From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Supreme Court has refused the request by a brother to the late Head of State, Sani Abacha, Alhaji Ali Abacha to unfreeze the accounts traced to him and relatives of the late Abacha in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jersey, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.
In a unanimous judgment on Friday, a five-man panel of the court, led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta held that Ali Abacha’s case was statute barred as at when it was commenced in April 2004 at the Federal High Court in Kaduna.
The judgment was in the appeal marked: SC/359/2010, filed by Alhaji Ali Abacha, said to be a brother of the late Gen Sani Abacha.
In the lead judgment prepared by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, but read on Friday by Justice Ejembi Eko, the court held that, having dismissed a similar appeal in an easier judgment given in February last year, it has no reason to depart from its reasoning that case brought by Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani on behalf of the Abacha family.
The court said it noticed that the appellant in this appeal is represented by Reuben Atabo who, incidentally, was the appellant’s counsel in the earlier appeal.
“No new superior arguments were proferred here to warrant a departure from the decision in the case of Alhaji Sani, earlier decided. This appeal fails, and it is hereby dismissed.
The appeal was against the July 19, 2010 unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division, in which a three-man panel set aside the September 24, 2004 judgment by Justice Mohammed Liman of Federal High Court, Kaduna, earlier given in favour of Ali Abacha.
Ali Abacha had sued at the Federal High Court, Kaduna in 2004, challenging among others, the 1999 decision by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, acting through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi (SAN), to request the freezing of all accounts traced to the late Abacha, his family members and relatives in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jersey, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.
Ali Abacha prayed the court to, among others, void the freezing of the accounts on the grounds that the AGF lacked the powers under the Banking (Freezing of Accounts Act, Cap 29, Laws of Nigeria,under which he claimed to have acted, to request the foreign nations to freeze his accounts and those of the companies in which he is a director.
Justice Liman, in his judgment on September 24, 2004, upheld the claims by Ali Abacha and granted all the reliefs sought, a decision the AGF, listed as the sole defendant, appealed at the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division.
In their judgment on July 19, 2010, in the appeal marked: CA/K/71/2005, Justices John Inyang Okoro, Baba Alikali Ba’aba and Mohammed Lawal Garba of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna, were unanimous in holding that the suit was statute barred.
They equally held that the AGF was not accorded fair hearing by the Federal High Court, and proceeded to set aside the judgment by Justice Liman, a decision Ali Abacha appealed to the Supreme Court, which the apex court decided on Friday.
A five-member panel of the Supreme Court had, in its February 1, 2020 judgment in the earlier appeal, marked: SC68/2010 by Abba Mohammed Sani, held among others, that it was was too late for the Abacha family to query the decision taken by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1999, via a letter authored by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Kanu Agabi (SAN).
Justice Chima Nweze, who authored the panel’s lead judgment, held among others, that in view of the evidence presented by parties, he was left with no other options than to uphold the earlier concurrent decisions of the two lower courts (the Federal High Court, Kano and the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division), to the effect that the suit was statute barred.
Justice Nweze said: “In all forms, with the eloquent submission of the respondents’ counsel, and submissions anchored on the admitted evidence, I have no hesitation in affirming the concurrent decisions of the lower courts.
“Accordingly, I hereby enter an order dismissing this appeal. I further affirm the concurrent findings and decisions of the lower courts. Appeal dismissed.”
According to court documents, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in December 1999, authorized the then AGF, Agabi to request the Swiss authorities to freeze all bank accounts held in its jurisdiction by the late Head of State, General Abacha, his children, servants, agents and any other individuals or companies liked to them between 1993 and 1998.
The Nigeria government was also said to have requested the Swiss authorities to seize and detain all banking and other documents relating to the affected accounts, charge and prosecute all holders of such accounts, in order to recover and pay over to the Federal Government of Nigeria all monies falsely and fraudulently taken from the government and people of Nigeria.
Also, the government was said to have engaged a foreign financial investigator, Enrico Monfrini of Hauchomann & Bottage in Geneva, Switzerland, to assist in recovering “all looted monies by Gen Abacha and his family members and other public servants and third parties who have used their position or participated as accomplices to misappropriate public funds.”
Following these steps by the Federal Government, the accounts of the Abachas found in Switzerland, United Kingdom, Jersey, Liechenstein and Luxembourg were frozen, a development members of the late Head of State challenged by filing a suit, marked: FHC/KN/CS/6/2004, on January 28, 2004 before the Federal High Court, Kano.