Malami: A Chief Legal Officer’s Fidelity to the Law and Due Process

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By Uchenna Okoro

Of all the ministers, the only one captured as it were in the Nigerian Constitution by name is the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. Put differently, no other minister is named by our constitution. So whereas there are as many as over thirty ministers recognized by the Constitution, why is only one singled out for mention?

Straightaway, it is because the framers of the Constitution envisage that the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is indeed a special and strategic one. It is so strategic that the Constitution went ahead – unlike other ministers – prescribed the qualifications for being appointed to that office.

Yes, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) expressly declares that the holder of that office shall be a lawyer; not any kind of lawyer though. So, why didn’t the same constitution for instance provide that the minister of health shall be a doctor or that the minister of works shall be an engineer? All these serve to not only mystify the office of the AGF and Minister of Justice but also demonstrate its architectonic position in the cabinet.

Again, as can be deconstructed from its nomenclature, the office of attorney general of the federation and minister of justice are in fact two offices technically fused into one. One half of the office is the Attorney General who serves as the chief law officer of the nation and the other half is the minister of justice who serves as the legal adviser to the government.

Thus any occupant of this two-in-one office is expected to be like Caesar’s wife, conscientious, and above board. Somehow the framers of the constitution expect an incumbent of this special office to be a superhuman who, on the one hand, is expected to be unbiased in defending and protecting the rights of citizens and, on the other hand, expected to be an astute politician guiding the government through legal entanglements.

The conditions and standards set for the occupant of the office of attorney general and minister of justice as adumbrated above are prohibitive enough. It becomes even more difficult to be Buhari’s AGF and Minister of Justice! We all know that President Muhammadu Buhari comes with a big reputation when it comes to matters of integrity, fighting corruption and fighting for the rights of the poor masses.

What this means is that whoever President Buhari finds worthy enough to be his AGF and Minister of Justice must be two times Caesar’s wife in being above board. Again, during the heated campaigns for the 2015 presidential election, President Buhari had promised Nigerians that fighting corruption, securing Nigerians and rebuilding the economy would be the three main focuses of his government, if elected. And once Nigerians gave the President the mandate, focus shifted on identifying the right person to provide that forthright legal platform for his government to launch out.

President Buhari resisted pressures from flamboyant senior lawyers, top academics and media-hugging senior advocates and kept a cool head in choosing his chief legal officer. He at once recognized that a cool-headed and steadfast lawyer with eyes for details is needed to meander through the labyrinth of rancid cases left behind by the previous PDP government.

In fact, Buhari wanted a serious lawyer un-assailed by lust for money and publicity. He understood well enough that people in the previous government had looted the nation dry and a good chunk of that money must be recovered following due process and tact. Thus, he reached out to a man who had been with him from the years when they literally had no funds to run their former party, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.

His choice was Alhaji Abubakar Malami, a senior advocate of Nigeria from Kebbi State. When Malami was appointed the AGF and Minister of Justice in 2015, a few eyebrows were raised because Malami was not one of the senior lawyers who practised their trade in the media and as such was perhaps underrated. Five years after, its is clear enough for all and sundry that President Buhari was most prudent in the appointment of his AGF.

Under Abubakar Malami, the office of the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice is no longer noted for wheeling and dealing as has been in the past. As a matter of fact, his immediate predecessor, Mohammed Adoke, is still in the court facing charges of corruption over allocation of an oil block. That is after allegedly running from justice for several years by hiding abroad.

In essence, Malami, has rightfully returned the office of the AGF to its pristine value for the protection of the interests of the Nation both at home and abroad. At the domestic level, Malami has used his venerated office to support vigorously, President Buhari’s fight against corruption. Although previously hamstrung by the uncooperative attitude of the former leadership of the main anti-corruption body in the land, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malami has tactfully removed all road blocks to fighting corruption at the EFCC.

The unintelligent and even extra-legal disposition of the former EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, towards fighting corruption and, of course, his refusal to submit to proper legal supervision by the OAGF are well documented and need not be regurgitated herein. But the good news is that Malami has returned EFCC to the excellent path of fighting financial crimes under a new leadership committed to global best practices and the rule of law.

The era in which EFCC had its cases thrown out by judges as a result of lack of proper investigation and diligent prosecution appears now to be over. In essence, under Malami, EFCC is now completely reformed organization with stronger teeth to bite and at the same time, preserving the rights of citizens unlike before when shoddy investigations and media trials were the order of the day.

Overseas, the attorney general and minister for justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, has also used his office to save the country from all sorts of blushes and embarrassing situations. The one that easily comes to mind is the messy award of a whopping $8.9 billion by a British court against Nigeria to a phoney company, Process and Industrial Development(P&ID). The court awarded the amount against Nigeria for alleged breach of gas supply contract between the Federal Government and P&ID in 2010, a clear five years before Buhari became President.

Reaching out to his sagacity in law and and commitment to his fatherland, Malami had launched moves to set aside that award in a higher British court and the recent pronouncement of the court has vindicated the AGF’s decision to appeal that court judgment. The Commercial Court granted Nigeria’s appeal for a stay of execution of the award of $8.9 billion (about N3.2 trillion) in favour of P&ID.

And at home, some of our citizens allegedly used by P&ID to swindle their country are having their day in court. This P&ID matter presents a clear opportunity for a corrupt AGF to line his pockets by simply advising the government to pay the judgment debt and surreptitiously get his own cut. But Malami chose to be a patriot and instead warned that, “the whole saga associated with P&ID contract was a product of corruption, fraud and non-compliance with processes and procedures. The greatest lesson that is apparent arising from this is to put our house in order by way of ensuring that we have in place standard operating procedures relating to each and every agreement that has the potential of affecting our national economy and national interest and ensure that the stated standard operating procedures are followed at the end of the day and ensure that there are consequences for corrupt practices relating to the officials of the government that are saddled with the responsibility of processing agreements and ensuring at the end of the day that due processes and procedures are complied with.”

This AGF has also successfully negotiated the return of million of dollars looted from the federal coffers by former head of state General Sani Abacha, from Switzerland and the United States of America. And he has used the instrumentality of his office to ensure that such returned funds are not re-looted as allegedly done by the previous government by tying the monies to some laudable capital projects like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

Moreover, Malami as Minister of Justice has proved himself a loyal party man.

He has provided his legal support to the leader of APC, his party, President Buhari, in navigating the party out of many traps set by fifth columnists posing as members of their party. The unfortunate dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of APC due to some legal intricacies was a deft move to save the ruling party.

Those who do not understand the nature of the tight rope the party was walking on given the many court orders may not appreciate the yeoman job that the AGF did in advising the President to dissolve the NWC and empanel a caretaker committee to put the party in line with the law as 2023 general elections beckon.

It must be stated that it is not a fluke that Abubakar Malami has enjoyed President Buhari’s confidence these past five years as AGF. He is now perhaps the longest serving chief legal officer of the country. He has proved to be a patriot and a good party man. And he deserves all the plaudits!

QUOTE: Moreover, Malami as Minister of Justice has proved himself a loyal party man. He has provided his legal support to the leader of APC, his party, President Buhari, in navigating the party out of many traps set by fifth columnists posing as members of their party. The unfortunate dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of APC due to some legal intricacies was a deft move to save the ruling party