Crime & Law
Court strikes out Fed Govt’s alleged N70tr looted funds suit
The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has struck out the Federal Government’s suit seeking to recover and forfeit N70 trillion it alleged was stashed in 29 bank accounts by looters.
The money was said to be enough to fund Nigeria’s budget for three years, and the looters, according to the government, were public officials.
Justice Peter Lifu held that the Federal Government’s lawyers and the private lawyers, which it subsequently gave a fiat, did not diligently prosecute the case.
The judge expressed shock that the plaintiffs’/applicants’ counsel from Mohammed Ndarani (SAN), to Femi Falana (SAN) “suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case”.
The Federal Government of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice are the plaintiffs/applicants in suit.
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The 19 defendants/respondents, including 17 banks, are: Zenith Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, Citi Bank Limited, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank Plc, Sterling Bank Plc, Union Bank Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Keystone Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Plc, First Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Eco Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, Access Bank Plc, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The government filed the suit through an ex parte motion on August 5, 2021 before Justice Tijani Ringim during the court’s annual vacation.
Justice Ringim upheld the applicants’ motion and made an interim order freezing the accounts on August 6, 2021.
Upon resumption from annual recess, the case was re-assigned to Justice Lifu on September 22, 2021.
The new judge began hearing the matter on November 24, 2021, and on May 27, 2022, vacated the ex parte order following the plaintiffs’/applicants’ failure to comply with the ex parte order after over nine months.
Delivering judgment on the substantive suit, the judge criticised the Federal Government for not diligently prosecuting the suit.
Justice Lifu held that since the vacation of the interim order, “it has been back and forth, with various excuses, applications for adjournment at the instance of the plaintiffs/applicants counsel, Mohammed Ndarani (SAN).
“From all indications, the instant case has clearly lost its stance as the plaintiffs/applicants seem not to be interested in the matter any longer, having failed consistently to be present in court since December 9, 2021.
“The chambers of Femi Falana (SAN), that just filed Notice of Change of Counsel on the last adjourned date, has suddenly withdrawn appearance today.
“Going through the Originating Process filed by Mohammed Ndarani (SAN), which is no longer extant as the ex parte order, was set aside on May 27, 2022, there is nothing left again for this court to adjudicate upon.
“It is amazing that the plaintiffs/applicants counsel from Ndarani (SAN) to Falana (SAN) have suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case, which has generated so much public interest in the issue of an alleged N70 trillion hidden in some accounts, allegedly belonging to some public officers.
“In the circumstances of this case, therefore, the application of the Learned Counsel for NNPC, M. T. Danzaki, and Access Bank Plc, I. S. Etefia, succeeds.
“This case is hereby struck out for want of diligent prosecution and I make no order as to cost.”