The Federal Government has explained why it is probing the purchase of the official residence of the Senate President by Senator David Mark.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRPP) Okoi Obono-Obla, explained that the investigation was informed by information to the effect that Mark, a former Senate President, unlawfully acquired the property in 2011, without being reflected in the Federal Government’s gazette as required.
They argued that the house said to be built on 1.6 hectares of land, located in Gudu, Apo, Abuja, is a national monument that was not meant to be acquired by an individual.
Malami and Obono-Obla’s explanation is contained in the court papers they filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday. It was in reaction to a suit by Mark, challenging the notice of investigation served on him by the SPIPRPP.
The documents include a notice of preliminary objection, a counter-affidavit to Mark’s motion for interlocutory injunction and a defence to the substantive suit.
An official in the office of the Chairman of SPIPRPP, Aribatise Olanrewaju, who deposed to the counter- affidavit for Malami and Obono-Obla stated that the panel was empowered to probe the circumstances in which Mark took over the property.
He said although former President Goodluck Jonathan approved the sale of the property to Mark, the purchase was not gazetted as required by law.
He said: “The request of Senator Bala Muhammad (the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory) was approved by former President Jonathan, but on the condition that the sale should be gazetted.
“However, the sale of the property were never gazette. Notwithstanding the directive of former President Jonathan that the said house should be sold to the plaintiff upon enactment of a Federal Government gazette, the said property was illegally sold to the plaintiff;
“The sales of these houses were never reflected in the Federal Government official gazette contrary to directive/ minute in the memo of Senator Bala Muhammad to former President Jonathan.
“I know as a fact that the sale of the said house to the plaintiff was never conducted in a competitive bidding and transparent process; this is contrary to the provisions of Section 15 (1) of the Procurement Act, 2007;
“I know as a fact that the sale was contrary to the provisions of the Federal Government of Nigeria official gazette No. 82, Vol. 92 of 15 August 2005;
“The said house is a national monument, which should have never been sold;
“I know as a fact that the provisions of Part 11 (b) of the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, Etc.) (Amendment) Act, 2008 otherwise known as the Remuneration Act, 2008 provides that Senate President is provided with accommodation by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“I know as a fact that the sale to the said house was contrary to the provisions of Paragraphs 1 & 6 (1) of Part 1 of the 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) since the purchaser (the Plaintiff) was a the Senate President he purchased the house.”
Olanrewaju referred the law that empowered the panel to investigate Mark’s acquisition of the property.
He said: “I know as a fact that the notice alluded to in paragraph 17 of the affidavit is therefore not a notice of eviction as claimed by the plaintiff/applicant.
“I know as a fact that the 2nd defendant never declared the plaintiff/applicant acquisition of the said property illegal, but a notice to inform him that the acquisition of the said property was under investigation by the Special Investigation Panel.
“I know as a fact that the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property was set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria pursuant to the provisions of Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, Cap. R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004,” he said.
In their objection, Malami and Obono-Obla faulted the suit by Mark and described it as a ploy to stall his ongoing investigation.
Obono-Obla, who endorsed the processes filed by the respondents in the suit – the AGF and Obono-Obla – described the suit as speculative and hypothetical.
He contended, in the objection that the Federal High Court was without the jurisdiction to hear the suit.
He grounds on which he hinged his argument include that the court has no jurisdiction to grant the relief sought by the plaintiffs in view of the fact that, by virtue of Section 251 (1) (p) of the Constitution, the subject matter of the case has nothing to do with the administration or the management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies.
He said the suit was a disguise to scuttle criminal investigation of the plaintiff (a public officer) using the court.
Obono-Obla added tha: “This court has no jurisdiction to stop the Special Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property established pursuant to Section 1 (1) of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, Cap. R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 from carrying out its statutory functions.
“The 2nd defendant (Obono-Obla) is an agent of a disclosed principal and as such the plaintiff is wrong to sue the 2nd defendant in his official capacity with his personal name.
“This suit has disclosed no reasonable cause of action; it is speculative and hypothetical,” he said.
The SPIPRPP, In September this year, issued a 21-day notice to Mark to quit the property or “show cause” why the Federal Government should not “enforce the recovery of the property for public good”.
Rather than “show cause” as requested by SPIPRPP, Mark head before the Federal High Court where he lodged the suit and prayed the court to among others, quash all steps taken by the panel to evict him and recover the house from him.
The case will come up for hearing on January 22, 2018 before Justice Gabriel Kolawole