Court okays Oduah’s probe on bullet-proof cars

By Dotun Omolaja, Lagos

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos presided over by Justice Okon Abang has thrown out a suit filed by the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah.

 

Specifically, Oduah who is now a member of Senate had prayed the court to enforce her fundamental human rights by compelling the Federal Government not to institute a probe into the controversial purchase of two BMW cars for over N255m.

At the resume hearing on Wednesday, the presiding judge upheld an objection raised by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN).

Justice Abang said he lacked jurisdiction to determine the case because what was complained about did not occur in Lagos.

He awarded cost of N15,000 against Oduah, to be paid to the AGF.

Justice Mohammed Yunusa, now of the Enugu Division, had last August 26 granted an interim injunction restraining anti-graft agencies from taking any action against Oduah pending the determination of her suit.

The case was later re-assigned to Justice Abang who had adjourned for judgment before he was transfered to Abuja Division.

He returned to Lagos to deliver the verdict thus nullifying the order that had been granted by Justice Yunusa.

Dismissing the suit, Justice Abang upheld the AGF’s preliminary objection which challenged the court’s jurisdiction.

He held that there was no evidence that the former minister’s right was to be violated in Lagos.

Besides, the judge said it would not amount to a violation of her right if the Federal Government had any valid reason to arraign Oduah in a Lagos State High Court as she alleged.

AGF contended that by virtue of Section 46(1) of the Constitution and Order 2 Rule 1 of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure, only a court within the state where Oduah’s rights were allegedly violated could hear the case.

“From the whole of the applicant’s averments, there is nowhere she mentioned that her right was or is being breached by the respondents within the territorial space called Lagos.

“There is nothing to show that the applicant was invited, arrested or detained in Lagos by any of the respondents in the suit.

“The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos cannot assume jurisdiction to entertain alleged breach of fundamental rights did not take place in Lagos State,” AGF’s lawyer T.A. Gazali argued.

Justice Abang agreed with Gazali’s submissions.

The AGF also said Oduah had not established any cause of action against it, having not proved that she had been invited, arrested or detained by the AGF.

“The applicant’s suit is not in conformity with Order IX of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009, hence null and void.‎ The applicant’s case for the most part is hypothetical and speculative,” Gazali said.

The vehicles, bought under Oduah’s watch as aviation minister, were said to have cost N255million, an amount that sparked huge outrage.

Oduah, in a supporting affidavit to the suit, had justified the 2013 purchase of two bullet-proof BMW cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

The former minister, who represents Anambra North Senatorial District in the Senate, said the vehicles were bought for the use of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) officials who were in the country to inspect and certify the 22 airports being rehabilitated under her watch.

According to her, the vehicles were acquired to safeguard the foreign officials lives so that they would not be attacked by the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents who were causing havoc in the Northeast.

Oduah said the bullet proof cars were especially necessary because the visit of the airport inspectors coincided with “the peak of Boko Haram terrorists’ menace in the country, when the United Nations building and the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force were bombed in Abuja.”

“It was thus imperative that the NCAA, which is an apex regulatory authority in the Nigerian aviation industry, operating under the SARPs of the ICAO and subject to assessment by ICAO, acquire its own armoured vehicles for the use of the ICAO officials coming for inspection and certification at the time,” Oduah said.

She added that the bullet-proof vehicles were captured in the 2013 budget, adding that they were duly procured in line with the Bureau of Public Procurement regulations.

Oduah said the bid to arrest her for a crime she did not commit began as the general elections approached.

According to her, the House of Representatives led by Aminu Tambuwal (now Sokoto State governor), and its Committee on Aviation, were especially out to get her.

But the lawmakers’ move, she said, was part of a grand plan by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to capture power by all means.

The party, she said, carried out a campaign of calumny by “demonising” the most visible leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Being a frontline PDP member, she also became a target, especially as she was seen as playing a crucial role towards the realisation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid.

She said as part of the APC’s campaign of calumny against her and others, the party’s leadership commissioned some faceless organisations to write letters to the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation.

Among others, she said she was falsely accused of “all manners of corrupt practices and offences in respect of my stewardship as Minister of Aviation.”

Oduah said was shocked by the allegations because the aviation ministry under her watch was run in the cleanest manner imaginable.

The former minister said despite her selfless service to Nigeria and the posive changes made by the ministry under her  watch, including the revamping of the country’s air transportation, Tambuwal still ordered her investigation based on the petitions containing “spurious and wild allegations.”

She said because of her electoral value and strategic politicking, she had been a target of the ploy by the APC to weaken the PDP and distract its leaders with trumped up charges.

According to her, part of the APC plan was to charge PDP leaders “in a criminal trial in a Lagos State Government-controlled court.”

Oduah said unless the court intervened, “the APC will unleash repression against her and others and this may cause the country to recede to a one-party state, with gross adverse effects and irreparable damage to our nascent democracy.”

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