A civil society organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the federal government to court over the withdrawal of N446.3 billion corruption charges against Muhammed Abacha, son of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
Joined in the suit are President Goodluck Jonathan and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Muhammed Bello Adoke (SAN).
In the suit with the number FHC/L/CS/1007/2014 filed yesterday before the Federal High Court in Lagos by Adetokunbo Mumuni and Oyindamola Musa on behalf of the organisation, SERAP argued that: “Section 15 (5) of the 1999 Constitution provides that, “the state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.”
According to the group, this means that the defendants are to prevent the exploitation of Nigeria’s human and natural resources for any reasons other than for the good of the community.
It also stated that section means that in cases of corruption the defendants will ensure diligent and effective prosecution of suspected perpetrators.
“The philosophical foundation for the inclusion of the Fundamental Objectives in the constitution is that government’s powers are not exercised to disregard the very institution and citizens they ought to protect,” the organisation said.
The group consequently wants the court to declare that the withdrawal of the corruption charges against Muhammed by the defendants was illegal and unconstitutional and against the tenets of Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which provides that the state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.
It also asked the court to declare that the withdrawal of the suit against Mohammed was illegal and unconstitutional having regard to Section 174(3) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which provides that Adoke in his capacity as the AGF in the exercise of his powers to undertake criminal proceedings shall have regard to the public interest, interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.
The organisation wants the court to direct the defendants to reinstate the corruption charges/suit against Muhammed Abacha forthwith.
It argued that it is the good the obligations assumed by Nigeria under the United Nation convention does not grant discretion to the defendants to refuse to prosecute, recover stolen assets and end the impunity of perpetrators.
It submitted that there were no exceptional circumstances warranting the withdrawal of the corruption charges/suit against Muhammed by the defendants.
The group further submitted that by withdrawing the charges/suit, the defendants had denied the appropriate authorities the opportunity to hear evidence and decide whether or not a case of corruption is established against Muhammed Abacha.
SERAP also argued that by Section 13 of the 1999 Constitution, persons exercising legislative, executive and judicial powers in Nigeria are bound to observe and apply the provisions of chapter 2 of the constitution.
It contended that because the persons were so duty-bound, it follows that they have a responsibility to do those acts or else be accountable for their failure to act.
According to the organisation, “Section 174(3) of the 1999 Constitution provides that: “In exercising his powers under this section, the AGF shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process. The constitution provides that public interest, the interest of justice and abuse of the legal process be protected.
“This provision should be interpreted within the other broader principles and values in the administration of justice. Justice is open, transparent and should be responsive and accountable. These are not fashionable terms any more, but a reality under the 1999 Constitution.”
“If the defendants want to exercise the power of withdrawing corruption charges/suit, it is mandatory that they meet the threshold of public interest, interest of justice and ensure non abuse of the court process. Thus, justice is required to be done in any case regardless of the status of anyone involved. It is submitted that the defendants in this case over overstep on the powers contained in Section 174(3) of the 1999 Constitution,” the organisation also argued.
SERAP also argued: “The overarching objective in the administration of justice that is to do justice to all, irrespective of status, is a cardinal value of any civilised nation. The defendants have a constitutional responsibility to adhere to the principles set out in the constitution. In other words, the exercise of this power is not absolute. And this cannot be especially in corruption cases, and given the debilitating effects of corruption on the rule of law, good governance and the entire fabric of the Nigerian society.”