From Andrew Orolua, Abuja
Former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd) has escaped being put on trial over the alleged mismanagement of the $12.4bn oil windfall that accrued to the nation between 1988 and 1994.
A Federal High Court in Abuja refused to order his prosecution along with others.
The huge sum 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 crude oil prices in the international market.
The Federal High Court in a judgment in a suit filed against the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) declined to order the trial of the former military leader as a result of the incompetence of the legal action.
Six human rights bodies had sued the Federal government and CBN seeking an order of the court to compel government and CBN to make the account of the $12.4B oil windfall available to the Nigerian 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 three major developmental projects for the country.
The three special priority project are the Shiroro Hydro-Electricity project, the Ajaokuta Steel Company and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), Itakpe.
They also applied for an order of the court to put on trial those suspected of corruption in the management of the funds and to order them to refund to the cofers of the country any amount so mismanaged while the culprits are to also compensate Nigerians for denying them their right to their natural wealth.
Plaintiffs averred that the failure of the Federal Government to release detailed statement on the $12.B oil windfall be declared illegal, unlawful and a violation of the Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples” Rights Act.
They claimed that the $12.4B oil windfall was documented by the probe panel of the late renowned economist 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 ever gazetting or publishing same because it could not be located.
They 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 on the suit, Justice Gabriel 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.
Justice Kolawole said that the News Magazine Publication 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.
Besides, the Court held that the suite 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 asserted that throughout the trial of the case, the plaintiffs did not prove the existence of the dedicated and special account in CBN where the money was allegedly kept and 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 ate Abuja division of the Court of Appeal.
From Andrew Orolua, Abuja