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SERAP DEMANDS BABANGIDA'S PROSECUTION

By NBF NEWS
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Agroup, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has set an agenda for the new Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN).

It wants immediate implementation of the Dr. Pius Okigbo Panel report on the $12.4bn earned by Nigeria from crude oil sales during the 1991 Gulf War with a view to prosecuting Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who was then a military president.

SERAP, in a letter to Adoke, explained that the call was necessitated by the fact that the panel indicted Babangida for allegedly mismanaging the money.

SERAP is the umbrella body of 10 Civil Society groups that promote transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors.

It said in the letter dated April 7, 2010 that it was concerned that 'since the report was submitted to the then Gen. Sani Abacha administration on August 29, 1994,' nothing had been done by successive governments.

SERAP said, 'Successive governments have failed to act on the report, and the former administration (Olusegun Obasanjo government), reportedly claimed that the report could not be found.

'The report has not been released to the public, and no government's White Paper has been adopted on it (report).'

For this reason, the group said since it was in possession of a copy of the report, and had decided to enclose it (report) with its letter to the minister.

SERAP quoted a part of the Okigbo report as claiming that Babangida operated 'a second but undisclosed budget' with the then Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, late Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmed.

The report also stated that 'the operations of these accounts were fraught with irregularities.The proceeds of the sale of the crude were neither shown in the revenue side nor were the expenditures reflected in the expenditure side of the budget.'

According to the group, the report also frowned at the method of disbursing the oil windfall through 'Dedicated Accounts.'

It stated that the dedicated accounts, which consisted of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation sales of mining rights, signature bonds and stabilisation, received a total of $12.4bn, out of which $12.2bn was disbursed leaving a balance of $206.037m.

SERAP said, 'The accounts were operated outside the national budgets and therefore not open to auditing. The panel also criticised how the funds were spent, noting that they could have been put to better use, either to reduce the national's external debt stock or put in the external reserves so as to ease the pressure on the nation's currency, the naira, which was depreciating at the foreign exchange market.'

It stated that it also 'concerned that the continuing failure and/or refusal by successive governments to prosecute those involved in the mismanagement of $12.4bn constitutes a serious breach of Nigeria's international anti-corruption obligations and commitments, including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.'

Under the convention, Nigeria has a legal responsibility to guarantee victims of corruption an effective investigation and prosecution as a remedy for violations implicating human rights, including economic and social rights.

The group said it believed that it was 'the mismanagement of public funds such as the $12.4 billion that had contributed to Nigeria's failure to achieve sustainable development and throwing millions of Nigerians deeper into poverty.'

Pointing out that fighting corruption required not only a minimum level of political will but also the readiness to confront 'powerful interest groups' that benefit it, SERAP advised the administration of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to 'be very careful not to let allegations of human rights violations, go unpunished.'

It recalled that Jonathan recently said it had 'a zero tolerance for corruption', and therefore challenged the Minister of Justice to translate the commitment to action by prosecuting Babangida.

SERAP warned that if the advice was not taken by the minister within 14 days of the receipt of its letter, it would 'take all appropriate legal actions nationally and internationally to compel' Adoke to begin Babangida's trial.

It said that it would also mobilise Nigerians through online campaign tools such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and other internet-related channels to ensure that sufficient pressure was mounted on the government to implement the recommendations of the Okigbo report.

The SERAP letter was signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni; President, Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Olasupo Ojo; and Presidents and Executive Directors of eight other civil society groups.