A totally disappointed Justice Peter Lifu of a Federal High High Court, sitting in Lagos, has recounted how the Federal Government through its lawyers abandoned a suit, seeking to recover and forfeit the sum of Seventy Trillion Naira (N7,000,000,000,000.00) public fund allegedly stashed in 29 commercial banks’ accounts by looters.
Justice Lifu narrated how the pursuit for the recovery of the money, believed to have been warehoused in banks by looters in the Nigerian civil service and said to be so huge that it could fund Nigeria’s budget for three years, and the looters were hit by the lukewarm attitudes of the lawyers that filed it.
The judge, who made the revelation before striking out the case, blamed the private lawyers hired by the Federal Government to prosecute the matter, saying after obtaining the fiat, they failed to diligently prosecute the case for several months, by springing one exuse or the other.
He particularly named Mohammed Ndarani, SAN, and Femi Falana, SAN, the Plaintiffs/Applicants’ Counsel as the culprits, saying they “suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case.”
The case, which had the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation/ Minister of Justice as the plaintiffs/applicants in suit FHC/L/CS/968/2021 involved 19 defendants/respondents, including 17 banks, namely; Zenith Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, Citi Bank Ltd, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank Plc, Sterling Bank Plc, Union Bank Plc, Unity Bank Plc.
Others were Keystone Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Plc, First Bank Plc, United Bank For Africa Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Eco Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, Access Bank Plc, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The government filed the suit through an ex-parte motion on 5th August 2021 before Justice Tijani Ringim, during the Court’s annual vacation.
Justice Tijani Garba Ringim, who originally handled the matter as a vacation judge, upheld the applicants’ motion while also making an interim order freezing the accounts on 6th August 2021, had handed it over to Justice Lifu on 22nd September 2021.
Justice Lifu, who began hearing the matter on 24th November 2021, and on 27th May 2022, while vacating Ringim’s ex-parte order following the plaintiffs/applicants’ failure to comply with the order, after over nine months, while delivering judgment on the substantive suit, criticised the federal government for not diligently prosecuting the suit.
Regretting 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 Esq. (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 9th December 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 Esq. (SAN), which is no longer extant as the ex-parte order was set aside on 27th May 2022, there is nothing left again for this Court to adjudicate upon.
“It is amazing that the plaintiffs/ applicants counsel from Ndarani (SAN) to Femi Falana (SAN) have suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case which has generated so much public interest on the issue of an alleged N70trillion 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 Esq., and Access Bank Plc, I. S. Etefia Esq., succeeds. This case is hereby struck out for want of diligent prosecution and I make no order”, the court held.