A coalition of civil society has condemned as “a let down and a cover-up” the statement credited to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN that the Pius Okigbo Panel report, which allegedly indicted the regime of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, for mismanaging the funds, remains missing. Mr Adoke, in a recent interview reportedly said that “the government cannot verify the authenticity of the copy forwarded to it by a human rights organisation, the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) because the original copy of the report is still missing.
The committee I set up met with the SGF and made efforts to get the original copy of the report but they did not get it. Not only did they not get the report, there was no evidence that this matter was formally presented to the government nor was there evidence that it was deliberated upon at the Federal Executive Council and that the government took a position on it.”
But in a swift reaction, the coalition in a statement dated 9 August 2010, and jointly signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director, Women Advocates and Documentation Centre, (WARDC) said that, “First, we have read Mr Adoke’s statement, which is based on the report of the panel set up by him to verify the authenticity of the copy of the Okigbo report we forwarded to him in May.
The panel’s report is not more than 3 pages. Given the amount involved in this case, and the negative impact the missing money has had on the economy and the lives of ordinary Nigerians, one would have expected the committee to have taken its mandate more seriously, and to establish the truth.”
“The panel has done a terribly bad job. A 3-page report on the missing $12.4bn is a joke gone too far. This is a complete let down of Nigerians who continue to live in poverty and suffer the consequences of the disappearance of the $124bn accrued revenue to this country. Rather than calling members of the panel who are alive as witnesses, and checking records at the Central Bank of Nigeria to verify the authenticity of the report we submitted, the panel prematurely and unjustifiably came to a conclusion that it was unable to do this because the original could not be located,” the groups further stated.
The groups also said that “The Adoke panel asked the government to intensify efforts to search for the report but the panel had the chance to do just this but abdicated its oath and mandate. The panel missed an important opportunity to demonstrate the oft-expressed commitment of the President Goodluck Jonathan government to fight corruption and address the impunity of perpetrators.
This amounts to a failure to fulfil Nigeria’s national and international anti-corruption and human rights obligations and commitments, including under the UN Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a signatory.”
“Second, the government asked for a signed copy of the report, which we worked very hard to make available. The government never asked us for the original copy, which in any case remains in the custody of the government. The panel has not accused us of forging the signatures of members of the panel, and Mr Adoke has not denied the authenticity of the report we submitted.
We reiterate that what we submitted to the government is a true copy of the original. Even Babangida in his reaction to our petition did not deny the authenticity of the copy of the report we submitted to the government,” the groups added.
According to the groups, “In fact, information at our disposal suggests that members of the Okigbo panel who are still alive have confirmed the authenticity of their signatures to the Adoke panel. One would have expected the government to use this as the basis for bringing suspected perpetrators to justice.
The former President Olusegun Obasanjo government promised that if a copy of the Okigbo report is sent to the government it would be acted upon. What the President Goodluck Jonathan government has done is a reversal of that promise.”
“We are seriously concerned that the declaration by the government that the Okigbo report is still missing may not be unconnected with the politics of 2011 elections. The politicisation of the Okigbo report is a crime against the Nigerian people, and an attempt to shield suspected perpetrators from justice. This can only continue to entrench a culture of impunity for high level official corruption in Nigeria. This will be bad for the government, and for this country, and is an injustice to millions of Nigerians living in poverty. We need justice and we need it now,” the groups also said.
“We therefore reject the panel’s report and recommendations in its entirety and call on President Goodluck Jonathan to reject the report, and not allow this government to sweep the matter under the carpet. We are determined to pursue the matter to a logical conclusion including instituting national and international legal actions to ensure full recovery of the missing $12.4bn and prosecution of suspected perpetrators,” the groups said.
“By this public statement, we are giving the government a one-week notice to take serious steps to find the original of the Okigbo report, and to put measures in place to bring suspected perpetrators to justice. Failing this, we will be left with no further options but to challenge the government’s decision through national and international judicial mechanisms,” the groups further stated.
It will be recalled that in April, Mr Adoke, responding to the petition by the groups, requested “for a signed copy of the Okigbo Report attached to the letter under reference” in a letter signed by his Special Assistant, Tunde Busari.
The group, in its
response in a covering letter dated May 5, 2010, accompanying the 352-page original report sent to Mr Adoke, said “we expect that you would now move swiftly to prosecute the former president on the basis of the Okigbo report and ensure justice to the victims of the mismanagement and corruption documented in the report.
Signatories to the petition sent to Mr Adoke were the directors of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP); Women Advocates and Documentation Centre, (WARDC); Access to Justice, (AJ); and Committee for Defence of Human Rights, (CDHR). Others are the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC); Partnership for Justice, (PFJ); Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA); Nigeria Liberty Forum, (NLF); Nigeria Voters Assembly, (VOTAS); and Centre for the Rule of Law, (CFR).
In a letter dated May 12 2010, the minister had promised the coalition a committee would be set up to consider the genuineness of the signed report sent by the group.
A part of the Okigbo report read: “the dedication and special accounts had become a parallel budget for the presidency. The decision as to what expenditure items to be financed out of these dedicated accounts was made by the president alone.
“For example, the accounts had been utilized to defray an assortment of expenses that could not in any way be described as priority such as the $2.92 million to make documentary film on Nigeria; $18.30 million to purchase TV/video for the presidency; $23.98 million for welfare of staff in the presidency; $.99 million for travels of the first lady abroad and $59.72 million for security.
“The approved budget for the federation did not reflect the receipts into the dedication and other special accounts; that the balances kept in these accounts were not included in the federation account, a practice which violated the fundamental precepts of the federal fiscal relations in Nigeria and that, in a number of cases, there were significant variations between the amounts approved for payment and the actual disbursements made, without any further explanation from the documents supplied.
“The impact on the exchange rate in the years under review would have been so significant that the Naira would have been stronger in 1994, in relation to the dollar, than it was in 1985, when it stood at N1 to N1.004. It should be evident, therefore, that the burden of external debt to the Paris and London clubs and the pressure on the exchange rate would have been substantially mitigated if not completely eliminated. It is this fact that calls into question the wisdom and prudence, not in the creation of these accounts, but in its disbursements.”