The judge said the applicants had no “locus standi.”
Justice Gabriel Kolawale of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Thursday, dismissed the $12.4 billion gulf oil windfall suit filed by some civil society organisations against the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
While delivering ruling on objections raised against the application, Mr. Kolawole, in a judgement read for over one hour, held that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the matter. He also ruled that the applicants did not have the requisite “locus standi” to institute the action.
Though the application for the information was filed by six groups, the judge de-listed three of them for “wrong representation.”
The application was filed by the Registered Trustees of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project , Access to Justice, and Human and Environmental Development Agenda filed the application.
Others were the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, and Partnership for Justice. The latter three were de-listed as joint applicants.
The Judge held that the applicants could not establish the allegation of a “dedicated account’’ within the CBN where the money was domiciled.
Mr. Kolawole further said the action was “status barred’’ as the applicants failed to approach the court within 12 months allowed by law in 2005 after the release of the late Pius Okigbo Report on the misappropriation of the windfall.
He said the applicants failed to produce a certified copy of the Okigbo Report, adding that “the issues raised remained doubtful in the circumstance’’. The respondents had stated that the official copy of the Okigbo report was missing.
The Judge said the claims are “non-justiceable.”
“More worrisome is the fact the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009 relied on by the applicant is in conflict with Section 46 (1) (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria has assumed legislative powers in the amendment of the rules to enlarge the justiceable rights of the applicants not originally captured in the Constitution.
“This is, however, not done to discredit the justiceable rights as enshrined in the African Charter on Fundamental Human Rights, which the applicants may have relied on heavily,” the judge said.
Mr. Kolawole therefore ruled that “All the equitable relives sought in the application are hereby dismissed.”
“Unless the applicants are able to establish the existence of a dedicated account which the money was kept, I am afraid the other auxiliary relives shall not be granted,” he said.
The six applicants had in 2010 brought the motion on notice pursuant to Order 1 Rule 2 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 as reserved by Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution. They also relied on other sections of the Enforcement Procedure.
As at the time the groups filed the suit, the Freedom of Information Act was yet to become law. The Act was signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2011.
The groups, therefore, sought an order compelling the respondents to publish detailed statement of the account relating to the spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall between 1988 and 1994.
The applicants also sought for an order directing the respondents to diligently and effectively bring to justice anyone suspected of corruption and mismanagement of the money.
They further sought for an order directing the respondents to return to the Federal account any money which was the subject matter of corruption.
The groups sought for an order directing the respondents to provide adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantee of non-repetition to millions of Nigerians that had been denied as the result of the misuse of the money.
The applicant had among other declarations, prayed the court to rule that the refusal of the respondents to release the detailed statement of account relating to the windfall was illegal and unlawful.
The applicant argued that they were entitled to information as guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
F.N. Nwosu, counsel to the Attorney General, said the court’s ruling was very unmistakable because you don’t expect a present government to give account of deeds done by the past government.
“We told my learned senior, granted that Ibrahim Babangida may not be your friend or my friend but he ran a government from 1985 – 1993, he got money for the government and appropriated. There was no National Assembly then.
“For you to call the present government on an account of what was done by the past government will be so unfair,” he said.
“If we start doing so,” Mr. Nwosu added, “we might go back to 1960 whereby things done by the British Government will be recalled today for the present government to come and give account of.”
“The ruling by the court today, I can assure, couldn’t be better than this,” he said
Sola Egbeyinka, who held the brief for Femi Falana, counsel to the applicants, told newsmen after the proceedings that the ruling would be challenged.
Debo Adeniran of the Coalition against Corrupt Leaders said he wasn’t surprised at the ruling because it has always been the pattern judges in the country used to dismiss winnable cases.
“The civil society groups are not surprised at all because Locus Standi has been a thing of our judges. We have made a lot of efforts to bring corruption in this country to book but the judges keep making all kinds of technical excuses using locus standi,” he said.