Justice James Omotosho of a Federal High Court Abuja, has ordered the federal government to account for the sum of about $5 billion looted by former military Head of State, late General Sanni Abacha.
Specifically, the order for accountability affects the tenure of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari.
Justice Omotosho gave the order, while delivering judgment in a Freedom of Information suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/407/2020; filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
According to the judgment, the new administration of President Bola Tinubu would disclose the exact amount of money stolen by Abacha from Nigeria, as well as the total amount recovered and all agreements signed on same by the governments of former presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari.
“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 $5 billion Abacha loot within seven days of this judgment,” the judge held.
Besides, the government is to, “disclose details of the projects executed with the Abacha 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.”
Justice Omotosho also ordered the government 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.”
In the judgment dated July 3, 2023, the court held that “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 was not in possession of 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.
Meanwhile, in a letter dated July 8, 2023, sent to Tinubu on the judgment, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “We urge you to demonstrate your expressed commitment to the rule of law by immediately obeying and respecting the judgment of the Court.”
SERAP’s 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 $5 billion 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 with 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.”
Joined as defendants in the suit are the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.