By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Supreme Court on Friday declined a request on it by family members of the late Head of state, General Dani Abacha to Unfreeze accounts belonging to them in foreign countries.
The accounts which are in banks in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jersey, Liechenstein and Luxembourg were frozen in 1999 following a directive by the Nigerian government.
Dissatisfied with the government’s action, the Abacha family had in a suit filed on their behalf by Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani, had dragged the federal government to court to reverse the said directive.
Unfortunately their request both at the trial court and Court of Appeal was turned down, forcing them to approach the final court in the country for justice.
However, delivering judgment in the appeal on Friday, a five-man panel of the Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the two lower courts on grounds that the matter had become statute barred.
According to Justice Chima Nweze, who prepared the lead judgment of the panel, it was too late for the Abacha family to query the decision taken by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1999, via a letter authored by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Kanu Agabi (SAN).
The court in the appeal marked: SC/68/2010, held among others, that in view of the evidence presented by parties, it was left with no other options than to uphold the earlier concurrent decisions of the two lower courts (the Federal High Court, Kano and the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division), to the effect that the action was statute barred.
In the judgment read by Justice Amina Augie, the apex court held that, “In all forms, with the eloquent submission of the respondents’ counsel, and submissions anchored on the admitted evidence, I have no hesitation in affirming the concurrent decisions of the lower courts.
“Accordingly, I hereby enter an order dismissing this appeal. I further affirm the concurrent findings and decisions of the lower courts. Appeal dismissed.”
Other members of the Supreme Court’s five-man panel that heard the appeal, Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Augie and Paul Galumje, all agreed with the lead judgment as written by Justice Nweze.
According to court documents, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in December 1999, authorized the then AGF, Agabi to request the Swiss authorities to freeze all bank accounts held in its jurisdiction by the late Head of State, General Abacha, his children, servants, agents and any other individuals or companies linked to them between 1993 and 1998.
The Nigeria government was also said to have requested the Swiss authorities to seize and detain all banking and other documents relating to the affected accounts, charge and prosecute all holders of such accounts, in order to recover and pay over to the Federal Government of Nigeria all monies falsely and fraudulently taken from the government and people of Nigeria.
Following these steps by the Federal Government, the accounts of the Abachas found in Switzerland, United Kingdom, Jersey, Liechenstein and Luxembourg were frozen, an action members of the late Head of State challenged by filing a suit, marked: FHC/KN/CS/6/2004, on January 28, 2004 before the Federal High Court, Kano.
The suit filed on behalf of the Abachas by Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani, had the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation as respondents.