HAGF/NASS/2016/VOL.1/06 31stMarch, 2016
Senate Committee on Communications
National Assembly Complex
Three Arms Zone, Abuja.
ATTENTION: Senator Gilbert EmekaNnaji
Dear Distinguished Senator,
Refer above. I am compelled to respond to the spate of bad press as well as the obvious and deliberate sponsorship of same by those who ordinarily should investigate and have the capacity to demand an explanation from the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (OHAGF/MOJ) on his role in the matter relating to the N780 billion fine slammed on the MTN Telecommunications Nigeria Limited by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC in which the Company has made N50 billion down payment as a condition for it (MTN) to gain audience with the relevant government agencies for the out-of-court settlement as ordered by the court.
- While the national dailies have been awash with barrage of stories based on the position your Committee took without giving my principal the benefit of explaining his actions, you would recall that he had however requested for an invitation to put the record straight before your Committee but to no avail. Your Committee’s response to his request is that the issue has been adjourned sine die which is an unfair development as far as the character and personality of the HAGF/MOJ is concerned; knowing the level of much malign and odium he has been subjected to. The Honourable Minister is left with no option than to believe that your actions and inactions are geared towards embarrassing him inspite of carrying out his due functions as the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; and in good faith.
- Perhaps, it may interest you that when this whole shenanigans began, the position of the HAGF/MOJ was that the Distinguished members would soon uncover the truth of the matter, more so; as my principal have responded in some media platforms to put the record straight. What is more? He thought the Senate which he holds in high esteem and respect would be diligent enough to do a thorough and full-proof job in its oversight function, however ended up taking the malicious position which the discerning, but misinformed populace have had to swallow-hook, line and sinker.
- It was against this background and using this misinformed position as a basis that, the media and some sponsored self appointed, self centred, self-willed, head strong so-called activists have feasted on it to either accuse the HAGF/MOJ of over-stepping his bound on the issue or that he is insincere in the negotiation to serve his selfish aggrandizement. Some even insinuate while others allege he was settled even though they have no such proof.
- However, for the benefit of those in doubt, it is so far, so good for the role my principal has played. I wish to state vividly that, when Mr. Eric Holder, the counsel to the MTN led a team to interface with my principal as the Chief Law Officer of the nation- (mind you, Holder is a former Attorney General of the United States) and so wouldn’t have entered into the meeting if he was not sure my principal was most appropriate to negotiate with; even at that; the former insisted that MTN which the latter represents must show some commitment by ensuring down payment of N50 billion. The Federal Government insistence was that no audience could be granted to the telecom Company or anyone acting on its behalf while the case is still pending in court and in the absence of demonstration of good faith by MTN.
- To this request, MTN offered to comply, and indeed complied by withdrawing the case unconditionally and to make an agreed payment of N50 billion ($250 million), an offer the FGN accepted only to grant audience to it and its counsel in relations to the settlement discussions (and without prejudice and in good faith). The payment was made on February 24th, into a Federal Government Recoveries Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Company also filed an application to withdraw its pending suit in an attempt to fulfil the second condition for audience with the FGN on the matter. This was also confirmed by the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice before it agreed to grant audience to MTN or its Counsel. And having fulfilled the two conditions as demanded by the Federal Government through the OHAGF/MOJ; the MTN through its counsel Eric Holder and his Covington legal team thereby sought audience with HAGF/MOJ who yet denied going into any negotiations, but demanded a proposal of the terms meant to be discussed in writing. Mr. Eric Holder obliged those terms and the HAGF/MOJ who quickly despatched a mail through the normal official channel to the Honourable Minister of Communications and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC inviting for their input before fixing any meeting. And while still awaiting the responses of both, no meeting or discussion or negotiation has been held on the issue ever since. What the HAGF/MOJ did afterwards was to ask the MTN legal team to formally present its proposals on the matter so that technical input could be sought from all stakeholders before the FGN could grant them any audience. This proposal has now been circulated among the stakeholders for their technical contributions and that is where we were on the issue when the invitation of the Senate came in at a time when the HAGF/MOJ was embarking on a trip to attend an anti-corruption summit in the United Kingdom that he was earlier billed to attend before the invitation came handy. It is imperative to state at this juncture that neither an audience nor commitment was made by the HAGF/MOJ to MTN Telecommunications Nigeria Limited who was then waiting for the technical inputs and comments of the Ministries of Communications and Finance as well as the Nigerian Communications Commission with a view to harmonize the inputs and coordinate inter-ministerial meeting for a common position before considering an audience meeting or negotiation with MTN, all of which were aborted by the pre-emptive conclusion hastily reached by your Committee.
- In fact, the positions of your Committee Vice Chairman, Senator Adeola Olamilekan and that of Senator Abiodun Olujinmi are both appalling and rather harsh. The Vice Chairman’s outright summation was that my principal is not just a deceit, but also a criminal and anti-people. To quote him as published in the National Mirror edition of Wednesday, March 16, 2016 on page 16; “With such a document, it was clear that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Malami was deceiving Nigerians into believing that negotiation with MTN on the issue of the fine was still ongoing, knowing that the Minister had concluded a criminal settlement terms that favours MTN to pay only N300 billion and clearly mortgaged the interest of Nigerians in the entire deal. On her part, Sen. Olujinmi’s vicious opinion was on the HAGF/MOJ directives for the opening of a Federal Government recovery account and subsequent lodgement of the N50 billion. According to her, again quoting copiously from the same National Mirror publication titled, ‘N1.04trn fine: Senate raises alarm over plot to free MTN’, she described “the entire negotiation as ‘voodoo’ as well as saw the opening of a recovery account for money that was not stolen as clandestine move to circumvent due process.”
- On the recovery account, the idea is that it is a Federal Government owned account which does not belong specifically to the Federal Ministry of Justice, neither is it a personal account of the HAGF/MOJ; so one wonders why the hullabaloo. Let me re-emphasize that neither the HAGF/MOJ nor FGN has made any commitment order than as stated thus far.
- Now, for those who believe that the HAGF/MOJ had usurped the powers of the Federal Ministry of Communications and the Nigerian Communications Commission, this brief explanation or definition of the responsibilities of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice will suffice.
- The Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (OHAGF/MOJ) is second defendant in the case instituted by the MTN against the NCC which is the first defendant. The natural question that should emanate from this, is why the MTN should join the OHAGF/MOJ as a second defendant? The answer to this is simple. It is because the HAGF/MOJ is the Chief Law Officer of the nation and by virtue of this position, he is deemed as the Chief Legal Officer of the Federation. So, all legal actions against the Federal Government and its agencies, i.e Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Commissions, parastatals and other extra-ministerial agencies; the HAGF/MOJ is always joined in their legal suits whether or not he is directly involved in the subject matters. And when the above is put in perspective, it then goes without saying that the HAGF/MOJ is obligated to defend all court cases; whether or not, he is directly involved. All MDAs are also under obligation to seek legal opinion from the OHAGF/MOJ on all legal issues of State whether it directly involves the HAGF/MOJ or not. Suffice that, this position has been given judicial approval by the Supreme Court in several legion of cases.
- Therefore, in this MTN case under reference, the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is a party to it. Secondly, the HAGF/MOJ has the right to take over the case from the NCC. He has the traditional rights as well as the legal rights to take over because NCC is an agency of the Federal Government. Besides, it is common knowledge that all legal advisers of the MDAs, Commissions and other similar organs of the Federal Government are on secondment from the OHAGF/MOJ. All the legal representations (both for OHAGF/MOJ and the NCC) in this case under review are packaged by the Minister of Justice. So, anyone who harbours a contrary view on the role of the HAGF/MOJmust be insincere and indeed; living in the dark.
- Therefore, the natural deduction from the various comments from both the high and low quarters (the Senate as represented by your Committee inclusive) is that there is sinister motive to deliberately cause the HAGF/MOJ undue embarrassment; and with a view to bring him down at all cost. This is notwithstanding the sacrifices he has made; not only in this particular case in question, but in every other official task he has been entrusted by the Presidency on behalf of Nigerians.
- So, I dare to reiterate the earlier position of my boss, that there is no iota of underhand dealings in relation to the planned negotiation between the Federal Government and MTN Telecommunications Nigeria Limited as against the erroneous belief and assumption in some quarters, including the National Assembly that the nation is being mortgaged.
- Distinguished Senators, permit me to affirm that adjourning this matter sine die without giving the HAGF/MOJ an opportunity to state his own side of the story against the background of malicious conclusion of improper dealings against him would be unfair and unjust; and therefore injurious to his person and reputation which he has laboured to build over the years. His ability and diligence as a public official of State is equally called to question by your position on this issue. This calls for an apology as a mark of honour from the Committee that seems to have apparently jumped to speculative malicious conclusion. Life is a two-way traffic reflective mirror and I sincerely hope, the members of your Committee are not adjudging the HAGF/MOJ involved in any underhand dealings because they were contracted to such hatchet job thereby looking at their oversight function from a tainted reflective perspective.
- Please kindly accept the assurances of the highest regards and esteem of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
Comrade Salihu Othman Isah
Special Adviser, Media and Publicity
Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the
Federation and Minister of Justice, Abuja.