…Plaintiffs have no locus standi –Judge
From GODWIN TSA, Abuja
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday dismissed a suit that should have compelled former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida over the N12.4 billion Gulf War oil windfall. The court refused to order his trial and others over the amount which accrued to the nation during the Gulf War between 1988 and 1994. Babangida stepped aside from ruling the country in 1993.
The money was said to have been recorded by the nation as excess revenue from crude oil during the outbreak of the Gulf War that shot up oil price in the international market. Delivering judgment in a a suit filed against the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Justice Gabriel Kolawole declined to order the trial of the former military leader as a result of the incompetence of the legal action.
The suit was instituted by six human rights bodies seeking an order of the court to compel the government and CBN to make the account of the $12.4billion oil windfall available to the public through publication in four major national newspapers. The rights bodies in the suit filed by their counsel, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), claimed that the oil windfall was kept in a Dedicated and Special Account with the CBN with a mandate that it would be utilized to fund Nigeria’s three major development projects.
The three special priority projects are the Shiroro Hydro-Electricity, the Ajaokuta Steel Company and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), Itakpe They also applied for the order of the court to put on trial those suspected of corruption in the management of the fund and to order them to refund to the coffers of the country any amount so allegedly mismanaged while the culprits are to also compensate Nigerians for denying them their rights to natural wealth.
In the suit, the plaintiffs averred that the failure of the Federal Government to release detailed statement on the oil windfall be declared illegal, unlawful and violation of the Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act. They claimed that the windfall was documented by the probe panel of the late renowned economist, Dr. Pius Okigbo, whose report was not made public since it was submitted. However, the Federal Government and CBN denied having any report on Okigbo panel and never gazetted or published same because it could not be located.
The two defendants asked the court to dismiss the suit because there had been no Special or Dedicated Account for any oil windfall at the CBN and that the six plaintiffs have no locus standi to institute the court action. Besides, the two defendants also opposed the case for being statute barred, having been titled several years after the purported submission of the Okigbo report.
Delivering judgment, Justice Kolawole held that the plaintiffs failed to establish their claims against the defendants because of their failure to produce and tender the Okigbo report that documented the oil windfall. He said that the News magazine report of 2005 relied upon by the plaintiffs to establish their case was not admissible in law because it was not a White Proper or Federal Government gazette on the matter.
In addition, the court held that the suit was statute-barred because it was not filed within 12 months the alleged Okigbo report was submitted, while the plaintiffs have no locus standi to file the case because they did not prove how the non-accountability of the spending of the money affected their fundamental rights. Justice Kolawole said that throughout the trial, the plaintiffs did not prove the existence of the Dedicated and Special Account in CBN where the money was allegedly kept.
He dismissed the suit. The six plaintiffs are Registered Trustees Of Scio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), Women Advocates Research & Documentation Center (WARDC), Access to Justice, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights. Applicants (CDHR), Human & Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) and Partnership for Justice. However, Falana vowed to appeal against the judgment next week at the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal.