Legally incoherent, fundamentally flawed – Punch Newspapers

Legally incoherent, fundamentally flawed – Punch Newspapers

Tayo Oke

Mallam Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, is a man whose appointment has been dogged by controversy from day one. It is not without reason for, while he has been adept at navigating the politics of the Attorney General’s office, he has been lamentable in his (neutral and impartial) role as a Minister of Justice. His appointment has exposed the contradiction embedded in the ancient tradition of weaving the two offices together in one person. It is a tradition borrowed from the British, of course. The legal profession is supposedly “noble”. All lawyers are, without exception, “ministers in the temple of justice”. This is drilled into every attendee of the Nigerian Law School from entry to exit. Attorney General and Minister of Justice carries this burden with the full weight and coercive power of the state behind him. His is the only office guaranteed a cabinet seat first and foremost, at the right hand side of the table, next to Mr. President himself. Defence, Home Affairs, Finance ministries and others, can have their ministerial appointees delayed, but not the Justice ministry. Remember when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)did not compose his cabinet for several months upon being re-elected in 2015? The AGF was not among them. Malami had been installed within days of the new regime taking office. Such is the reverence for the office.

Consequently, it behoves the holder of the office to “measure up” to the significance and importance of the position. The person, (in an ideal world), would be someone of a formidable legal intellect and unimpeachable character. Someone the rest of the judiciary looks up in leadership and decorum. A person who must not only do justice, but also ensures that justice is indeed seen to be done. Teslim Elias (1960-1966), Nabo Graham Douglas (1966-1972), Dan Ibekwe (1972-1975) and others had been past occupiers of the exulted seat of the AGF in this country. Now, can you envisage Malami on this pedestal? My guess is most of you cannot. And, there lies the problem. Does it matter that most of you cannot? Probably not in the grand scheme of things, but should it matter? The answer is resoundingly yes! You, me, all of us, are stakeholders in the rule of law and the person appointed to superintend it. Judging by his numerous goofs and cack-handedness, Malami wins a trophy for the most vacillating AGF Nigeria has ever had; a party hack par excellence. And, when it comes to deciding on prosecutions, obeying court orders and giving legal advice to the Federal Government, he has demonstrated such elementary errors of judgement almost on every count.

 If Malami looks over his shoulder onto America though, he would find an ally in the current US Attorney General, William Barr. He too is unabashed, and has put his office at the beck and call of Donald Trump, the US President, from day one.

In America, the position of Attorney General is not woven with the tag: Minister of Justice, and quite rightly so. The Attorney General’s primary duty is to protect the President from stepping on banana skin on the pathway. On that basis, all US Attorneys General stretch the limit of their independence; they are all guilty as charged to varying degrees. That notwithstanding, Malami’s handling of the office of the AGF in this country has plunged a new depth. This is the AGF who, in 2015, went to meet Abdulrasheed Maina in some obscure location in Dubai, in the dead of night. Maina was then a fugitive from the law, on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s most wanted list in Nigeria, on suspicion of embezzling billions of naira as Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team. Upon hearing that the National Assembly was investigating Maina, Malami rushed an “ex parte” (without notice to the other side) application to the court to halt the investigation. Thankfully, the court refused and insisted that the National Assembly be properly put on notice of his brazen action. Malami later claimed he had gone to Dubai to meet up with the man hitherto declared wanted by the EFCC mainly to garner “information” on a former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and that the “information” obtained had indeed “saved Nigeria N1.3tn” without tendering an iota of proof. Malami was instrumental in facilitating the re-instatement of Maina into the Federal Civil Service, before being subsequently re-arrested and put on trial. Maina and the missing billions remain a mystery to this day. Some say he is still facing prosecution. Others surmise that they are simply keeping him safe until the dust settles. (See, “Maina: Villain or fall guy?” The PUNCH, January 16, 2018).

Similarly, Malami got himself embroiled in the “Malabu oil deal”, a mammoth scandal involving the disposal of the OPL 245 oil block which began in 2011. It was purchased by Shell and Agip Eni from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, a firm with ties to many rogue elements in politics, including, notably, Diezani Alison-Madueke, a former minister of petroleum resources. Malami wrote a detailed letter to President Buhari seeking authority to drop the case on the grounds of “national security”.  To Buhari’s credit, this odious advice was rejected, but the AGF still did not tender his resignation on this fundamental error of judgement (See, “Attorney General’s crude choice of office over honour”, The PUNCH, February 27, 2018). This is the same AGF who, last week, had the brass neck to call for the removal of the acting Chairman of the EFCC for “diversion of recovered loot” without tendering any concrete proof. He also accused the EFCC boss of “insubordination” to the office of the AGF. First of all, any right-thinking person would fail to see how the EFCC can maintain its independence from political interference, whilst it remains “subordinated” to the whims and caprices of such a deeply flawed fellow as Malami. Second, Malami’s own record of insubordination to the judiciary is legendary. He regularly flouts judicial orders, particularly as they concern persons granted bail by competent courts of jurisdiction. He claimed during his second screening for the position of the AGF in 2019 that he was allowed to disobey court orders in the “public interest” citing Section 174 of the constitution and the case of Asari Dokubo v Federal Republic of Nigeria SC (2007).

The above assertion by the minister is unadulterated legal sophistry at best, and sheer poppycock at worst. Only an AGF with a duplicitous mindset would treat public interest with such levity.  Alas, public interest is not what Malami thinks it to be when he wakes up from a bad night sleep; in these instances, public interest is an issue that borders on life and death for which the state is powerless to remedy other than truncating the rule of law. It is that serious. Malami regularly rides roughshod over the justice system in this country at will. Only two weeks ago, he took over the case of 10 soldiers from the police, and discontinued their legitimate prosecution apparently on the grounds of “public interest”, “national security” or what, Minister? The soldiers stand accused of terrorism, murder, kidnapping, and illegal arms running. But Malami has offered no evidence of the threat to our collective security from their prosecution. The litany of mischief and errors attached to Malami’s period in office is too long to catalogue. In a more transparent and accountable democracy, he would have long been terminated without compensation. Instead, he feels emboldened enough to start pointing fingers, and poking other people in the eye.

Malami, please sit up, look yourself in the mirror, and think for once. One who lives in a glass house should not throw stones.

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