Vanguard (Lagos)

24 November 2012

Nigeria: U.S$12.4 Billion Oil Windfall - AGF Asks Court to Hands Off Suit

Abuja — In a bizarre legal move, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, has approached the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, asking it to hands off the suit seeking to expose how $12.4 billion oil windfall money that accrued to the Federal Government between 1988 and 1994, was spent.

Consequently, the judgement which had earlier been deferred for six consecutive times after all the parties had been invited to court on the excuse that there were minor typographical errors which needed correction, was once again adjourned till Thursday, November 29.

The trial judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole apologized to all the parties yesterday, saying the judgment was not yet ready, as according to him, the AGF recently served him with a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the issues raised by the plaintiffs.

Justice Kolawole said, he needed time to properly scrutinize the fresh motion by Mr Adoke with a view to incorporating it in the judgment he promised to deliver on November 29.

Aside yesterday, the judgment suffered sudden adjournments on October 20, 2011, April 27, 2012 and July 27 among other dates.

Six civil society groups led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP had instituted the action under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.

Specifically, the plaintiffs had aproached the court seeking "an order of mandamus compelling the respondents, individually and/or collectively, to publish detailed statement of account relating to the 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."

In 1994, the Federal Government under the administration of late General Sani Abacha constituted the Pius Okigbo Panel to investigate the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and recommend measures for the re-organization of the apex bank.

In the course of its assignment, the Okigbo Panel reportedly discovered that about $12.4 billion which accrued to the country during the Gulf War and was reserved in the "Dedicated and Special Accounts," of the CBN had been depleted to $200 million by June 1994.

Following the alleged mismanagement of the money during the administration of the then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, the investigative Panel, recommended an immediate discon-tinuance of the said "Dedicated and Special Accounts."

Though verdict on the matter was stalled since October 2011, when hearing was concluded, Justice Kolawole invited the parties in court to re-adopt the processes they filed on September 26, 2012.

This was after the plaintiffs had claimed that the non-delivery of the verdict was aimed at thwarting the course of justice on the matter.

Meantime, the plaintiffs have already filed a counter-affidavit, challenging the competence of the AGF's motion seeking to scuttle the verdict.

The AGF had contended that the plaintiffs lack the locus-standi to institute and maintain the action.

SERAP had in its suit, asked the court to order the AGF to prosecute anyone indicted by the Okigbo report, as well recover and return the money to the national treasury.

Besides, the plaintiffs further asked the court for an order directing the respondents to provide adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compen-sation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repatriation of the money 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.

In two separate preliminary objections by the AGF and the CBN, which was equally joined as a respondent in the suit, they urged the court to dismiss the suit in its entirety.

The two defendants also asked the court to reject the Okigbo Panel's report, saying it was not admissible in law considering that it was neither gazzetted nor a White Paper issued on it.

They 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 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 apex bank submitted that only the AGF, as a defender of public interest, had the right to seek information on the spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall, pointing out that the plaintiffs had no such right.

The plaintiffs however, countered, saying that their legal action against the government was prompted by "the failure of the AGF to carry out his duty in this respect."

They further argued that: "The diversion and/or mismanagement of the $12.4 billion oil windfall was a violation of Nigerians' right to natural resources and wealth and to economic development, as recognized and guaranteed by 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act)", noting that under the African Charter, the Nigerian government has a legal responsibility to utilize the natural resources of the country to benefit the whole people.

"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 the interest of the people," they added.

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