By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — After six successive adjournments, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, dismissed the suit that sought to expose how the $12.4 billion oil windfall money that accrued to the Federal Government between 1988 and 1994, was spent by former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd).
The suit was dismissed on the premise that the plaintiffs lacked the requisite locus-standi to institute the action ab-initio, even as Justice Kolawole maintained that the legal action was hinged on “an incorrigible evidence of doubtful integrity.”
The plaintiffs, comprising six Civil Society Groups led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, had in the suit they instituted under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, 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.”
Those joined as respondents in the suit were the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
It would be recalled that in 1994, the Federal Government constituted the Dr Pius Okigbo Panel with a mandate to investigate 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 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 president, Gen. Babangida, the investigative panel recommended an immediate discontinuance of the said ‘Dedicated and Special Accounts’.
Dissatisfied with the way the case was swept under the carpet by Federal Government, the plaintiffs, aside pleading the court to order the respondents to prosecute anyone indicted by the report, equally insisted that the missing funds should be recouped and returned to the national treasury.
They also sought 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.
Plaintiffs lack locus to file suit
Meanwhile, both the AGF and the CBN, had in their separate preliminary objections, opposed the suit, contending that the Okigbo panel report which they said vanished before it could be published in a gazette, could not be admitted as evidence before the court since no official white paper was 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 said accrued revenue.
Plaintiffs set for appeal
Meantime, the plaintiffs who were represented in court, yesterday, by Mr Shola Egbeyinka, said they would immediately proceed to the Appeal Court with a view to exposing how the $12.4 billion oil windfall monies were stolen.
The plaintiffs had argued 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.
They further 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.”