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Abacha Loot: Pressure mounts on FG to reveal expenditure, total amount looted

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…Comply with court judgement, prove you are different from Buhari — SERAP tells Tinubu

…Hold Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari accountable — Falana

By Mathew Ibiyemi and Moses Adeniyi

As Nigerians look to truly experience a ‘Renewed hope’ under the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, there have have been contentions and pressure on successive governments to account publicly for looted funds recovered.

The calls to question the usage of repatriated funds particularly from ex-military dictator, Sani Abacha received a huge boost however with the Federal High Court judgement sitting in Abuja ordering the Federal Government to give vivid explanation of the details of the spending of about USD$5 billion Abacha loot beginning from the governments of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and the immediate past government of Muhammadu Buhari.

The development has left the government under pressure as it appears the government has claimed it has no vivid details of such expenditure in its records, according to its prayer before the court.

Meanwhile, as ordered by the court, the government of President Bola Tinubu is to “disclose the exact amount of money stolen by General Sani Abacha from Nigeria, and the total amount of Abacha loot recovered and all agreements signed on same by the governments of former presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari.”

This is just as the court ordered that any allegations of corruption involving the execution of projects with Abacha loot be referred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for investigation, as well as to ensure that anyone involved in alleged corruption in projects executed with Abacha loot is brought to justice if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence.

The judgment was delivered last week by Justice James K. Omotosho following a Freedom of Information suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/407/2020, brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

In his judgement, Justice Omotosho held that, “In the final analysis, 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 7 days of this judgment.”

The court ordered the government to “disclose details of the projects executed with the Abacha loot, locations of any such projects and the names of companies and contractors that carried or carrying out the projects since the return of democracy in 1999 till date.”

The court also ordered 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.

“The excuse by the Minister of Finance is that the Ministry has searched its records and the details of the exact public funds stolen by Abacha and how the funds have been spent are not held by the Ministry. The excuse has no leg to stand in view of section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act,” the court further ruled.

The court dismissed all the objections raised by the Federal Government and upheld SERAP’s arguments.

Consequently, the court entered judgement in favour of SERAP against the Federal Government.

The judgement, dated July 3, 2023, read in part: “The failure of the Minister of Finance to write to SERAP informing it of where the said information exists or to transfer the request to public office who has custody of such information is fatal to their case under section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act.

“The Ministry cannot use a blanket statement that it was not in possession of the said records of about $5bn Abacha loot sought by SERAP.

“The government failed to provide details of the projects executed with the money. It also failed to provide locations of the projects and the names of the companies and contractors that carried out or are carrying out the projects funded with the money.

“I hold that by the clear wordings of section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, access to information about spending details of $5bn Abacha loot was denied SERAP by the Federal Government.

“The Federal Government had filed a 14 paragraph Counter Affidavit deposed to by Abah Sunday, Litigation Officer in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation argued that SERAP’s suit is frivolous, as it has not shown that the government denied it the information it seeks.

“The Federal Government has also stated that SERAP has not established sufficient interest in its application. The government urged the Court to dismiss the suit.

“For the sake of emphasis, possession of locus standi has been the bane of the citizens’ advocates, in the public interest litigation, to query transparency and accountability in governance in Nigeria.

“In a democratic dispensation, such as in Nigeria, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle.

“The requirement is a serious fracture of the citizens’ inalienable right to ventilate their grievances against poor governance vis-à-vis expenditure of public funds generated from their taxes.

“The sacrosanct provision of Section 1(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, which has ostracised this disturbing requirement, has, admirably, remedied the harmful mischief appurtenant to it.

“Clearly, section 1 gives a person the right to access any information from any public institution in Nigeria. SERAP is an organization registered in Nigeria and thus a juristic person. As a juristic person, SERAP need not show any specific interest in the spending details of about $5billion Abacha loot to be entitled to the same.

“I therefore hold that SERAP is entitled to the information on the spending details of about $5billion Abacha loot, and need not show any special interest in the information sought.

“The provision of Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act is quite clear and mandates that public institution or public officer such as the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice must make available the information requested within 7 days of the request.”

Hold Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari accountable — Falana

Renowned human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) challenged the Tinubu led administration to hold the former President Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari accountable for the looted funds.

In a statement he signed, Falana said, “The judgment could not have come at a more opportune time than now. Because of the economic hardship to which the poor people of Nigeria have been subjected by a reckless ruling class, the question of public accountability is now on the front burner.”

The statement read further: “Having regard to the involvement of the World Bank in the mismanagement of the Nigerian economy, the order of the court directing disclosure of the details of specific roles played by the bank and other partners in the execution of any projects funded with Abacha loot since 1999 is very commendable.

“The judgment is an important step towards reversing a culture of secrecy and corruption that has meant that high-ranking government officials continue to look after themselves at the expense of the well-being of the majority of Nigerians, and development of the country.

“This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the right to a transparent and accountable government and affirms the human right of the Nigerian people to live a life free from want and fear.

“The Tinubu administration should obey the judgment and hold former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari to account without further delay.”

Comply with court order, prove you are different from Buahri – SERAP tells Tinubu

SERAP in a letter dated 8 July, 2023 signed by its Deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare wrote to President Tinubu to comply with the judgement of the court and show that he is different from his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari.

The civil organization urged the President to demonstrate his “expressed commitment to the rule of law by immediately obeying and respecting the judgment of the Court.”

By so doing, SERAP told Tinubu he would prove to Nigerians his government is different from that Buhari, which persistently and brazenly defied the Country’s judiciary,

The letter read in part: “We urge you to direct the Ministry of Finance and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to immediately compile and release the spending details of recovered Abacha loot as ordered by the court.

“The immediate enforcement and implementation of the judgment by your government will be a victory for the rule of law, transparency and accountability in the governance processes and management of public resources including the $5bn Abacha loot.

“By immediately complying with the judgment, your government will be demonstrating to Nigerians that it is different from the Buhari government, which persistently and brazenly defied the country’s judiciary, and sending a powerful message to politicians and others that there will be no impunity for grand corruption.

“Immediately implementing the judgment will restore trust and confidence in the independence of Nigeria’s judiciary. SERAP urges you to make a clean break with the past and take clear and decisive steps that demonstrate your commitment to the rule of law, transparency and accountability in the governance processes.

“SERAP trusts that you will see compliance with this judgment as a central aspect of the rule of law; an essential stepping stone to constructing a basic institutional framework for legality and constitutionality. We therefore look forward to your positive response and action on the judgment.”

Joined as defendants in the suit are the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice.

The orders of mandamus the court issued against the Nigerian government states: “AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the Federal Government [through the Ministry of Finance and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to provide and disclose the following information to SERAP:

“[a] Exact amount of money stolen by General Sani Abacha from Nigeria, and the total amount of Abacha loot recovered and all agreements signed on same since the return of democracy in 1999 till date

“[b] Details of the projects executed with the recovered funds, locations of any such projects and the names of companies and contractors that carried or carrying out the projects

“[c] Details of specific roles played by the World Bank and other partners in the execution of any projects funded with Abacha loot since 1999

“AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the Federal Government to:

“[a] Refer any allegations of corruption involving the execution of projects with Abacha loot to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for investigation

“[b] Ensure that anyone involved in alleged corruption in projects executed with Abacha loot is brought to justice if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence.”

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Hardship bites harder as Nigerians loot Govt food storage in Abuja

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…Police arrest 15 suspects, recover 26 bags of maize

By Our Correspondents

Nigerians continue to groan as the hardship occasioned by the current economic realities continue to bite harder.

Recently, food crises in the country have continued to worsen with soaring hikes in the prices of food items. According to a recent report by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) food inflation rate in January 2024 rose to 35.41 percent while Nigeria’s annual inflation rate rose to 29.90 percent in January from 28.92 percent in December 2023.

Protests also hit some parts of the country recently over the rising prices of food and services making life unbearable for many Nigerians.

Although the government has promised more palliatives, labour protests last week saw more insistence on honouring agreements over consequential adjustments on new realities, following the removal of subsidy.

This was further evidenced on Sunday as individuals looted a government owned warehouse in Gwagwa town, Tasha area of the Karmo district of Abuja.

Findings by the Nigerian Newsdirect indicate some youths in their number broke into the warehouse located around Tasha area of the community around 7am, looting bags of maize and grain.

A resident, Jaafar Aminu, said the looting continued unhindered till 9 am when he spoke to our reporter.

He said some residents as well as persons from neighbouring Jiwa and Karmo town trooped towards the site with the intention of partaking in the loot.

He said the situation has caused a gridlock on Gwagwa-Karmo road, that leads to Dei-Dei and Jabi axis, respectively.

Commenting, the Executive Director of Nigerian workers Group, Dr. David Kayode Ehindero who spoke to Nigerian NewsDirect attributed the development to the untold hardship on the people by government policies.

He stressed that the removal of the fuel Subsidy by Tinubu’s Administration was a good policy but not providing palliative to cushion the effect of skyrocketed inflation spoiled the intention.

According to him, the looting of the foodstore should give the government a signal that the masses are damnly hungry and can do anything to have their way .

Recall that the warehouse was also looted during the COVID-19 lockdown. Grain bags as well as pumping machines meant for intervention were stolen from the site by the looters at the time.

After raiding the store, the rampaging youths headed towards Idu Industrial Estate, an area that hosts warehouses owned by individuals and also the government.

However, the FCT police command has arrested 15 suspects, including two security guards who actively participated in the looting.

A statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, SP Josephine Adeh revealed that: “Exhibits such as twenty-six (26) bags of maize, five (5) motorcycles, and some vandalized aluminum roofings were recovered from the suspects.”

She said, “The FCT police command is fully informed about the impulsive attack on the Agric Department Strategic food store located at Tasha, Abuja, on 2/03/2024 by some irate mobs, which resulted in the vandalism and looting of the warehouse.

“The Command wishes to state that normalcy has since been restored to the environs and the situation is very much under control.

“Fifteen (15) suspects were arrested, including two local security guards employed by the warehouse management.

“Exhibits such as twenty-six (26) bags of Maize, five Motorcycles and some vandalized aluminum roofings were recovered from the suspects.”

In a related development, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has denied speculations that the warehouse looted belonged to it.

It said, “This is to clarify that the looted warehouse does not belong to NEMA. However, the Agency sympathises with owners of the looted facility.

“To forestall any security breach at NEMA facilities, the Director General Mustapha Habib Ahmed has directed Zonal Directors and Heads of Operations to strengthen security in and around the Agency’s offices and warehouses nationwide,” he said.

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Account for N4bn COVID-19 relief or make refund – Reps to airlines

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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives has given a week aultimatum to all private Airline operators  in the country within which to render justifiable evidence  before it on how they expended the N4bn  they collected from the Federal Government as COVID-19 intervention funds or  refund the money to the government treasury
The Committee being chaired by Rep.Bamidele Salam (Osun-PDP) handed down the directive on Friday at the resumed  investigative hearing on the alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 intervention funds by the Ministries Departments and Agencies MDAs of the Federal Government and others who benefited from the funds
The Committee resolved that “all private airlines that received COVID-19 relief funds designated to support the aviation sector to refund the allocated funds to the federal government treasury, if they fail to give justifiable evidence of how the money was judiciously spent within a week”
The Committee lamented that despite appearing before it,  several of the airlines and industry stakeholders, including Aero Contractors, Azman, Newrest, and representatives from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development, failed to provide satisfactory explanations regarding the allocation and expenditure of the funds.
The committee emphasized the need   for accountability and transparency in the utilization of public funds.
On its part, Azman Airlines represented by its Marketing Manager, Odum Chizoba Uju admitted receiving N367,935,779.95, purportedly allocated for various operational expenses including aircraft maintenance; spare parts, fueling, Forex purchasing, and insurance premium paid while  the Station Manager of Aero Contractor, Mr. Abdulmalik Musa said the company received N217,345,542.05 from the federal government for the Covid-19 intervention fund.
The representative of the Aero Contractor Airline explained that the fund was used for Airport handling and facility payment, fueling payment, Onboard catering payment, pilot training payments, and lease rental payments.
However in a Sharp reaction  to the  submissions on how they utilised the  funds , a member of the Committee and former pilot with the Nigeria Airforce, Hon. Ojuawo Adeniyi from Ekiti state faulted the submissions,  saying that the services claimed by the operators were applicable only during the regular operations of airlines.
Following this development a motion was moved by a member, Hon. Akiba Bassey   that the amount involved should be refunded to the Federatiom account should they failed to give justifiable evidence before the Committe on the expenditure which was unanimously supported by members.
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VP Shettima to pay visit to Ogun State, commission National MSMEs business clinics on Tuesday

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The Vice President, Kashim Shettima will on Tuesday declare open the Expanded National Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Business Clinics in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The Vice President will embark on a one-day visit to Ogun State on Tuesday. The event will be held at the June 12 Cultural Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta.

The Expanded National MSMEs Business Clinic is an initiative of the Federal Government executed in collaboration with state governments.

It is geared towards providing lasting solutions to the challenges hindering the development of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), help MSMEs have access to capital, formalize their businesses, and also exhibit their products among others.

The Clinic would allow small business owners to meet regulatory bodies like the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), and others as well as feature grant presentations to qualified MSMEs.

The Vice President would also inaugurate the Fashion Hub project at the Old OGTV auditorium where over 150 state-of-the-art tailoring equipment have been provided for stakeholders in the fashion industry as well as the Adire shared facility at Asero, Abeokuta.

Participants are expected to register preferably before the day of the event using the programme’s barcode.

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