The Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday declared that President Muhammadu Buhari cannot legally double as the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The court made the declaration while giving judgment in a suit filed last year by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
Agbakoba had, in the suit, urged the court to restrain Buhari from continuing to hold the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The SAN had contended that Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution forbids the President from “holding any other executive office or paid employment.”
In a statement on Friday by his office, Agbakoba said the court in deciding the case held that Buhari had not violated Section 138, since he is not directly in charge of the day-to-day running of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
The court, according to the statement, said there would have been a violation if Buhari had not appointed someone else — Dr. Ibe Kachikwu — to oversee the day-to-day running of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
The court explained that the phrase “hold” in Section 138 of the constitution “meant to preside, act, to possess, occupy or conduct the actual day to day running of the office.”
“Merely proclaiming/announcing that he (the President) was the Minister of Petroleum is not enough to conclude that he holds the office of minister,” the court reportedly declared.
In the suit, Agbakoba had said as a legal practitioner with 40 years’ experience and having checked the Constitution, he was convinced that President Muhammadu Buhari cannot legally hold the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources and thus urged the court to sack him.
He contended that Buhari was not screened for the ministerial job by the Senate, as required by the constitution.
He urged the court to determine “whether, by virtue of Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution, the President can hold the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, without confirmation by the Senate of the National Assembly.”
In a 14-paragraph affidavit, which he personally deposed to in support of his suit, Agbakoba explained that the lawsuit was informed by the recent management crisis which engulfed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, on account of disagreements between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of the NNPC.
“I verily believe that the governance chaos in the NNPC could not have occurred if the President is not also the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
“I am aware that the NNPC provides up to 90 percent of the revenue accruing to Nigeria. I am worried that the crisis in the NNPC will greatly reduce Nigeria’s revenue-generating capacity and will affect the revenue distributable to federal, state and local governments in Nigeria.
“This will gravely affect development nationwide and drastically impact one and all Nigerians, including those in Anambra State (my state of origin) and Lagos State (my state of residence).
“I looked at Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution and I verily believe it disqualifies the President from holding executive office including that of the Minister of Petroleum, during his tenure of office as President.
“I know that the President did not go through nomination process and confirmation by the Senate, before holding the office of Minister of Petroleum Resources.
“I again looked at Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution and I verily believe it prohibits anybody from holding the office of a Minister of the Federation, without confirmation by the Senate,” Agbakoba had said.