The spotlight is currently on the federal administrations of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, and Muhammadu Buhari. A Federal High Court in Abuja, over the past weekend, has commanded them to provide a detailed account concerning the alleged mismanagement of the substantial sum of $5 billion. This massive amount, commonly known as the “Abacha loot,” was returned following the misdeeds of the former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha.
In a pivotal decision impacting the current government led by President Bola Tinubu, the court also imposed an order demanding complete disclosure of the total money stolen by Abacha, the full amount of the recovered loot, and all agreements pertaining to the loot signed by the administrations of the aforementioned former presidents.
Further highlighting the depth of this judicial action, the suit also extends to the Minister of Finance, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the Minister of Justice, all of whom have been roped into this saga.
This action comes after the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) filed a lawsuit against former President Buhari’s administration in September 2022. This lawsuit was prompted by the administration’s failure to publicize the details and a copy of an agreement signed with the United States regarding the repatriation of $23 million, also a part of the notorious Abacha loot.
The agreement, which came into existence in August 2022, was a follow-up action to the return of the $311 million Abacha loot by America in 2020. SERAP lodged its lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, under the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1700/2022, urging the court to mandate the President and former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to reveal the details of the contractual agreement with the US.
SERAP expressed concerns that the repatriated $23 million Abacha loot is susceptible to corruption and mismanagement. The organization further asserted, “a significant part of the approximated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been mishandled, diverted, or re-stolen, and in any case, remains unaccounted for.”
Presiding Justice James Omotosho, responding to a Freedom of Information suit brought by SERAP, gave a ruling stating, “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 $5bn Abacha loot within seven days of this judgment.”
The Judge directed the government to reveal comprehensive details about the projects executed with the funds from the Abacha loot. These details should include the locations of such projects and the names of the companies and contractors who executed or are still executing, these projects dating back to the return of democracy in 1999 till now.
Furthermore, Justice Omotosho commanded 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.”
Refuting the excuse given by the Minister of Finance about the ministry’s inability to provide exact details of the funds stolen by Abacha and how they were spent due to lack of records, the Judge said, “The excuse has no leg to stand because of Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act.” He dismissed all objections raised by the Federal Government, endorsing SERAP’s arguments.
In conclusion, the court pronounced a judgment in favor of SERAP against the Federal Government, emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability in the handling of the returned Abacha loot, a theme that has been the subject of public discourse in Nigeria for a considerable period.