The federal government is to set up a committee to ascertain whether a criminal charge can be sustained against former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, over his alleged mismanagement of the $12.4 billion windfall from the sale of crude oil during the first gulf war.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke, made this known in a letter he sent to a group of civil society organisations who demanded the prosecution of the former military leader based on the findings of the Pius Okigbo Panel.
In his letter, dated 12th May 2010, Mr Adoke acknowledged the receipt of the Okigbo report from the group and commended their effort in making available to him a signed copy of the report.
“As appropriate, I shall set up a Committee that will confirm the authenticity of the said report and also review the allegations and recommendations contained therein, with a view to ascertaining whether these allegations can sustain a criminal charge,” he said .
NEXT, last week, exclusively reported that the Attorney General was already studying the content of the document with a view to making a more informed reaction on behalf of the federal government as soon as possible.
Speaking for the coalition, the Executive Director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, welcomed the commitment of the new administration to prosecute the former military leader on the basis of the evidence contained in the Okigbo report.
Mr Mumuni, who commended the steps already taken by the Attorney General, however urged the government to “accelerate action to ensure that the case is diligently and effectively prosecuted” adding that
“Pursuing this case to a logical and successful conclusion will show that our government can do things differently when it comes to the fight against corruption in this country,” he said.
“This would also provide effective remedy for the countless victims of high level official corruption in the country” he said.
Mr Mumuni urged Mr Adoke to involve civil society and the United Nations in the work of the committee, to ensure that ‘justice is not only done but seen to be done.’ “We stand ready to offer full support and assistance to the authorities in the prosecution of suspected perpetrators of the $12.4bn scam,” Mr Mumuni said. “We believe that a successful prosecution of the case is a key step in improving the overall governance environment in the country.”
The latest letter from the office of the Minister of Justice came weeks after he replied several petitions by the coalition which, in a letter dated April 7, had given Mr Adoke a two-week ultimatum to commence action on the initial petition or face legal actions.
Mr Adoke then requested for the provision of the authentic and signed Okigbo report, assuring the groups that he would deal with the matter once he received the signed original copy of the Okigbo report. The groups subsequently, on the May 5, forwarded the original 352-page report to him.
The groups debunked reports that the report was missing as reported during the administration of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, noting that it had remained in the custody of the government as a white paper. What has been missing is “the political will by successive governments to act decisively on the report,” the group said.
The Okigbo report
The Okigbo panel was set up in 1994 by the late former head of state, Sani Abacha, to investigate how the $12.4 billion oil windfall earned from the sale of crude oil by Nigeria during the first Gulf War was spent. The report claims, in part, that “the Dedication and Special Accounts had become a parallel budget for the Presidency.
The decision as to what expenditure items to be financed out of these dedicated accounts was made by the President alone. For example, the accounts had been utilised to defray an assortment of expenses that could not in any way be described as priority such as: $2.92 million to make a documentary film on Nigeria: $18.30 million to purchase TV/Video for the Presidency; $23.98 million for staff welfare in the Presidency; $.99 million for travels of the First Lady abroad; and $59.72 million for security”.
The report went on to state that, “The approved budget for the federation did not reflect the receipts into the Dedication and other Special Accounts; that the balances kept in these accounts were not included in the Federation Account, a practice which violated the fundamental precepts of the federal fiscal relations in Nigeria, and that in a number of cases, there were significant variations between the amounts approved for payment and the actual disbursements made, without any further explanation from the documents supplied.”
Following the first petition on the missing $12.4b oil windfall, Mr Babangida, through his spokesperson, Kazeem Afegbua responded that the former military President “was not indicted by the Okigbo Report”, and that much of the funds were concentrated on infrastructural development of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Mr Babangida had also, in a recent interview, demanded that his accusers produce evidence of any mismanagement against him.
Signatories to the recent petition were the directors of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP); Women Advocates and Documentation Centre, (WARDC); Access to Justice, (AJ); and Committee for Defence of Human Rights, (CDHR). Others are the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC); Partnership for Justice, (PFJ); Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA) etc.