Hope for a definite legal pronouncement and accountability for the missing $12.4 billion oil windfall was yesterday kept alive as the Federal High Court in Abuja finally adjourned the suit to 23 November 2012 for judgment.
This development followed the hearing of arguments and re-adoption of written addresses by lawyers to the parties yesterday before Hon Justice Gabriel Kolawole.
This information was disclosed on today by Sola Egbeyinka of Falana and Falana Chambers, solicitor to the Registered Trustees of Socio-Economic and Accountability Project (SERAP) and five other right groups that instituted the suit.
At the hearing yesterday, the Federal Government insisted that the enactment by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria Idris Legbo Kutigi of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 “exceeded his Constitutional powers by liberalising the rules on locus standi, permitting public impact litigation, and allowing the inclusion of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the Rules.”
The government also said that it could not find the Okigbo report, and had no duty to render account on the spending of the accrued revenue. The Plaintiffs disagreed, arguing that “such duty exists on the basis of Article 9 of the African Charter, which has become part of our national laws. Also, the Freedom of Information Act has been enacted which also imposes a legal duty on public institutions and agencies to render account, and allow access to public documents.”
It was also argued for the government that “only the AGF as a defender of public interest has the right to seek information on the spending of the $12.4 billion oil windfall,” and that the Plaintiffs have no such right. The Plaintiffs countered by saying that it was “the failure of the AGF to carry out his duty in this respect,” that prompted their legal action against the government in the first place.
It would be recalled that the case initially set down for judgment on Thursday 24 July 2011 has suffered several adjournments. The case was previously adjourned to 16 March 2012 for re-adoption of written addresses but was not heard as the court did not sit.
When the matter first came up for judgment, the trial judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, said the judgment was not yet ready to be delivered. According to the judge then, “the judgment is not yet ready. I have to give priority to criminal cases which are very important. I have a backlog of judgments which are older than this case. I regret the delay.” The judge subsequently adjourned the case to October 21 2011 to deliver the judgment.
However, when the case came up on 21 October 2011 it was again adjourned indefinitely because the court did not sit. It was at this point that the suit became affected by the provisions of Section 194 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides that, “Every court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses and furnish all parties to the cause or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof.”