lawyer appear to explain the true position of things.
In his ruling on the development, Justice Mohammed held that although the court was willing to indulge the House , it must obey the order directing it to appear and explain where it got the restraining order it referred to during its press conference.
“As far as this court is concerned, the order of April 29, 2014, requesting the 2nd defendant (the House of Representatives) to appear before this court to clarify whether it was served with a restraining order by this court, regarding the investigation of the plaintiffs in this case, still stands.
“Today, as the return date, and being the date the 2nd defendant was expected to appear the court is told that the 2nd defendant has engaged the services of Mr. A. B. Mahmoud SAN to represent it in court. While it is the constitutional right of the 2nd defendant to be represented by the legal defendant of its choice, the point should be made that the order of court made on April 29 directing the 2nd defendant to appear before this court still stands.
“The need for the 2nd defendant to appear and give a clarification cannot be overemphasised. One hand, the 2nd defendant has stated to the whole world that this court has restrained it from conducting further enquiry against the Minister of Petroleum Resources. On the other hand the record of this court shows that no such restraining order was made by this court.
“Now, I pause here to ask this question. Is it not in everybody’s interest to know what documents the 2nd defendant relied upon to make the press statement under reference, that it was restrained from conducting further investigation? The answer is in the affirmative.
“However, in the interest of justice, I will excuse the absence of the 2nd defendant in court today, believing that as a responsible institution, it will honour the order of the court and appear on the next adjourned date. This matter is hereby adjourned to May 26 for the 2nd defendant to appear as directed on April 29 to clarify this issue of being served with a restraining order. Hearing notice is also to be served on the 2nd defendant against the next adjourned date,” the judge said.
Justice Mohammed consequently adjourned till May 26 for the House to appear according to the order he gave on April 29.