In a groundbreaking judgment, the Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that the governments of former Nigerian presidents, including Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, and Muhammadu Buhari, must disclose the spending details of the approximately $5 billion Abacha loot. The court’s decision came as a result of a Freedom of Information suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/407/2020.
Justice James Kolawole Omotosho, who delivered the judgment last week, ordered President Bola Tinubu’s government to provide SERAP with the full information regarding the stolen funds by General Sani Abacha from Nigeria. The court further demanded transparency in disclosing the total amount of recovered Abacha loot and the agreements made by the previous administrations since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.
The judgment also compelled the government to reveal the specific projects executed using the Abacha loot, including their locations, as well as the names of the companies and contractors involved in carrying out these projects. Furthermore, the court required disclosure of the roles played by the World Bank and other partners in the execution of any projects funded with the Abacha loot during the tenures of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari.
Justice Omotosho dismissed objections raised by the Federal Government and upheld SERAP’s arguments, ultimately ruling in favor of SERAP against the government. The court specifically cited Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, noting that the government’s claim of lacking the requested information was untenable.
SERAP, in a letter dated July 8, 2023, addressed to President Tinubu, emphasized the importance of obeying and respecting the court’s judgment, urging immediate compliance. The organization regarded the enforcement of the judgment as a significant victory for the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in Nigeria’s governance and management of public resources, including the $5 billion Abacha loot.
The court’s decision serves as a crucial reminder that public officials are accountable for their actions and must be transparent in their financial dealings. Implementing the judgment would not only restore trust in the independence of Nigeria’s judiciary but also send a strong message that there will be no impunity for corruption.
The Minister of Finance and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice were joined as defendants in the suit. The court’s order of mandamus compels the Nigerian government to disclose the exact amount stolen by General Sani Abacha, provide details of the projects executed with the recovered funds, and investigate any allegations of corruption related to the execution of projects funded by the Abacha loot.
This landmark judgment emphasizes the citizens’ right to hold their leaders accountable and paves the way for greater transparency and scrutiny in Nigeria’s governance. As the nation moves forward, the implementation of the court’s ruling will play a pivotal role in promoting a culture of legality, constitutionality, and good governance.
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