Trailed by Controversy
By Andrew Airahuobhor
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation to hold a public hearing on a matter that is already in court is raising eyebrows
The House of Representatives committee on privatisation and commercialisation is again engulfed in another round of controversy as it tries to wriggle out of bribery allegations by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND and NigerDock PLC. Members of the committee are now receiving knocks for going ahead to conduct a public hearing on the dispute between ENL Consortium and Mitchelle Nigeria over the concession of Terminal C of the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa, even when the case is already before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The insistence of the committee led by Njida Ahmed Gella to go ahead with the public hearing on the disputed terminal and also submit its report on the floor of the house has raised the suspicion that the committee was apparently playing out a script handed over to it by an interested party.
Mitchelle Nigeria had gone to court over the manner the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, gave out the disputed terminal C to ENL Consortium. Michelle Nigeria had emerged as the reserved bidder for the terminal with an offer of $3.692 million (N491.04million) while ENL emerged the preferred bidder with $13.585 million (about N1.806 billion) during the port concession bidding process. ENL was also named the preferred bidder for Terminal D. It offered $12.256 million (N1.630 billion) for 10 years.
Some stakeholders have faulted the action of the committee. Jean Chiazor Anishere, a maritime lawyer and principal counsel of Jean Chiazor & Co, has faulted the privatisation committee’s action. Saying it amounted to double jeopardy for a case that is already in court. She noted that the best thing the House Committee ought to have done was to allow the court to decide. "What happens if the court’s decision is different from what the House Committee has recommended?" she queried, adding "That might create some confusion in the system because the affected parties may be at a loss as to which decision to accept knowing full well that the court’s judgment is supreme."
Harold Olowookere, a maritime expert, described the committee’s action as sub judice, a negation of the principle of separation of power and an abuse of the democratic process. He told Newswatch that Gella did not only ignore wise counsel to allow the court determine the matter but that he also misled other honourable members of the House by informing them that the case was not in court.
"I think there is a script that is being played out here. The chairman is obviously holding an unfavorable preconceived opinion against one of the parties involved in the dispute over the concessioned terminal for reasons that only he can explain," Olowookere said.
Joe Gadzama, a senior advocate of Nigeria and counsel to the BPE, had reportedly informed the Gella Ahmed-led committee earlier this year that the dispute, which the committee was planning to investigate, was already before an Abuja Federal High Court. Gella’s committee ignored this information.
But Mayor Eze, a member of the committee confirmed that the house had done its job and submitted its report on the floor of the house. He told Newswatch last week that the lawmaker’s job was not prejudicial to other arms of government doing their own job. "The house mandated us to do our job and we did it and submitted our report," he said.
Gella, however, insisted that he did not know that the case was still in court. He said Mitchelle Nigeria, the petitioner, testified before the committee and from the information gathered, the committee members had the impression that the case had been withdrawn from the court. When asked if Gadzama informed him that the case was in court, he retorted: "If somebody has complained to my committee and the matter needed to be addressed, should I not address it?"
He said that he was in the National Assembly on people’s mandate and would not abandon that mandate because of an individual. "I respect the rule of law and it must always prevail. I will never go against the rule of law. How would I do that if I knew the case was in court?" he queried.
Victoria Haastrup, executive vice-chairman and chief executive officer of ENL Consortium, currently operating on the disputed terminal confirmed that the case was in court. "We are quite surprised that the honourable members went ahead to deliberate on an issue that is before a Federal High Court even after the BPE’s lawyer and ours have so informed them," she said.