…Says plaintiffs lack locus to query missing funds
…Says Okigbo’s report lacks credibility
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – In a bizarre legal move, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, has approached the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, asking it to hands-off the suit that is seeking to expose how $12.4 billion oil windfall money that accrued to the Federal Government between 1988 and 1994, was spent.
It was a coalition of six Civil Society Groups, led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP that instituted the action under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.
Specifically, the plaintiffs had beseeched the court for “an order of mandamus compelling the respondents, individually and/or collectively, to publish detailed statement of account relating to the spending of $12.4 billion oil windfall between 1988 and 1994, and to publish in major national newspapers a copy of the statement of account.”
It would be recalled that in 1994, the Federal Government constituted the Pius Okigbo Panel with a mandate to investigate the activities of the CBN and recommend measures for the re-organization of the apex bank.
In the course of its assignment, the Okigbo Panel reportedly uncovered that about $12.4 billion that was reserved in the ‘Dedicated and Special Accounts’, was depleted to $200 million by June 1994.
Consequent upon the alleged mismanagement of the said $12.4 billion by the then military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, the investigative Panel, recommended an immediate discontinuance of the said ‘Dedicated and Special Accounts’.
Though Presiding Justice Gabriel Kolawole had concluded hearing on the case since October 2011, however, judgment on the case has continued to suffer series of adjournment, a development the plaintiffs said was aimed at thwarting the course of justice and transparency, regarding how the missing fund was allegedly siphoned into private pockets.
On six successive occasions that the trial Judge invited all the parties to court for the judgment, he ended up sending them back on the excuse that there were minor typographic errors he said needed correction.
Likewise, though he earlier fixed the case for judgment today, however, when the matter was called up, Justice Kolawole apologized to all the parties, saying the judgment was not yet ready, adding that the AGF recently served him with a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the issues raised by the plaintiffs.
Consequently, Justice Kolawole, said he would need time to properly scrutinize the fresh motion with a view to incorporating it in the judgment he promised to deliver on November 29.
Remarkably, aside today, some of the dates the judgment suffered sudden adjournments included October 20, 2011, April 27, 2012 and July 27.
Meantime, the plaintiffs have already filed a counter-affidavit, challenging the competence of the AGF’s motion seeking to scuttle the verdict.
It was also the contention of the AGF that the plaintiffs lack the locus-standi to institute and maintain the action.
SERAP had in its suit, pleaded the court to order the AGF to not only prosecute anyone indicted by the Okigbo report, but to also recoup the money from them and return same to the national treasury.
Besides, the plaintiffs beseeched the court for an order directing the respondents to provide adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition to millions of Nigerians that had been denied their human rights as a result of the respondents’ failure and/or negligence to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of $12.4 billion oil windfall between 1988 and 1994.
In two separate preliminary objections by the AGF and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which was equally joined as a respondent in the suit, they pleaded the court to dismiss the suit in its entirety.
The AGF and the CBN, unanimously urged the court to reject the Okigbo panel report, saying it was not admissible in law considering that it was not published in a gazette, neither was an official white paper issued on it.
The respondents maintained that they could not find the Okigbo report, and had no duty to render account on the spending of the accrued revenue.
The CBN insisted that the suit was non justiceable, contending that it was not covered under the fundamental rights provisions of sections 33-46 of the 1999 Constitution.
The CBN submitted that only the AGF, as a defender of public interest, had the right to seek information on the spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall, insisting that the plaintiffs had no such right.
However, the plaintiffs countered by saying that it was “the failure of the AGF to carry out his duty in this respect,” that prompted their legal action against the government in the first place.
The plaintiffs had equally contended that: “The diversion and/or mismanagement of the $12.4 billion oil windfall was a violation of Nigerians’ right to natural resources and wealth and to economic development, as recognized and guaranteed by 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act)”, noting that under the African Charter, the Nigerian government has a legal responsibility to utilize the natural resources of the country so as to benefit the whole people.
“Just as the people of every sovereign state have a permanent right to choose their form of government, so the people are entitled to insist that the natural resources of the nation is exploited in the interest of the people”, they argued.