Abacha Loot: Nigeria’s Supreme Court declines request by family to access Frozen Foreign Accounts

Nigeria’s Supreme Court has again dismissed a suit filed by Ali Abacha on behalf of the family of the country’s late dictator, Sani Abacha seeking to unfreeze the accounts traced to him and other family members stashed in multiple foreign bank accounts.

The apex court in a unanimous judgment delivered on Friday by a five-man panel led by 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 suit was dismissed for lacking in merit.

In the lead judgment prepared by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, but read by Justice Ejembi Eko, the court held that Ali Abacha’s case was not different from that of a son of the ex-dictator, Abba Mohammed Sani, which was earlier dismissed by the apex court on February 7, 2020.

The judgement read: “It is pertinent to state at this juncture that a case with the same facts and issues was decided recently by this court in SC. 68/2010 Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani Vs the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation.

“Judgment was delivered on February 7, 2020. It is now reported in (2020) 2-3 SC (Pt. II).

“Although the appellants are different, the facts and issues in contention are the same. Both had their bank accounts in Switzerland and other countries frozen as a result of the authorisation given to the Swiss law firm by the respondents.

“In the earlier case, the contention was also that the respondents acted outside the scope of their duties under a repealed law and were therefore not entitled to seek refuge under section 2(a) of the Public Officer Protection Act.”

The apex court held that as in Abba Sani’s case, the Ali Abacha’s matter too had become statute-barred and incompetent because it was not filed at the trial court within three months of the occurrence of the action complained about, thereby flouting section 2(a) of the Public Officer Protection Act.

“It is not in dispute that the suit before the trial court was filed outside the three months stipulated in section 2(a) of the Act.

“The only issue to be considered was whether, in the circumstances, the action was maintainable. The suit was in no doubt statute-barred and rightly struck out by the lower court.

“Incidentally, R.O Atabo also represented the appellant in Sani Vs the President & Another.

“He has not advanced any superior argument to warrant a departure from our decision in that case. This issue is resolved against the appellant.

“In conclusion, I find this appeal to be devoid of merit. It is hereby dismissed,” she ruled.

Reflecting on access to Abacha loot, Ali Abacha, brother to the late Sani Abacha had filed several suits 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.

In one of the multiple instances which may not be unconnected with the current appeal, on 24 September, 2004 a Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna, presided over by Justice Mohammed Liman, gave judgment in favour of Ali Abacha. This judgment was set aside on 19 July, 2010 by a three-man unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division.

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