A Nigerian High Court in Abuja, the Nigerian Federal capital, has ordered the Federal government to stop the deregulation of the petroleum sector, saying doing otherwise was “unconstitutional, illegal, null and void”.
Delivering its verdict in the action brought by a Lagos-based lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, who in 2009 challenged the government decision not to fix prices of petroleum products, the court held that the government was bereft of any constitutional authority to deregulate the sector and therefore cannot leave price fixing of petroleum products in the hands of individuals and marketers.
Aturu had sued the Minister of Petroleum Resources and the Attorney General of the Federation, praying for an order restraining the Federal Government from deregulating the downstream sector of the petroleum industry for failing to fix the prices of petroleum products as mandatorily required by the Petroleum Act and the Price Control Act.
Aturu had argued that the incessant near annual prohibitive hike in the price of fuel was an indirect breach of the rights of Nigerians to freedom of movement provided for in Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended would natural hamper the people as they could not afford such hike.
He therefore prayed the court to declare government’s policy decision to deregulate the downstream sector by not fixing prices at which petroleum products may be sold in Nigeria “unlawful, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
He further sought for an order restraining government and its collaborators from deregulating the downstream sector of the petroleum industry or from failing to fix prices for petroleum products as mandatorily required by the Petroleum Act and the Price Control Act.
In setting out his decision, the trial Judge, Justice Adamu Bello, dismissed the defence preliminary objection for lacking in merit and upheld the rights of Aturu to institute the action and maintain it.
The Judge held that the policy of government to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry by not fixing the prices at which petroleum products might be sold in Nigeria was “unlawful”.
Bello held that the government had a statutory obligation to fix the price of petroleum products sold across Nigeria as provided by Petroleum Act and the Price Control Act.
Consequently, the Judge ordered government to “continue to fix, regulate and publish regularly prices of petroleum products across the country.”