By NBF News
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The controversy over the Pius Okigbo report on the $12.4 billion Gulf War oil windfall is now a court matter, with six civil society groups instituting an action against the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

In the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, the groups are seeking information on how the $12.4 billion windfall was spent between 1988 and 1994.

Suit Number FHC/ ABJ/CS/640/10, dated September 8, 2010, was filed by the groups' lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.

The groups are: Socio-Economic Rights and Accou-ntability Project (SERAP); Women Advocates and Documentation Centre (WARDC); Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR); Access to Justice (AJ); Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), and Partnership for Justice.

In a statement signed on behalf of the coalition by SERAP Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumini, the groups said: 'In 1994 the Federal Government set up the Pius Okigbo Panel to investigate the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria and recommend measures for the re-organization of the Bank. In the course of its assignment the Okigbo Panel found that the $12.5 billion in the Dedicated and Special Accounts had been depleted to $200 million by June 1994. As a result of the mismanagement of the said sum of $12.2 billion by the military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, the Okigbo Panel recommended that the Dedicated and Special Accounts be discontinued.

'The need for information regarding the spending of $12.4 billion oil windfall is important to promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and to fulfil Nigeria's international obligations to promote the development of the country. Access to information of this nature is especially important in this country, which is struggling to establish the rule of law and democracy in the face of underdevelopment, poverty, illiteracy and diseases. The right of access to information is also crucial to the realisation of all other human rights, including the peoples' right to their natural wealth and resources.

'Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information. Unless the Court compels Mr Adoke and the CBN to disclose the information requested in this case, the information may never be disclosed and Nigeria will remain in breach of its international anti-corruption and human rights obligations and commitments.

'The diversion and/or mismanagement of the $12.4 billion oil windfall is a violation of Nigerians' right to natural resources and wealth and to economic development, as recognized and guaranteed by 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act). Under the African Charter, the Nigerian government has a legal responsibility to utilize the natural resources of the country so as to benefit the whole people. Just as the people of every sovereign state have a permanent right to choose their own form of government so the people are entitled to insist that the natural resources of the nation be exploited in the interest of the people.'

The groups are asking the court for eight reliefs, chief among which is 'an order of mandamus compelling the respondents individually and/or collectively to publish detailed statement of account relating to the spending of $12.4 billion oil windfall between 1988 and 1994, and to publish in major national newspapers a copy of the statement of account'.

They are also seeking 'an order directing the respondents to diligently and effectively bring to justice anyone suspected of corruption and mismanagement of the $12.4 billion oil windfall between 1988 and 1994'.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.