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Reconstitution of NNPC LTD Board is unconstitutional – HURIWA

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HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has faulted president Bola Tinubu’s recent reconstitution of the management board of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, saying it breached a binding Judgement of a competent court of law.

Addressing a press conference, National Coordinator of HURIWA who spoke on behalf of HURIWA and a coalition of ten Non-governmental bodies, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko asserted that it was illegal for the president to have made the announcement when he is aware that the Federal government had appealed a Federal High Court’s Judgement which invalidated the removal of Senator Ifeanyi, Ararume as Chairman of NNPC Ltd on inception.

HURIWA said thus: “The rule of law is the cornerstone of any democratic society, and its principles must be upheld at all times. The recent appointments announced by President Tinubu raise serious concerns about the commitment of the federal government to abide by the rule of law, especially when there is ongoing litigation related to the NNPC board.

Firstly, we acknowledge the president’s authority to make appointments under Section 59(2) of the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021. However, the timing of these appointments, amidst a legal dispute over the removal of Senator Ararume, is not only questionable but also constitutes a clear affront to the rule of law.

In the case of Ifeanyi Ararume vs. President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal High Court in Abuja declared Ararume’s removal as the non-executive chairman of NNPC as wrongful and ordered his reinstatement. The court also awarded damages of N5 billion in favor of Senator Ararume. This decision is binding until set aside by a competent court.

The question that begs an answer is: Where is the respect for the rule of law when the federal government, through President Tinubu, proceeds to make new appointments while the appeal filed against the court’s decision is still pending and subsisting? This action is not only a disregard for the judicial process but also a display of lawlessness and impunity.

The doctrine of ‘sub judice,’ which prohibits discussing the merits of a case that is already before a court, is well established in our legal jurisprudence. It is intended to prevent interference with the judicial process and ensure that parties receive a fair and unbiased adjudication. President Tinubu’s decision to make new appointments in the NNPC during the pendency of an appeal is a clear violation of this doctrine.

Moreover, the principle of ‘stare decisis’ dictates that the decisions of a court are binding on all inferior courts and authorities. The federal government, by making new appointments despite the court’s ruling in Ararume’s case, is undermining the authority of the judiciary and setting a dangerous precedent.

We cite the case of R v. Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy (1924) 1 KB 256, where Lord Hewart CJ famously stated, “It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

The actions of the federal government in making new appointments while a legal challenge is ongoing cast a shadow on the integrity of the judicial process.

Furthermore, we refer to the case of Adegoke Motors Ltd. v. Adesanya (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 109) 250, where the Supreme Court held that parties should not take steps that will render nugatory the outcome of pending legal proceedings.

The federal government’s insistence on making new appointments creates a situation where the appellate court might be faced with a ‘fait accompli,’ rendering any decision on the appeal meaningless.

Therefore, HURIWA calls for a reversal of the recent appointments in the NNPC pending the determination of the appeal in Senator Ararume’s case.

We urge President Tinubu and the federal government to respect the rule of law, adhere to the principles of sub judice, and uphold the sanctity of judicial decisions.

The legal process must be allowed to run its course without interference, and any attempt to circumvent the rule of law should be vehemently condemned.

As we emphasize the importance of upholding the rule of law, we must also recognize the broader implications of these actions for the democratic fabric of our nation.

The judiciary, as the guardian of justice, plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the rights of individuals are protected, and its decisions are crucial in maintaining the delicate balance of power among the three arms of government.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, clearly delineates the powers and functions of the executive, legislative, and judicial arms of government.

This separation of powers is fundamental to the democratic governance of our country and is designed to prevent the abuse of power and the emergence of authoritarianism.

When the executive arm of government, in this case, the presidency, disregards the decisions of the judiciary and proceeds with actions that directly contradict those decisions, it undermines the delicate checks and balances that sustain our democracy.

It is not just Senator Ararume whose rights are being violated; it is the very foundation of our democratic system that is under threat.”

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