The Administrations of the former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and4 Muhammadu Buhari, have been ordered by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, to explain how the recovered $5b Abacha loot was spent by the four administrations.
The judgement was delivered, following a freedom of information suit, filed by the Sociol-Economic Rights and Accountability, before the Court.
Delivering the judgement, Justice Kolawole Omosho who presided over the case, gave the Federal Government a 7 days ultimatum, to explain how the money was spent to SERAP.
“In the final analysis, the application by SERAP is meritorious and the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Finance, is hereby ordered to furnish SERAP with the full spending details of about $5b Abacha loot within 7 days of this judgement.”
According to the Judge, the excuse given by the Ministry of Finance, on behalf of the Federal Government, that the details of the money stolen by Abacha, and how the recovered lots were spent were not held by the Ministry, is an excuse that has no leg to stand, quoting Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, which empowers SERAP, the rights to the information.
“The excuse by the Minister of Finance is that the Ministry has searched its records and the details of the exact public funds stolen by Abacha and how the funds have been spent are not held by the Ministry. The excuse has no leg to stand given section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act.”
However, he ordered the government to “disclose details of the projects executed with the loot, locations of any such projects and the names of companies and contractors that carried or carrying out the projects since the return of democracy in 1999 till date.”
Similarly, the government to was ordered to “disclose details of specific roles played by the World Bank and other partners in the execution of any projects funded with Abacha loot, under the governments of former presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari.”
He however dismissed all the objections raised by the FG, while upholding SERAP’s arguments.
However, all the SERAP’s prayers were heard and the judgment came in favour of the organization against the Federal Government.
The judgement reads in part: “The failure of the Minister of Finance to write to SERAP informing it of where the said information exists or to transfer the request to public office who has custody of such information is fatal to their case under section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act.
“The Ministry cannot use a blanket statement that it did not have the said records of about $5bn Abacha loot sought by SERAP. The government failed to provide details of the projects executed with the money.
“It also failed to provide locations of the projects and the names of the companies and contractors that carried out or are carrying out the projects funded with the money.
“I hold that by the clear wordings of section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, access to information about spending details of $5bn Abacha loot was denied SERAP by the Federal Government.
“The Federal Government had filed a 14 paragraph Counter Affidavit deposed to by Abah Sunday, Litigation Officer in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation argued that SERAP’s suit is frivolous, as it has not shown that the government denied it the information it seeks.”
“The Federal Government has also stated that SERAP has not established sufficient interest in its application. The government urged the Court to dismiss the suit.”
“For the sake of emphasis, possession of locus standi has been the bane of the citizens’ advocates, in the public interest litigation, to query transparency and accountability in governance in Nigeria.
“In a democratic dispensation, such as in Nigeria, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle.
“The requirement is a serious fracture of the citizens’ inalienable right to ventilate their grievances against poor governance vis-à-vis expenditure of public funds generated from their taxes.
“The sacrosanct provision of Section 1(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, which has ostracised this disturbing requirement, has, admirably, remedied the harmful mischief appurtenant to it.
“Section 1 gives a person the right to access any information from any public institution in Nigeria. SERAP is an organization registered in Nigeria and thus a juristic person. As a juristic person, SERAP need not show any specific interest in the spending details of about $5bn Abacha loot to be entitled to the same.
“I therefore hold that SERAP is entitled to the information on the spending details of about $5bn Abacha loot, and need not show any special interest in the information sought.
“The provision of Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act is quite clear and mandates that public institutions or public officers such as the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice must make available the information requested within 7 days of the request.
Consequently, a copy of the letter dated 8 July 2023, was sent to President Tinubu on the judgment signed by SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare.
The letter, read in part: “We urge you to direct the Ministry of Finance and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to immediately compile and release the spending details of recovered Abacha loot as ordered by the court.
“The immediate enforcement and implementation of the judgment by your government will be a victory for the rule of law, transparency and accountability in the governance processes and management of public resources including the $5bn Abacha loot.
“By immediately complying with the judgment, your government will be demonstrating to Nigerians that it is different from the Buhari government, which persistently and brazenly defied the country’s judiciary, and sending a powerful message to politicians and others that there will be no impunity for grand corruption.
“Immediately implementing the judgment will restore trust and confidence in the independence of Nigeria’s judiciary. SERAP urges you to make a clean break from the past and take clear and decisive steps that demonstrate your commitment to the rule of law, transparency and accountability in the governance processes.
“SERAP trusts that you will see compliance with this judgment as a central aspect of the rule of law; an essential stepping stone to constructing a basic institutional framework for legality and constitutionality.
“We, therefore look forward to your positive response and action on the judgment.
However, the following were also Joined as defendants in the suit: the Minister of Finance, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice.
Meanwhile, the following orders of mandamus were made against the Nigerian government:
AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the Federal Government [through the Ministry of Finance and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to provide and disclose the following information to SERAP:
[a] Exact amount of money stolen by General Sani Abacha from Nigeria, and the total amount of Abacha loot recovered and all agreements signed on same since the return of democracy in 1999 till date
[b] Details of the projects executed with the recovered funds, locations of any such projects and the names of companies and contractors that carried or carrying out the projects
[c] Details of specific roles played by the World Bank and other partners in the execution of any projects funded with Abacha loot since 1999
AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the Federal Government to:
[a] Refer any allegations of corruption involving the execution of projects with Abacha loot to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for investigation
[b] Ensure that anyone involved in alleged corruption in projects executed with Abacha loot is brought to justice if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence,” OmotoshoKazeem.