The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke has asked the National Assembly to first seek and obtain the permission of President Goodluck Jonathan before proceeding with its planned investigation of the allegation that she expended about N10billion in hiring aircraft.
She argued that neither the National Assembly nor the various committees of the two chambers of the Legislature could invite her and agencies under her ministry to produce unpublished documents and records without the prior consent of President Jonathan.
The Minister also argued that it was not within the powers of the National Assembly to personally conduct investigation into criminal allegations relating to corruption or fraud in public offices, and that the lawmakers’ frequent invitation to public officers on spurious grounds was distracting them.
She contended that the lawmakers were only empowered under the Constitution, to exercise oversight functions over her ministry and agencies under its supervision “with respect to public funds, through their various committees so set up, which oversight is only for the purpose of enabling them to make laws and correct defects in existing laws.”
The Minister added that where, in the course of performing their oversight functions, the lawmakers stumble on suspicious dealings by public officers, “they are constitutionally permitted to ‘direct or cause to be directed,’ the appropriate authority or government agency to carry out the said investigation, and not to personally or physically carry same out as law makers.”
This forms part of Diezani’s arguments in the fresh suit she filed with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) against the National Assembly, in an effort to stall the planned investigation, by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives, of the allegation that the minister spent about N10b in aircraft leases. The Nation obtained copies of the court documents at the weekend.
The minister and the NNPC stated, in a supporting affidavit, that they would not honour the invitation sent to them and other officials of agencies under them by the National Assembly because it was yet to meet the conditions precedent to their honouring the invitation and producing the materials the lawmakers requested.
“As a condition precedent to the said invitation to investigate, the respondents (both chambers of the National Assembly) are constitutionally required to show that they have passed a resolution duly published in their journal or in the official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
“The respondents have not in any, or all their invitations to the Applicants, shown or displayed any such evidence of prior publication of any such resolution, if there was any.
“The various Committees so set up by the Respondents have since 1999, been engaged in the habit of inviting the applicants to attend one probe, or investigation or the other, for purposes not remotely connected with the exercise of their oversight functions when they lack the constitutional powers to so do personally or physically by themselves.
“By law, the respondents are enjoined to seek the consent of the President before ordering the applicants to tender the official unpublished papers, books, and records.
“All the documents being requested of the applicants by the respondents are unpublished official records, and the respondents in all their invitations have never shown to the applicants, any such evidence of Presidential consent, after numerous demands made by the applicants that they do so.”
“Under the thin guise of exercising their oversight functions, the respondents’ committees probe or conduct investigations into matters exclusively pertaining to the applicants and agencies under them, that are not in any way remotely connected with the purpose of enabling the respondents make laws, or correct any defect in existing laws, or expose any inefficiency, or corruption.
“Some of the invitations to the applicants and agencies under them relate to matters such as recruitment exercises carried out by the applicants, petitions by persons whose fathers’ pension or gratuity are alleged not to have been paid, petitions by persons or companies who lose out in contract biding processes and sometimes to matters as mundane as inviting the officials of the applicants to simply brief the respondents or their committees on the daily activities of the applicants.
“The applicants are forced to spend time, energy, resources, and materials on appearing before the Respondents and their Committees, serially, indiscriminately in such a way that they are left with little or no time and energy to perform their statutory functions.
“The respondents are neither skilled, nor legally empowered to conduct investigations into alleged criminal matters or alleged fraud, or corruption, but have so far serially intimidated, brow-beaten and harassed the Applicants under the thin guise of carrying out oversight functions.
“On a regular basis, too numerous to recount, the respondents equally investigate allegations of corrupt practices, fraud and other crimes, as well as issuing resolutions and reports pronouncing guilt on alleged offenders, as if the respondents were courts of law or security agencies, mandated to do so,” the applicants said.
Diezani and NNPC want the court to restrain the National Assembly and their agents from summoning them or any agencies under their supervision for the purpose of giving evidence and producing documents, which relate to the unpublished official records of the applicants, without the respondents first obtaining the consent of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The minister and NNPC also want a perpetual injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from further conducting direct personal or physical probe, inquiry and/or investigation into any alleged fraud, corruption or other criminal activities in the agencies under the Applicant’s supervision or control.
They want a declaration that, by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution, particularly Sections 88, 89 and 214 thereof, the respondents or any of their committees are not legally and constitutionally empowered and/or competent to probe or conduct investigation into allegations of fraud, corruption or other criminal activities said to have occurred in the agencies under the applicants’ control, when there exist agencies that are legally and constitutionally empowered to carry out or conduct such investigations into alleged fraud or other criminal conducts and prosecute offenders upon conclusion of their investigation.