Again, Supreme Court Halts Abacha Family’s Bid to Access Frozen Foreign Accounts

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By Alex Enumah

The Supreme Court for the second time dashed the hope of members of the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s family, following the dismissal of another appeal seeking access to seized funds in foreign bank accounts of the late head of state and some members of the family.

The first appeal filed by Abba Sani was dismissed by the apex court on February 7, 2020 for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

The Supreme Court had in the judgment held that the suit was statute barred and as such liable for dismissal.

The Abacha family had since 2004 filed different suits challenging the legality of a request by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration for the seizure and subsequent transfer of funds found in foreign accounts belonging to the late General and some members of his family.

The request was based on a mutual legal assistance between Nigeria, UK, Switzerland and United States, amongst others.

The agreement has yielded several fruitful results with the return of over $300 million from the United States and Island of New Jersey to Nigeria last year.

But efforts by the Abacha family to have access to the seized funds once again proved abortive as the apex court in a judgment on Friday held that the appeal this time by Ali Abacha was also incompetent and lacking in merit.

The five-member panel led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta held that the appeal by Ali was not different from that of Abba the court dismissed last year.

In the unanimous judgment prepared by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, although read by Justice Ejembi Eko, the apex court noted that the same facts and issues which were decided recently by it in SC. 68/2010 Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani Vs the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation are the same canvassed by Ali in his own case.

“Although the appellants are different, the facts and issues in contention are the same. Both had their bank accounts in Switzerland and other countries frozen as a result of the authorisation given to the Swiss law firm by the respondents.

“In the earlier case, the contention was also that the respondents acted outside the scope of their duties under a repealed law and were therefore not entitled to seek refuge under section 2(a) of the Public Officer Protection Act,” the apex court held.

The Supreme Court further stated that just like Abba’s case, Ali’s own has also become statute-barred and incompetent on the grounds that it was not filed at the trial court within three months of the occurrence of the action complained about, thereby flouting section 2(a) of the Public Officer Protection Act.

She said: “It is not in dispute that the suit before the trial court was filed outside the three months stipulated in section 2(a) of the Act.

“The only issue to be considered was whether in the circumstances, the action was maintainable. The suit was no doubt statute-barred and rightly struck out by the lower court,” Justice Eko said.

He also pointed out that the same lawyer, Mr R.O Atabo, who represented Sani in his suit against the president and the AGF, is the same person representing Ali, adding that: “He has not advanced any superior argument to warrant a departure from our decision in that case. This issue is resolved against the appellant.”

The apex court however said that in the instance it was not necessary to go further to resolve other issues in the appeal.

“In conclusion, I find this appeal to be devoid of merit. It is hereby dismissed,” Justice Eko said.