Symbol of Justice
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday dismissed a suit seeking to expose how the $12.5 billion gulf war oil windfall that accrued to Nigeria under the leadership of retired General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in 1990 was spent.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole said the applicants had no locus standi to institute the action and that they failed to establish by admissible evidence that they were entitled to a hearing.
Six civil society groups had sued the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) asking that the accrued revenue be accounted for.
The groups are the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Women Advocates and Documentation Centre, Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Access to Justice, Human and Environmental Development Agenda and Partnership for Justice.
The applicants, through their counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), had asked the court to make an order of mandamus compelling the AGF and CBN to publish a detailed statement of accounts showing how the money was spent between 1988 and 1994.
After several adjournments, Justice Kolawole finally delivered the much-awaited judgment.
In dismissing the suit, Justice Kolawole held that the suit was statute barred because it was not filed within the statutory twelve months period after the Okigbo panel report was produced and submitted.
He further held that SERAP failed to tender the Okigbo panel report as exhibit but only relied on uncertified photocopies of TheNEWS magazine’s report on the contents of the Okigbo panel report, which, according to the judge, was of no value to the court.
Justice Kolawole held that the Registered Trustees of SERAP, and two other rights and development-based NGOs seeking the publication of the Okigbo panel Report, failed to prove the existence of anything like consolidated and special accounts in the CBN where the oil windfall was allegedly paid into.
He also said that the plaintiffs failed to prove how their fundamental rights were infringed upon by the dedicated and special accounts said to be existing at the CBN.
The judge however praised the courage and dedication of SERAP in instituting the matter, calling the group a serious minded organisation desirous of ridding Nigeria of all forms of corruption. He also made no order on the cost to be paid for instituting the suit.
The Okigbo panel was set up by the Federal Government in 1994 after Babangida’s exit, to investigate the activities of the CBN and recommend measures for the re-organisation of the apex bank.
In the course of its assignment, the panel discovered that the $12.5 billion in the Dedicated and Special Accounts had been depleted to $200 million by June of 1994.
The CBN has consistently denied the existence of any dedicated and special accounts at the central bank and had told the court that the oil windfall was paid into the same accounts as other funds accruing to the federation and that the money was subsequently divided among all tiers of government just like other revenues.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), who was a defendant, objected to the suit and asked the court to dismiss it.
Specifically, the plaintiffs had asked the court for “an order of mandamus compelling the respondents, individually and/or collectively, to publish detailed statements of accounts relating to the spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall between 1988 and 1994, and to publish in major national newspapers a copy of the statement of accounts.”