A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday dismissed a suit seeking an order to quash the House of Representatives’ report which indicted the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, and others over their roles in the Centenary City project in Abuja.
Delivering judgment in the suit filed by the Centenary City Plc, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that the allegation of denial of fair hearing by the House Committee on Federal Capital Territory during the proceedings leading to the report was not cogent enough to warrant the quashing of the report.
The suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/258/2017, was filed on March 29, 2017 against the House of Representatives and the then Chairman of the House Committee on FCT, Mr. Herman Hembe, who was recently sacked as a legislator by the Supreme Court.
While summarising the facts leading to the suit, Justice Dimgba noted that the plaintiff, Centenary City Project, believed “the House of Representatives’ dim view of the project and the adverse conclusions and recommendations on same were not accidental but were all orchestrated by the second defendant (Hembe).”
The judge noted that the plaintiff believed that Hembe had “some legacy hatred against the chief promoter of the project, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim.”
It was alleged that Hembe had sought to have personal meetings with the plaintiff ahead of the public hearing, “with a view to being compromised, all of which were rebuffed.”
It was also alleged that at the public hearing, the plaintiff through its lawyer had sought that Hembe disqualify himself from the committee’s sittings.
The request was reportedly refused.
The committee went ahead with its sitting and concluded its investigation.
The committee’s report was adopted by the House of Representatives but with a strong dissenting report issued by one of the committee members.
Justice Dimgba noted that “the majority report adopted by the whole House made adverse findings and recommendations on the project.”
In its suit, the plaintiff claimed that it was not afforded a fair hearing in the proceedings leading to the report by the House.
Delivering his judgment on Monday, Justice Dimgba held that the suit was one that was built on Section 36(1) of the Constitution whose “provisions are only applicable in the determination of the civil rights and obligations of persons before a court or other judicial tribunal established by law.”
He explained that quashing such a report issued and ratified by another arm of government “could portend danger for the stability of the political system in terms of the relations existing among independent and equal organs of government.”
He said the court needed “to tread very carefully here so as not to breed hostility among separate organs of government that should accord each other reciprocal respect.”
The judge also ruled that exceptional situations that could warrant quashing the report did not arise in the suit.
He held, “In all honesty, upon a full and dispassionate appraisal of what has been placed before me, I do not believe that a sufficient case has been made warranting the intervention of the court in the manner prayed for in the suit.
“First, this suit has been built on Section 36(1) of the constitution. A review of the said section shows that the provisions are only applicable, ‘in the determination of the civil rights and obligations’ of persons ‘before a court or other judicial tribunal established by law’.”
He added, “I do not agree that the defendants are acting as court or tribunal or performing a quasi-judicial function.
“I do not even agree that the defendants are acting in administrative capacity.
“All the conditions enumerated in Section 36 must co-exist in a given situation for the provisions to enjoy any relevance.”
The judge ruled, “I state for the avoidance of any doubt that the House of Representatives’ investigation of the Centenary City project, which the Senate has justified, might appear mischievous or driven by questionable motives or goals, as are alleged, but the investigation itself is not illegal since the Senate’s findings are not binding on the House of Representatives, being independent legislative facilities established by the Constitution.”
He said the Centenary City Plc failed to provide the court with relevant materials to prove that the House of Representatives’ committee was compromised by Hembe’s personal interest.
He added, “The evidence clearly shows that the plaintiff was invited to the public hearing as were other relevant stakeholders.
“The right to be heard, simply means the opportunity to be heard, not that one must be heard definitively even when you spurn the opportunity.”
The judge, however, held that with questions of credibility surrounding the report, especially as captured by the minority report jettisoned by the House of Representatives, the plaintiff, instead of rushing to court, should have impressed it on the government agencies the report was sent to not to implement it.