Justice Gabriel Kolawole on Thursday finally delivered the much awaited judgment on the controversial $12.5 billion oil windfall recorded by Nigeria under the leadership of retired General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida between 1985 and 1993. The money was alleged to have been misappropriated in a report of a panel coordinated by the respected economist, Dr. Pius Okigbo.
Okigbo Panel was set up by the Federal Government in 1994 after the exit of Babangida, to investigate the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria and recommend measures for the re -organization of the apex bank. In the course of its assignment, the panel discovered that the 12.5 billion US Dollars in the Dedicated and Special Accounts had been depleted to a mere 200 million US Dollars by June of 1994.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Kolawole, the court held that the Registered Trustees of Socio – Economic and Accountability Project, SERAP, and two other rights and development based NGOs seeking for the publication of the Okigbo Panel Report, failed (to prove) the existence of anything like a consolidated and special accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria where the oil windfall was allegedly paid into and that they also failed to prove how their fundamental rights were infringed upon by the dedicated and special accounts said to be existing at the CBN.
The court also insisted that the suit was statute barred as it was not filed within the statutory twelve months period after the Okigbo panel report was produced and further held that SERAP failed to tender the Okigbo panel report in exhibit but only relied on uncertified photocopies of TheNEWS magazine’s report on the contents of the Okigbo panel report, which, according to the judge, was of no value to the court. The judge consequently dismissed the suit.
The judge however praised the courage and dedication of SERAP in instituting the matter calling the group a serious minded organisation desirous of ridding Nigeria of all forms of corruption. He also made no order as to cost.
The Central Bank of Nigeria had consistently denied the existence of any dedicated and special account at the bank and had told the court that the oil windfall was paid into the same accounts as other funds accruing to the federation and that the money was subsequently divided among all tiers of government just like other revenues.
SERAP had dragged the Attorney General of the Federation and the Central Bank of Nigeria before the court asking the court to make an order compelling the apex bank and the Attorney General of the Federation to publish detailed account relating to the spending of the colossal sum of money between 1988 and 1994.
They also sought for an order of the court compelling the chief law officer of the nation and the apex bank to diligently and effectively bring to justice any one suspected of corruption and mismanagement of the 12.4 billion Dollars oil windfall.
As a result of the mismanagement of the money by the Military regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida, the Okigbo panel recommended that the Dedicated and Special Accounts be discontinued and the apex bank re organised.
Well meaning Nigerians have persistently called for the recovery of the missing funds and the prosecution of those who diverted and mismanaged the money, but the Federal Government changed tactics and claimed that the report of the panel is missing.
It was on the basis of this double speak by the Federal Government, which is synonymous with Late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s title song, “Government Magic” that the Non Government Organisations went to the court to compel the apex bank and Attorney General to publish the report of the panel and prosecute those involved on frittering away the nation’s commonwealth.
By Nnamdi Felix / Abuja