A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has dismissed an action filed by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (SNEPCO) seeking to stop the House of Representatives and its Speaker from conducting an investigative hearing in respect of a petition written against Shell by a non-governmental organisation.
In the petition, the NGO alleged a breach of the provisions of Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act in the award of contract for the provision of Marine Patrol Vessels in Rivers State.
In its originating summons filed on May 4, 2016 by its counsel, Chief Dafe Akpedeye (SAN), Shell sought a declaration from the court seeking a determination whether from the combined construction of sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) the House or its committee is vested with constitutional powers to investigate the petition against Shell which said petition allegedly touched on the conduct of its private business as a private entity.
Shell also sought orders of perpetual injunction restraining the Speaker and the House from either by themselves or acting through any committee from commencing or continuing with the investigative hearing of the petition from an NGO – Youth Coalition for Change against Shell for alleged denial of invitation to indigenous contractors to tender for Shell’s contract for procurement of Marine Patrol Vessels.
Shell also sought an injunction restraining the Speaker and the House and its committees from issuing or further issuing any summons or invitation by any name so called against Shell or any of its agent, staff or directors to appear before it in connection to an investigative hearing of the petition from the Youth Coalition for Change on the issue of contract for the provision of Marine Patrol Vessels.
In their defence filed by Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), the Speaker and the House contended that based on the provisions of Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution it cannot be argued that the House cannot exercise oversight functions on anything related to provisions of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act which was enacted by the sixth National Assembly.
They further contended that that the invitation to Shell to appear before it did not in any way or manner amount to usurpation of the functions of the judiciary.
The House argued that it was a total misconception of the doctrine of separation of powers for Shell to refuse to honour a simple invitation to appear before it and defend itself against the NGO’s petition.
They stated contended that there was nothing to suggest that the Speaker and the House were exercising judicial powers by merely seeking to know whether the allegation against Shell was true or false adding that it did not matter that Shell is a private limited liability company seeking to buy marine patrol vessels for the protection of its business.
They further contended that as long as the contract comes within the confines of the provisions ofNigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010, the National Assembly has the amplitude of powers to deal with the petition.
The Speaker and the House further contended that Shell was in an undue haste in rushing to court to stop the House Committee on public petitions from performing its oversight functions.
While contending that the Nigeria constitution is tailored in the format of American Constitution and that sections 88 and 89 of Nigerian Constitution were borrowed from similar provisions in the American Constitution, the Defendants urged the Court to dismiss the suit for being premature and inchoate.
In her judgment, Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako held that the House has the power under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution to look into the petition sent to it as it relates to the application of an Act of National Assembly.
The court also agreed with the Speaker and the House that the suit as constituted was inchoate and premature and that Shell should appear before the House and answer questions arising from the petition by the NGO.
Justice Nyako further held that what the House extended to Shell was just an invitation and that it was within its powers to do so.
She further held that it was only if in the course of responding to the petition, the House delves into the way and manner Shell runs its affairs that it could be said that the House was going beyond its limits.
The court consequently dismissed the suit with no order as to costs.