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A Federal High Court in Abuja has held that the National Assembly lacked the power to impose a penal sanction on individuals......
A Federal High Court in Abuja has held that the National Assembly lacked the power to impose a penal sanction on individuals.
Justice Anwuri Chikere while carrying out a judicial review of a ban from holding public office imposed on an erstwhile member of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, Mr. Johnson Asinugo, over allegation that he participated in the NITEL-MTEL/Pentascope management contract, held that it was the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation that had the power to prosecute offenders.
She said in her judgment, which was made available to our correspondent on Friday, that under the principle of separation of powers, the National Assembly had no business trying and punishing an alleged offender.
She said the power of the lawmakers was restricted to investigation and where anyone was found to have committed any criminal act, the legislature should forward its findings to the Attorney-General of the Federation for necessary action.
She held that the National Assembly was not a court and that the court would not allow the lawmakers to usurp its powers.
She rejected the argument by the lawmakers that the ban was a mere opinion and did not have a force of law.
She agreed with the argument of Mrs. Zuwairatu Mantu, the counsel to Asinugo, that statements from the National Assembly carried the force of law.
The court pointed out that Asinugo had not even been appointed to the NITEL board of directors as at the time the contract which led to the House of Representatives placing a ban on him was signed.
She, therefore, declared the proceedings of the House of Representatives Committee on Communications and its recommendations a nullity.
She said, ”The applicant stated that he was appointed to the NITEL board of directors in January 2004 and that the NITEL/M-TEL/Pentascope International B.V. (Private Limited Management contract was signed on 18th March 2003 before he was appointed to the board, this fact was not controverted by the respondents (the House of Representatives and the Clerk of the House of Representatives).
”What this means is that the applicant was being punished unjustly for an action he did not take part in.”
The judge also held that the National Assembly did not give Asinugo fair hearing before punishing him.
Chikere said the failure of the lawmakers to give him fair hearing was fundamental as it violated the 1999 Constitution.
She further held that any act that violated the 1999 Constitution must be struck down.
She held, ”The respondents did not deny the fact that the applicant was not given fair hearing before he was sanctioned.”
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