The Supreme Court on Friday declined a request by a brother to the late Gen. Sani Abacha, Alhaji Ali Abacha, to unfreeze the accounts traced to him and relatives of the late dictator in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jersey, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgment of a five-man panel led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, held that Ali Abacha’s case was statute-barred as of when it was commenced in April 2004 at the Federal High Court in Kaduna.
In the lead judgment prepared by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, but read on Friday by Justice Ejembi Eko, the Supreme Court held that having dismissed a similar appeal February last year in its judgment on an appeal filed by Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani on behalf of the Abacha family, it had no reason to depart from its reasoning.
The court said it noticed that the appellant in the latest appeal was represented by R. O. Atabo, who, incidentally, was the appellant’s counsel in the earlier appeal, which was dismissed.
“No new or superior arguments were proffered 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 apex court held on Friday.
The appeal by the late dictator’s brother was against a 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 Alhaji Ali Abacha.
The ex-dictator’s brother 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 then Attorney General of the Federation 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.
The decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.
In their judgment of July 19, 2010, Justices John Inyang Okoro, Baba Alikali Ba’aba and Mohammed Lawal Garba of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division, unanimously held that the suit was statute-barred and overturned the decision of the high court, which favoured the Abachas.
But the unsatisfied Ali Abacha appealed to the Supreme Court, and eventually lost 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 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, 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 but 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 is dismissed.”
According to court documents, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in December 1999, authorised the then AGF to request the Swiss authorities to freeze all bank accounts held in its jurisdiction by the late Abacha, his children, servants, agents and any other individuals or companies linked 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, to recover and pay over to the Federal Government of Nigeria all funds falsely and fraudulently taken from the government and people of Nigeria.
Also, the FG 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.”