$12.4bn oil windfall suit for re-adoption of written addresses tomorrow

The Federal High Court in Abuja would on the 16th of March 2012, hear the suit seeking account of the missing $12.4 billion oil windfall and the official publication of the Okigbo Panel report.

According to Sola Egbeyinka, the solicitor of the groups that instituted the suit, the case will also be re-adopted for written addresses and argument. The solicitor revealed this on Thursday.

The case was initially to be judged on Thursday 28 July 2011, but the court declared that the judgment was not ready. According to the presiding Judge, Gabriel Kolawole, “the judgment is not yet ready. I have to give priority to criminal cases which are very important. I have a backlog of judgments which are older than this case. I regret the delay.” He consequently adjourned the case to October 21 to deliver the judgment.

However, when the case came up on 21 October 2011, it was suspended indefinitely as the court did not sit.

The adjournment of the case for re-adoption of written addresses and arguments implies that the court seeks to comply with the provisions of Section 194 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).  It provides that, “Every court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses, and furnish all parties to the cause or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof.”

Some civil societies had dragged the Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) before the court over the 12.4 billion dollars oil windfall, which the country recorded between 1988 and 1994, during the regime of former military president, Ibrahim Babangida.

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The plaintiffs asked the court to make an order compelling the apex bank and the AGF to publish detailed accounts relating to the spending of the colossal sum of money between 1988 and 1994. They also sought for an order compelling the respondents to diligently and effectively bring to justice anyone suspected of corruption and mismanagement of the 12.4 billion dollars oil windfall.

In addition, the plaintiffs want an order directing the respondents to provide adequate reparation in the form of guarantee of non-repetition and compensation to millions of Nigerians that have 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.

According to the plaintiffs, “The need for information regarding the spending of $12.4 billion oil windfall is important to promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and to fulfil Nigeria’s international obligations to promote the development of the country. Access to information of this nature is especially important in this country, which is struggling to establish the rule of law and democracy in the face of underdevelopment, poverty, illiteracy and diseases. The right of access to information is also crucial to the realisation of all other human rights, including the peoples’ right to their natural wealth and resources.”

Previously, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN) and the Central Bank of Nigeria faulted the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Idris Legbo Kutigi enactment of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, arguing that he “exceeded his Constitutional powers by liberalising the rules on locus standi, permitting public impact litigation, and allowing the inclusion of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the Rules.”

Both the AGF and CBN insisted that they could not find the Okigbo report, and had no duty to render account on the spending of the accrued revenue. The Plaintiffs disagreed, arguing that “such duty exists on the basis of Article 9 of the African Charter, which has become part of our national laws. They also argued that the Freedom of Information Act has just been enacted; and it imposes a legal duty on public institutions and agencies to render account and allow access to public documents”.

The CBN at that juncture argued that “only the AGF as a defender of public interest has the right to seek information on the spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall”. The Plaintiffs countered, saying that it was the failure of the AGF to carry out his duty in this respect that prompted their legal action against the government in the first place.

The plaintiffs also argued that: “The diversion and/or mismanagement of the $12.4 billion oil windfall is a violation of Nigerians’ right to natural resources and wealth and to economic development, as recognised and guaranteed by section 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act).

The suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/640/10 was brought under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.

It would be recalled that a coalition of six civil society groups led by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sued the AGF and CBN in September 2010, seeking information on how $12.4 billion oil windfall of between 1988 and 1994 was spent.

The other plaintiffs in the suit are: Women Advocates and Documentation Centre (WARDC); Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), Access to Justice (AJ); Partnership for Justice, and Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR).

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