12.4bn oil windfall: Babangida has a case to answer, says Falana

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Following a petition by a coalition of civil society groups in the country seeking accountability for the missing $12.4 oil windfall, former military president General Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida (rtd) has reportedly said that he “was not indicted by the Okigbo Report”, and that much of the funds were concentrated on infrastructural development of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Well, these claims fly in the face of the clear and unambiguous conclusions of the Okigbo report. Let us be very clear about what the report said. The Okigbo report made several conclusions about the missing $12.4bn but I will highlight here just a few. First, the report said that “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.”
Second, the report said that “in a large number of cases, there were no indications, in the letters written to the Head of State seeking approval to make  payments or seeking ex-post approval, as to which dedication account was to be charged – either Dedication, Sale of Mining Rights, Signature Bonus, or Stabilisation Accounts. In such cases, it would be impossible to ascertain, on the basis of the information available, whether or not the approvals were in respect of any of these special accounts. And yet it was the Governor of Central Bank who instructed as to which particular account was to be debited. The Central Bank was never able to establish that payments on behalf of the Ministry of Defence and the National intelligence Agency were based on genuine and well established contracts or transactions. This was because the relevant documents were never made available to the Bank, as such documents were regarded as classified items.”

Third, the report stated that, “The funds accruing to these accounts had been applied mainly to payments for services of contractors, and for the purchase of military equipment and services. The gross takings on these accounts from their inception in 1988 to June 1994 totalled $12.4billion. These had been held totally outside the country s external reserves. Indeed, if the funds had been counted as part of the external reserves and had been held as such, the impact on the exchange rate in time 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 $1.004. 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 to question the wisdom and prudence not in the creation of these accounts but
in its disbursements.”

According to the report, “the operation of such accounts was not subject to the normal budgetary processes, and therefore lacked transparency. By limiting the authorisation process for its  operation to the approval of the President or Head of State, which was communicated directly only to the CBN Governor, it created considerable room for abuse of procedures, abuse of application and reduced accountability”.

Also, there is no single reference in the report to back the claim that the funds were spent to develop the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. In fact, the funds for Abuja were contained in the Federation Account. As the Okigbo report stated, “there were many large projects of doubtful viability and many more of clearly misplaced priority. In addition to these, 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 utilised to defray aim assortment of expenses that could not in any way be described as priority such as: $2.92 million to make Documentary Film on Nigeria; $18.30 million to purchase TV/Video for the Presidency; $23.98 million for Staff Welfare in the Presidency; $99 million for travels of the First Lady abroad; and $59.72 million for security.”

Therefore, it is clear that no indictment can be greater than the above direct conclusions and quotations from the report. The point is that Nigerians deserve explanations as to what exactly happened to the accrued oil revenue of $12.4bn which apparently went missing during the Babangida government. And anyone who loves this country would expect accountability for the missing funds. No amount of misinformation or misrepresentation of the facts and conclusions of the Okigbo report by anyone can stop the demand by Nigerians for accountability in this matter. The action by the civil society groups is indeed patriotic.

It would be recalled that a coalition of civil rights’ groups, including Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP); Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR); Access to Justice (AJ); Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC); Women Advocates and Documentation Center (WARDC); Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA); and Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS), sent a petition to the new Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, asking him to prosecute the former military president. The group, in its petition dated April 7, 2010, threatened to go to court to compel the justice minister to try the former military president.

Babangida, in a press release issued and signed by his spokesman, Prince Kassim Afegbua and entitled: “Who is Afraid of General Ibrahim Babangida?, denied that he was ever indicted by the Okigbo panel saying what the report said   was that much funds were concentrated on infrastructural development of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which it considered was not a priority. Besides, Babangida said the report also called for the overhaul of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to enable it perform its functions optimally.

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