BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
Abuja— A Federal High Court in Abuja will today deliver judgment in a suit seeking to compel the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, to disclose how $12.4 billion oil windfall money that accrued to the Federal Government between 1988 and 1994, was spent.
The suit was filed before the High Court by six civil society groups, led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP.
Specifically, the plaintiffs asked the court for “an order of mandamus compelling the respondents, individually and/or collectively, to publish statement of account relating to 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 which investigated activities of CBN and recommend measures for re-organisation of the apex bank.
Meanwhile, the Okigbo Panel reportedly discovered that $12.4 billion reserved in‘Dedicated and Special Accounts’, was depleted to $200 million by June 1994.
Consequent upon alleged mismanagement of the said $12.4 billion by the then military Head of State, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, the investigative panel recommended an immediate discontinuance of the said “Dedicated and Special Accounts.”
In their suit, however, the plaintiffs further pleaded the court to order the respondents to, not only prosecute anyone indicted by the report, but also recoup the money from them and return same to the national treasury.
Besides, they also sought for an order directing the respondents to provide adequate reparation, which might 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.
However, in two separate preliminary objections raised against the suit by both AGF and CBN, the respondents pleaded the court to dismiss the suit on the premise that the plaintiffs were bereft of the locus-standi to approach the court for such reliefs as sought by them.
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 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 equally 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 went ahead to submit that only the AGF, as a defender of public interest, had the right to seek information on spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall, insisting that the plaintiffs had no such right.
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 government .
The plaintiffs had earlier contended: “The diversion and/or mismanagement of $12.4 billion oil windfall was a violation of Nigerians’ right to natural resources and wealth and economic development, as recognized and guaranteed by Articles 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act), 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 are exploited in their interest .”
After listening to legal arguments from all the parties, Presiding Justice Gabriel Kolawole slated today for judgment.