A Pain In Abubakar Malami’s Neck – By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The Yoruba have a cherished prayer that they offer in disapproval of a tramautising battle that faces their beloved ones or associates: “Ki Olorun ki o gba wa lowo ogun ale ni ma dehin”, transliterated as: “May the Almighty God deliver us from the battle by relentless pursuers.” It is a significant prayer that goes to the roots of existential threats.
And, this is certainly an apt summation of the sticky situation in which the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), has found himself. He is sauntering in the treacherous terrain of the nation’s cloak-and-dagger politics with some forces and their back-end sponsors in hot pursuit.
There has been a series of attempts from the outset of the Muhammadu Buhari administration to short-circuit Malami in the formation of the government, despite his immense commitment and unwavering loyalty to the president. Their political relationship dates as far back as to the years that presaged the formation of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) on which platform Buhari contested the 2011 presidential election. Malami was the National Legal Adviser of the CPC.
That was not the event that proved his steadfast loyalty to Buhari. The test of his commitment and loyalty crystallized in the presidential election petition that was instituted after the 2011 election in which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Dr. Goodlcuk Ebele Jonathan as the winner.
Very senior lawyers were reluctant to take on Buhari’s brief. Scores of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) represented Jonathan and the INEC while only three SANs represented Buhari, to wit: Malami, Oladipo Okpeseyi and the late James Ocholi. Okpeseyi was the leader of the legal team. Ocholi’s participation later became on and off because he had to focus on his governorship project in Kogi state.
What motivated the Buhari legal team was not pecuniary as Buhari did not even have the money to pay the standard fee. The team believed that Buhari had a case that could be proved in court: not that he won the 2011 election, but that Jonathan did not win the majority of the validly cast votes. The purpose of the petition was to convince the court to declare a run-off in which case anything could have happened. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the outcome of the election.
But in 2015, with the emergence of Buhari as president via his candidature of a coalition of parties that birthed the legacy All Progressives Congress (APC), some of the lawyers that shunned Buhari’s petition because he was acting from a disadvantaged position had gravitated into the APC and were close to some gladiators that positioned them for appointments.
That was to be the beginning of Malami’s predicament when he was named the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. Had Malami not been named into the position, he would not have been assailed by the campaigns of calumny that are crudely choreographed by a proxy whose benefactor had planned to nominate into the cabinet solely for the position of the Minister of Justice and AGF for some selfish ends.
But unfortunately for the proxy, he could not even scale the nomination hurdle. And, interestingly, Malami was not the only lawyer nominated for ministerial appointment. There were others like Babatunde Fasola (SAN), the late James Ocholi (SAN), Udoma Udo Udoma, Adebayo Shittu, Lai Mohammed, Solomon Dalung, Aisha Alhassan, Ibe Kachikwu and Geoffrey Onyeama. In that circumstance, any of them could have been appointed as Minister of Justice and AGF.
However, Buhari decided to assign the portfolio to Malami. Having put his nose to the grindstone in a rare commitment to a Muhammadu Buhari presidency even when the possibility was remote, it was only expected that he should reap where he had sown. And, what wrong had Buhari committed by appointing a man whose capacity in the legal profession he practically knew while doing the 2011 presidential election petition in court?
Those whose fixation it was to clinch the portfolio of the Minister of Justice and AGF would turn Malami into a butt of unconscionable propaganda and relentless smear campaigns. I believe if Malami is out of that office today, which is their wish, they would forget about him and take on anyone other than their own that is appointed in his stead. But unfortunately for them, the president has not shown any indication or inclination towards changing his cabinet not to talk of removing Malami.
The central focus of their campaigns of calumny by which they have deliberately accentuated the pains of Malami is essentially to cause a collateral damage to his leadership of the Justice ministry and AGF’s office. They do not care, if in the process, reputations of Malami and others are unjustifiably injured. They have steadfastly pursued Malami from different flanks and directions as if their lives depend on his downfall.
One of the flanks used was the repatriation of the Abacha loot from Switzerland. They had tried to insinuate that the Abacha loot was being re-looted because Malami determined the contract of the Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, in 2016 and appointed a team of Nigerian lawyers to complete the repatriation process. What they would not accept was that by doing so, Malami had put an end to Monfrini’s opaque professional charges since 1999 when he was contracted by the Federal Government.
Interestingly, Monfrini had requested to be paid at least another 20 percent to complete the repatriation of the remaining $322.5 million, which Malami rejected. The Nigerian lawyers, who were contracted in his stead, accepted five percent professional fee on the value of the money to complete the process.
The Federal Government, through the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, had announced the receipt of the money to the last cent which is with the Central Bank of Nigeria. She said the amount was more than the $321 million that was widely reported in the media (having attracted about $1.5 million interest). She also clarified that there were no problems with the repatriation and the request by the Nigerian lawyers that completed the repatriation process to be paid $16.9 million. That clean bill of health is significant and underscores the transparency and integrity of the Buhari government.
Unrelenting, the same forces pursuing Malami had since resorted to using the House of Representatives to try to throw spanner in the works. Consequent upon a motion recently, the House set up an ad-hoc committee to probe the payment of $16.9 million to the Nigerian lawyers. This is another hurdle that Malami is poised to dismantle with good arguments and documentary evidence. It is just possible that, in the long run, the probe may expose a cartel that has all these years been fleecing and actually re-looting the Abacha loot.
The question is: will it be possible for Malami, as a cockroach, to get justice in the gathering of fowls? For a House that has already presented itself as rabidly anti-Malami, for a House that only recently indicted Malami, even though misguidedly, in the controversial reinstatement of fugitive Abdulrasheed Maina, such prospects look bleak. But then, there is a legal maxim: res ipsa loquitor, meaning the fact speaks for itself. As long as Malami presents irrebuttable facts of the repatriation of the Abacha loot before the committee for public consideration, the House will expectedly be careful not to play with the intelligence of Nigerians.
Ojeifo, editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch magazine, wrote from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org