AGF and the Emerging Civilian Junta

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By Zacheaus Adebayo

I write this piece from the bottom of my heart as a patriot with the full conviction that at the rate we are going, there would be nothing left of our democracy by 2019 when President Mohammadu Buhari’s first term comes to an end-unless we cut down the rising excesses of the President and his Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami.

Nigerians were upbeat when the media reported Buhari had penciled down Femi Falana for the position of Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF). That unfortunately was not to be. Also, hope rose when late James Ocholi (SAN) was rumoured, especially given his exceptional performance at the Senate screening. The media later reported that Ocholi was skipped because he was a principled attorney who could not be pushed around. The lot then fell on Malami.

However, the first sign that Malami would spell disaster for Nigeria’s democracy was the maiden media chat by President Buhari in December 2015. Fielding questions on the continued detention of the leader of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, despite court ruling to the contrary, Buhari replied that “If you see the atrocities these people committed against this country, we can’t allow them to jump bail”. Ironically, the same Buhari in March this year pledged Nigeria’s total support for the secession of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) from Morocco.

Truth be told, a country whose President is both the executive and judiciary is in full grips of junta rule. A glaring evidence is the Kogi governorship poll where the leading candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu died after the polls, but only for Mr. Malami to direct INEC to request the APC to bypass James Faleke, Audu’s running mate, to nominate Yahaya Bello as replacement

Expectedly, Governor Bello, with Buhari’s backing has been bullying everyone to submission in order to consolidate his feeble holds on power. The Kogi State House of Assembly became the first casualty when five out of 25 members purportedly ‘impeached’ the Speaker, Jimoh Lawal.

To cut a long tale short, both chambers of the National Assembly passed a joint resolution to takeover the duties of the Kogi Assembly in line with Section 11 of the Constitution and directed the police to seal off the complex. But, the executive defied this constitutional directive on the AGF’s leprous excuse that the matter was in court.

With the obvious support of the FG, the five rascally lawmakers, which did not constitute one thirds (quorum) of the Assembly continued to seat and even ‘passed’ the 2016 Budget of Kogi State, an illegal contraption based on which Governor Yahaya is spending the money of Kogi State.

Also, when the court reinstated the supposedly impeached Speaker, the military stormed the complex and the majority lawmakers.

Also, in the case of MTN, the Attorney-General unilaterally slashed the fine incurred by the telecommunications giant from N1.04 Trillion to N330 billion, an action not supported by any known Nigerian law. Some Members of the House of Representatives sued him over this arbitrariness.

The National Assembly is now at the receiving end of Malami’s partisanship and unprofessionalism. Not only does he placed himself above the parliament and court orders, he has dabbled into Senate’s internal affairs.

It is a well-known practice and convention that the National Assembly bureaucracy produces the Standing Order for each new Senate or House of Representatives, hence the existence of Senate Standing Order 1999 up to 2015. The Standing Order used by the previous Senate is not binding on the succeeding one.

In 2007, Senator George Akume who was then a fresh Senator vied against Senator David Mark (a two-term Senator) for the office of Senate President even though the defunct Standing Rule/Order 2003 did not support such. But the former Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Ibrahim Arab, allowed him as the 2003 Order elapsed with the 5th Senate. So, when Akume joins the Senate Unity Forum to allege forgery of 2015 Rules, I shudder at such unabashed hypocrisy.

Besides, assuming, but without conceding, that there was forgery, how does what transpired in the National Assembly from 4th June 2015 when the 7thSenate ended and both Saraki and Ekweremadu ceased to be Senators to 9thJune 2015 when they were re-inaugurated like every other new Senator, concern them?

It is, therefore, not surprising that none of the two gentlemen were named by the petitioners or those interrogated by the police or the police report itself. The police did not also invite or interrogate them, hence they made no statements to the police. The question agitating the minds of Nigerians is how did the AGF generate their names for trial.

The ruling in 28th June 2016 by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of Federal High Court, Abuja, bares the show of desperation, “gross abuse of legal process”, and absence of public interest in the ongoing prosecution of the Senate presiding officers by the AGF.

There were pending civil suits regarding the alleged forgery before the Federal High Court, with one of them challenging the legality of the police report. It had Malami as a counsel to Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, one of the defendants and scribe of the Senate Unity Forum, before his appointment as AGF.

There were also previous rulings connected to the suit in which the Hon. Justice Kolawole made it clear that “the issues as relating to the Senate Rules or Standing Orders are firstly, a purely domestic legislative matter”.

However, ruling on Senator Gilbert Nnaji’s ex-parte application protesting the decision of the AGF to slam criminal charges on Saraki and Ekweremadu before an FCT High Court while the police investigation and report, which the criminal charges rely on is subject of a litigation, Justice Kolawole, held that it was ordinarily the responsibility of the AGF to discontinue such suits against the Senate’s presiding officers once it was called to his attention that there was subsisting suit challenging the police investigation and report.

The learned judge acknowledged the glaring misnomer he held: “The converse situation, which the drafters of the constitution, perhaps never envisaged appears to have occurred in this case as the 2nd defendant (AGF) who is required, by section 174(3) of the constitution, to ‘discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person’ where such proceedings constitute ‘abuse of legal process’, is in fact the very person who initiated a criminal proceedings in a matter in which he had, as a private legal practitioner, acted for the one of the ‘interested’ Senators who had petitioned the 1st defendant (Police) on 30/6/15″.

He continued: “But, having regard to the peculiar facts which I have analyzed, the said criminal charge dated 10/6/16 and attached as exhibit “B” to the Plaintiff’s ‘motion ex parte’ dated 23/6/16, given the course of these proceedings as I had in detail, highlighted, can only be seen as one that constitutes an “abuse of legal process” to use the very words in section 174(3) of the constitution”.

“In all of these facts and issues, having regard to the pendency of this suit in which the defendants have both filed processes, one question that did not cease to resonate in my thoughts is why this ‘desperate haste’ to prefer the criminal indictments in exhibit ‘B’ the investigation of which is at the heart of this suit and of the parallel suit in exhibit “E”, and which indictments, by law are not time barred as the substantive suit before this court, had by consent of both the Plaintiff’s Counsel and the 1st defendant’s Counsel, been scheduled for 6/7/16 for hearing”.

“It is the event of the steps taken by the defendants (Police and AGF) in utter defiance of this pending suit, that in my view, unobtrusively betrayed the possible genuineness of the defendants’ intention and of the 2nd defendant’s motives as steps taken which are beyond serving the “public interest” by the commencement of a criminal trial in the FCT High Court in order to subvert the pending suits in the Federal High Court one of which has been fixed for 6/7/16”.

Meanwhile, I do not bother myself about any Nigerian politician, whether it is Saraki or Ekweremadu. I only worry that if Buhari and the AGF continue this way, we may well kiss our democracy goodbye and brace up for life under a civilian junta where rule of law, human rights, and other goodies of democracy have no place whatsoever.

As for Malami, it is particularly instructive that each passing day, he keeps justifying the views held by some of his fellow lawyers that the only qualification for his appointment as AGF is his lack of intellectual depth and sound legal mind or others who insist that he owes his SAN title to quota system.

Adebayo writes from Ibadan