By Wale Suleiman
If there is one minister in the President Muhammadu Buhari cabinet that has received more than a fair share of indecorous criticisms, it would be no other than Abubakar Malami, the Kebbi State- born lawyer who was picked for the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice against the expectations of many in the business of law.
To be sure, the office of the Attorney-General is not like any other political appointment the President has to make on assumption of office. It has a constitutional and tradition role that puts it apart from other cabinet positions.
The Attorney-General is the Chief Law Officer of the Executive Council and the country, and by implication the guardian of public interests. It is a position of influence and power, and one that puts the holder of the office directly at the firing line of those, and there are always many of them, who are sworn enemies of public good.
That is why a responsible administration would set a high integrity bar for any appointee to the office. Thus, when Abubakar Malami was announced as the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, it was expected that he would come under heavy public scrutiny, especially among his colleagues in the law profession.
But any diligent and objective assessment of Malami as Attorney General will no doubt answer any query as to why Buhari appointed him as the Government’s lawyer. Buhari obviously knew what many Nigerians did not know about him, having worked closely with him in a client-counsel relationship during the years the former challenged results of previous presidential elections he reportedly lost. Malami’s integrity and incorruptible nature has come to the fore in the last two years of the Buhari administration.
All the allegations made against the man by some of his political and professional foes have all proved to be mere hot air. The latest is the allegation that he planned to have a cut from the $321 million Abacha loot confiscated by a court in Switzerland. Specifically, an online paper alleged that Malami engaged two Nigerian lawyers to offer their services in making the repatriation possible. In return, they expect to get from Nigerian coffers hefty fee after the process had been concluded. Not only is this allegation completely false, but it was a deliberate misrepresentation of facts for reasons best known to the authors.
Facts have since emerged that the repatriation deal was indeed inconclusive because the government was yet to appoint lawyers to move the court judgment which confiscated the funds from the Abachas. The foreign lawyers working on the case had to be re-engaged to move the repatriation process, but the lawyers declined the five per cent on value Nigeria was offering when Buhari became President.
The lawyers insisted on nothing below 20 per cent of the money as professional fee, arguing that the process was cumbersome, expensive and risky. And perhaps rightly so. But this was when Malami, relying on his professional experience and need to save Nigeria money at a time the country had crept into recession, insisted Nigeria would only offer the five per cent. He courageously thought of hiring two Nigerian senior lawyers with sufficient international exposure to wrap up the deal with the five per cent offer.
It worked out and on December 7, 2017 Nigeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the return of the $321 to the Government of Nigeria. The MoU was signed between Nigeria, the Swiss Federal Council and the World Bank. By the provision of the MoU, repatriation of the stolen fund was to start two weeks after the signing. And perhaps, barring any other unforeseen challenges, the process of wiring the money to the dedicated account of Nigeria must have started. Malami will go down in history for facilitating the signing of an MOU that has set precedence on the need for transparent management of returned assets internationally.
It allows the involvement of the civil society in the monitoring of the repatriation process to ensure that the funds are used for development purposes. Thus, not only did Malami act with utmost professional integrity on this deal, but he saved Nigeria a lot of money that could have gone to some foreign lawyers.
He acted in the public interest as is demanded of someone in his position. Of course such courageous and ruthlessly patriotic actions would hurt some entrenched interests at home and abroad, and that was perhaps, why Malami has refrained from joining issues with his accusers. And his principal, President Buhari, who is also well apprised of the details of the deal, has equally discountenanced the accusations.
But one must quickly impress it on the administration here that integrity and good intentions are not enough ingredients for governance. Communication and transparency are critical to good governance and the success of any democracy. One of the things that have challenged Malami’s tenure so far is the lack of adequate information flow from his office which had often led to public speculations and media misrepresentations.
Malami, like his principal, prefer to be a silent achiever and has often found himself in positions where he had to refute damaging allegations, sometimes in an uncomfortably defensive manner. Even though many of the allegations were untrue and ill-motivated, the Attorney-General must not put himself at the mercy of unpatriotic mercenaries who have no qualms working against their own country. Malami needs to improve on his public communication and be more pro-active instead of waiting until the heat comes on. The office of the AGF is critical in a democracy and it must be seen at all times to be acting in the public interest and in a transparent manner.
This is especially true for an administration that is fighting corruption. The chief law officer of the government must not be seen as compromised or vulnerable to compromise by unwholesome interests. –
Suleiman wrote from Ilorin