By Innocent Anaba
The Federal Government has pledged to set up a committee to ascertain whether on the basis of the Okigbo Report,Â a criminal charge can be sustained against former Military President,Â General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), over allegations of corruption and mismanagement of $12.4 billion in the Dedicated and Special Accounts while he was in power.
The government made the commitment in a letter dated 12 May with reference number HAGF/PG/2010/Vol1; and personally signed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,Â Mr. Mohammed Adoke, SAN.
The governmentâ€™s letter followed a petition by a coalition of civil society groups requesting Adoke to â€œurgently and fully implement the recommendations of the late Dr. Pius Okigbo Panel Report, by ensuring the immediate and fair prosecution of Gen. Babangida.â€
The letter reads in part, â€œI acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 5 May 2010. I appreciate your effort in making available a signed copy of the Dr Okigbo Panel Report, and as appropriate, I shall set up a committee that will confirm the authenticity of the said report and also review the allegations and recommendations contained therein with a view to ascertaining whether these allegations can sustain a criminal charge.
While we shall keep you informed of our effort in this regard, I would like to thank you for your concerted effort in sustaining the fight against corruption in our society.â€
Reacting to the letter, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, said, â€œwhile we prepare a detailed response to the letter by the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, we would like to welcome the clear commitment of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to prosecute the former military president on the basis of the strong and compelling evidence contained in the Okigbo report.â€
Mumuni also said that â€œwe note that this commitment has been at the very center of the new governmentâ€™s platform for the future.Â We commend the important and encouraging steps already taken by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, but strongly urge the government to accelerate action to ensure that the case is diligently and effectively prosecuted.
Pursuing this case to a logical and successful conclusion will show that our government can do things differently when it comes to the fight against corruption in this country. This would also provide effective remedy for the countless victims of high level official corruption in the country.â€
â€œWe believe that a successful prosecution of the case is a key step in improving the overall governance environment in the country. This new government now has an important opportunity to show that its words would be its deeds.
“We urge the Honourable Attorney General to involve the civil society and the United Nations in the work of the committee to ensure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. We stand ready to offer full support and assistance to the authorities in the prosecution of suspected perpetrators of the $12.4bn scam,â€ Mumuni added.
The petition by the groups was signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, SERAP; Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director, WARDC; Joseph Otteh, Executive Director, AJ; Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director, CISLAC; Kayode Ogundamisi, Convener, NLF; Olanrewaju Suraju, Head, HEDA; Olasupo Ojo, President, CDHR; Itoro Eze-Anaba, Managing Partner, PFJ; Moshood Erubami, President, VOTAS; and Tejumade Oke, Programme Director, CFR.
It will be recalled that in April, Mr Adoke, responding to the petition by the groups requested â€œfor a signed copy of the Okigbo Report attached to your letter under reference.â€
He assured the groups that he would deal with the matter once he received signed original copy of the Okigbo report. Mr Adokeâ€™s response was contained in a letter datedÂ April 16, 2010 with reference number HAGF/PG/2010/Vol1, and signed by Tunde Busari, Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
In a swift response, the groups in a covering letter datedÂ May 5, 2010 accompanying the 352-page original report sent to Mr Adoke, stated that, â€œNow that we have gone the extra mile to fulfil the request by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, we expect that you would now move swiftly to prosecute the former president Babangida on the basis of the Okigbo report, and ensure justice to the victims of the mismanagement and corruption documented in the report. Time is now of essence; any further delay would be justice delayed, which as you know, is justice denied.
â€œWe believe the report was never missing but has remained in the custody of the government for years. What has been missing is not the Okigbo report but the political will by successive governments to act decisively on the report,â€ the groups argued.