The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, has sued PREMIUM TIMES and 10 other individuals and organizations to restrain them from further reporting on the controversial missing $20billion oil money involving the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
In an application before Justice AFA Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s lawyer, Godwin Obla, from Obla & Co., sought and obtained an interim injunction restraining PREMIUM TIMES and 10 others from “publishing or causing to be published any further defamatory statements” stating or suggesting that the minister “stole, misappropriate or colluded in the stealing of $20billion crude oil revenue”.
In the application dated March 13, 2015, Mr. Obla warned the persons and organisations to desist from “further publishing any disparaging defamatory or otherwise salacious materia (sic) as it relates to or affects our client.”
Those listed as defendants in the case are the All Progressives Congress, APC, Vanguard Media Limited and its editor, Mideno Bayagbon; Leadership Newspapers Group Limited and its editor Ekele Peter Agbo; Premium Times Services Limited and its editor in chief, Dapo Olorunyomi, and Vintage Press Limited and its editor, Lekan Otufodunrin.
Also joined in the application were the National Broadcasting Corporation and the Nigerian Press Council.
The Court directed the two government regulators to ensure Mrs. Alison-Madueke is not linked in any report regarding the alleged missing $20 billion either on broadcast media, internet, print or radio.
The court specifically ordered the media houses to “desist from publishing any materials or running any programmme alluding to the complicity or collusion” the minister in respect of “$20billion, $49billion or any other figure, howsoever computed or arrived at, which are purportedly/allegedly missing or ‘unaccounted’ for”.
“You are hereby advised to immediately ensure total compliance with the Order of the Hon. Justice Ademola and to further cease and desist forthwith from publishing any material, howsoever titled or presented and irrespective of its form and content, which alludes to any amorous, immoral, salacious and defamatory matters connected to or related with our client, including anything to do with any allegation(s) or insinuation that our client colluded, was involved with or is complicit in the matter of a purportedly/allegedly missing $20billion, $49billion or any other amount whatsoever, until the determination of the substantive suit,” it stated.
Warning that compliance to the court order was not discretionary, but mandatory, Mr. Obla said that any attempt to do otherwise would be tantamount to flouting a subsisting order of a competent court.
“Failure to heed or give effect to the subsisting orders of the court will lead to the full force of the law being brought to bear upon your organization,” he said.
The missing $20 billion oil money was first raised by former Central Bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, who accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, of not accounting for the amount.
As petroleum minister, Mrs. Alison-Madueke is the chairperson of the board of the NNPC.
While the government denied that funds were missing, it ordered a forensic audit of the NNPC, carried out by PriceWaterHouseCoopers Limited.
Several months after the completion of the audit, President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the report be withheld.
Last month, Mrs. Alison-Madueke told the Financial Times of London that the government was sitting on the report to ensure a “rabid” opposition does not exploit every of its detail to ridicule the government ahead of crucial polls March 28.
Under immense pressure from Nigerians, the government released a “highlight” of the report, which indeed proved the NNPC was indebted to the government, but at a much lower rate of $1.49billion.
The petroleum minister has since directed the NNPC to pay the money to the federation account.
Notwithstanding, many Nigerians have continued to demand the release of the full report.
The minister and her finance counterpart, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have repeatedly flouted the directives of the House of Representatives that the report be made public.