By Sunny Amadi
Political observers have maintained that individual capacity has been driving different sectors of Nigeria’s development and that assertion holds truer, especially with those adroit but silent achievers driven by results which most times, are missed in the hustle of boisterous others.
However, a closer look at consistent and systematic adoption of approaches to getting things done still stand out some and therefore worthy of mention since glossing over such would not only amount to social injustice, but unfair reward for patriotic zeal which often come with baggage from those benefitting from an obtuse system that abhor change of the old order for gains.
The justice system of any mandate determines its evolvement or ruin for the simple fact that its pivot stems from the natural order of unswerving firmness in fairness without which society disintegrates and witness a quick return to the Hobbesian order.
Unknown to many, a taciturn but gifted achiever with an uncommon drive straddling the Justice ministry has been assertive in enthroning an order out of the embedded syndrome which had imbued Nigeria with the status of a buccaneer society where anything goes.
Although no single regime perfects every facet of needed development, which itself is evolving, sure-footed administrators however are like track layers of a rail system with the understanding that once the superstructure has been rightly in place, would ensure a smooth run of other engineering needs of the entire effort. That is the reason that a clear vision with onerous mission, added to drive has stood the Justice Ministry and the Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami out of the lot.
The list is long and the intention to do more is gargantuan, hence, with space-limiting realities, it would be like grabbing the wind to attempt listing all; however, I shall, within the possible time and space, touch some while others in the public domain might be left which makes this effort inexhaustive.
For the first time in a very long while, Malami has steadily started an order that seeks to be systematic in doing things with the rule of law as the bedrock of the intention and efforts so that the style where rule of the thumb held sway is steadily being replaced by consistent order.
His imprints span the project of reviewing obsolete laws to align them with current global realities and covers money laundering, tax, copyright and the greatest albatross of the country, anti-corruption legislations. Another area also is his push to make socio-economic rights of citizens justiceable while he strives for all parastatals under him to work seamlessly in accordance with global best practices.
Transparency has ruled his appointment and duties to the extent that financial figures and recoveries that use to be done under the table are now in the open so that even before such are concluded, every Nigerian will know what was coming and from where, thereby foreclosing the settlement syndrome.
An example might suffice here; Malami has been consistent in ensuring repatriation and recovery of what is correctly Nigeria’s like the insistence and recovery of $62 billion arrears due the country from oil companies; recovery of $311 million Abacha loot from the United States and the State of New Jersey; $ 200 million from Netherlands and Switzerland and enthronement of whistle-blowing scheme from which the nation had so far recovered N685, 784,751.09 and still counting.
Under him, asset tracing recovery, management and disposal have been standardised and those who meant to flout the rule have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Before now, heads of parastatals and agencies used to adopt indiscriminate discretions in asset disposal which often ended in the hands of cronies with the federal government losing huge revenue from such; but with a standardised rule, better records are being kept courtesy of his firm rubrics.
For closures, cases and complaints that had been lingering for years at various commissions and courts have witnessed some closures like the case of the Apo six who were shot by the police where Malami in order to ensure that their families were assuaged, initiated and concluded the compensation disbursement to their families of N133 million.
Another human face action and piece of legislation was the presentation, passage and assent of the legislation to ensure compulsory treatment of Nigerians with gunshot wounds before asking for police report. Many died some innocently even when they were victims of violent crimes but with the issue rested, the country has worn a human face to its anti-crime scheme.
This is in addition to his ensuring the formation of a committee to review operation of security agencies which adopted torture and harassment of citizens. The result was reform of sub security units like the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) which had earned an unenviable level of notoriety in its operations.
The blight of the anti-corruption fight had been failure to achieve high-profile convictions and investigations but with the inter-agency committees he had formed in all the anti-corruption agencies, the monitoring, evaluation and adjustments to ways of handling such cases are now in place. This led to the setting up of National Prosecution Coordinating Committee (NPCC) as well as Code of Conduct for Federal Prosecutors (CCFP) to monitor, evaluate and ensure that best standard practices that would ensure justice were in place. This accounts for steady progress being made on such cases. There had been a notion that until big and influential offenders were made to face the law and punished when they infract, high profile corruption will still hold sway and he is making commendable headways in that direction.
To stem compromises that usually lead to loss of watertight cases in courts, he initiated and set up code of conduct for prosecutors and followed it with trainings, workshops and conferences to hone the skills of the law officers whose welfare he has improved to make inducement less attractive.
While the debate rages on setting up of special courts to try corruption cases, some Federal High Courts in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt have been delineated for the pilot scheme. This is a step that will stand the country better in the committee of nations where the image of the country has been battered by the corruption perception. Judges and assistants are being retrained and requisite working tools provided to ease justice delivery. This is added to the drive for crime database which some advanced countries have been relying on to deny high level information sharing and granting of business concessions to Nigerians. When done, it will further add to the ease of doing business in the country.
Currently, the realities of the COVID -19 in the legal sector means updating procedures and evidence to bring it in line with current realities where courts can sit online without infringing of provisions of the Evidence Act, so Malami has moved for review so that the global trend will see the country in tow which shows how visionary and up to speed he has been on the seat.
From Malami’s stable has emanated documents that metamorphosed into executive orders especially the Order 10 which has ensured transparency in running of government and respect for separation of powers. He initiated the Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari for the first line charge and autonomy of state legislatures and the freedom of the judiciary from the apron strings of other arms of government. The encumbrances removed by those orders have started yielding quantum leaps in transparency and development. Earlier that which ensured direct funding of local governments across the country had been implemented which saw to the freeing of local governments from the financial shackles of states thereby ensuring bottom-up development since local governments is the first port of call in governance with the grassroots.
For a country where cost of access to justice is beyond the ordinary citizen, Malami activated the Access to Justice Fund to simplify and make available, access to legal aid as well as broaden the scope by having a register of those involved in providing legal aid across the country to ensure accountability in the funds which adds to the silent revolution in the President Buhari change agenda.
For the Attorney General, the staccato of methods and ways from different anti-corruption agencies whose duties often clash, leading to public odium in the perception of how the government runs; so he had synchronise all the operational methods of the agencies as well as redefined with better understanding of the provisions in law of what each should be doing, thereby providing strong supervisory role for delineation of duties and efficiency.
Part of the visible judicial reforms of the embracing community service in sentencing in Nigeria as well as the bold move to decongest prisons as it is said that nearly 70 per cent of inmates in the country’s correctional centers are awaiting trial.
Offenders during the lockdown period were sentenced to community services and fined in some instances whereas the practice after conviction in previous times were to jail such convicts but Malami has brought with him, the reform to sentence to community services while also, through the Committee for Prerogative of mercy, reviewing cases as well as paying fines for those with minor offences who were fined but unable to afford the fines and therefore serving avoidable sentences.
Also, there has been review of cases in correctional centers leading to the freeing of thousands of inmates through the committee on the prerogative of mercy; especially to address the issue of over-crowding while there are moves to build new facilities. Releases from courts based on orders have been simplified moreso, with faster processing of cases and availability of judgments; people due for release are no longer kept in correctional facilities. This is in line with the implementation national correctional service reforms. Unlike in the past, there has been renewed and reinvigoration of skill acquisition programmes as well as equipping the centers so that those who go through the system do not come out worse than they entered while advocacy for other forms of correctional systems are being enhanced.
Speedy disposal of election matters that use to linger even till those seeking to upturn victory at the polls or courts serve out their terms is gradually becoming a thing of the past as procedures have been further simplified and such cases made time bound within reasonable time frame to avoid frustration of those supposed to enjoy the fruits of their victories. There is in the works, legislation for the 180 rule which had been the order but not the law.
He is pushing the gamut of reforms which had been docile, some for nearly 60 years through the Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee which in consultation with all stakeholders have been driving an encompassing agenda.
Malami has been working closely with the National Assembly for the seamless passage of Executive Bills which has ensured a smoother working relationship between the three arms of government. He may not have achieved all but has put the nation on an irreversible judicial reform which is the hallmark of fair societies. His drive is commendable and his ways myriad in seeking a better society through law reforms and anti-corruption fight which form pillars in President Buhari’s administration.