africa

Malami, Kanu, Igboho and ‘stories that touch’


Nigeria is a country of rather painful ironies. Ironies manifesting in material, physical and even human propositions, ironies that can drive the most optimistic of peoples into disillusionment.

Ponder how a country so evidently blessed with both human and natural resources will struggle to hold its own in the comity of nations. Daily, the country sinks deeper into trouble and ignominy, no thanks to the irony of political leaders, most of whom are totally at sea as per the weight of the responsibility of their offices. One of those is the man known as Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Federal Republic of Nigeria!

In many democratic jurisdictions, the Attorney General is the most senior cabinet minister. Democracies are expected to be governed by the rule of law for which the AG is usually the chief superintendent. This means that the occupier of that office is the chief enforcer of the country’s constitution, and he does that, regardless of whose ox is gored. In a democracy, all men should be equal before the law.

In 1993, for instance, President Bill Clinton of the United States of America appointed Janet Reno as the country’s Attorney General. One year later, when allegations that Clinton had suspicious business dealings during his term as Governor of Arkansas surfaced, it was Reno’s duty to initiate investigations. She promptly appointed a special counsel to investigate the affair. When the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky sexual affair broke out a few years later, Reno appointed another special investigator, Ken Starr, to investigate Clinton. Starr would eventually identify 11 grounds for Clinton’s possible impeachment. The point here is that as Attorney General, you stand in a unique position to further the cause of justice, without any bias, even for the one who may have appointed you!

It is not difficult to imagine that the framers of the Nigerian constitution also had that contemplation. Probably in recognition of the importance of the AG’s office, the Constitution of the Federal Republic, 1999 as amended, stipulates in S.150 that; “there shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation.”

It happens that of the crowd of ministers that this constitution prescribes, only the Attorney General’s office is in the document, which undoubtedly underscores the importance of that office. The holder of this office is expected to be a blameless emblem of the legal profession, one who upholds the tenets of the law without pandering to any other sentiments but the dictates of the country’s laws. And when countries face the type of turbulence that Nigeria currently grapples with, the occupier of this office is expected to be above board, serving, and seen to be serving no other interest than that which promotes the laws of the country and the unity that leaders of Nigeria claim to desire!

The question then is: can we say that Nigeria’s current Attorney General and Minister of Justice understands and lives by all of these? The answer is no and that is a multifaceted irony.

It becomes more disturbing when you realise that Abubakar Malami is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). This is a prestigious juncture in lawyers’ careers wherein their every pronouncement is like a creed to upcoming legal practitioners. It is not just that, by virtue of his position, the Legal Practitioners Act, (1962) as amended makes him President of the General Council of the Bar. He is also a member of the Body of Benchers, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee, and the Legal Practitioners Remuneration Committee chair. Therefore, the AGF is not just the country’s chief law officer, he is also the mirror through which the legal profession is seen, within and outside the country. As a result, every word he speaks should emerge from deep introspection since they can convey a million and one interpretations in the minds of his listeners. This is even more so in Nigeria, where the people are divided along several primordial lines!

What we, however, sometimes get from Mr Malami belies the maturity and circumspection that you expect of that office. A couple of months back, the AGF was in the eye of the storm for comparing Igbo spare parts dealers plying their business in the northern part of the country with marauding cattle herders. For any minister at all, not to speak about the country’s chief law officer, to draw such inferences devalues the office to which he has been appointed.

Yet nothing is as demeaning of Malami’s office as of last week’s press conference where he spoke about the alleged terrorist activities of two citizens: Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemi, leaders of the Indigenous People of Biafra and Yoruba Nations, respectively.

Without paying too much attention to the shocking conjectures for which this senior lawyer concluded that the two men might be involved in terrorist activities, the idea behind the Presidential Ad-hoc Committee to investigate IPOB/ESN is faulty.

Assuming, without conceding that IPOB/ESN is responsible for the recent killings and brigandage in the south-east as the committee reckons, have there been such investigations (which identified alleged sponsors) about the crisis in the North-East, North-West and North-Central where Nigeria has incurred a colossal loss of life and property since about 2009? Has anyone been brought to justice for these? What is the fate of the six financiers of the Boko Haram insurgency allegedly recently identified by the United Arab Emirate? What about the 400 Bureau De Change operators said to have been arrested for allegedly funding the activities of Boko Haram? Have security agencies or any other government agency invited Sheik Abubakar Gumi who seems to know everything about the terrorism going on in the North-West and some parts of the North-Central to tell what he knows about the shameful situation? If none of these has happened, why? Why the choice of separatist movements like IPOB and Yoruba Nation? Is the government so possessed with keeping Nigeria one than the lives that are being lost daily, the erosion of the people’s faith in their country and the prospects of every Nigerian feeling a sense of justice? On Wednesday, there were newspaper reports of “bandits” imposing levies on communities in Sokoto State, (next to Malami’s home state) and setting ultimatums for the remittance of same. Does this not come across as something the government should go all out to contend with?

Now, beyond Malami’s unfortunate display of sectional sentiment is the legal essence of last week’s vituperation. For starters, one would imagine that a country’s number one law officer would understand that information reeled out that Thursday should be for prosecuting this matter(s) in court.

To bring these facts into the public space is programming the minds of Nigerians against the accused persons and trampling on the accused’s rights to the presumption of innocence. It is an official seal on medical trials, something this office should ensure no Nigerian suffers.

In accusing Adeyemo who is currently being held in the Benin Republic, Malami spoke about monies ranging from about N12 million and N200 million as indicative of funds being channelled into the sponsorship of terrorism. Really? Is this the kind of money used to sponsor terrorism over the eight-year period for which he claimed the Adeyemo accounts were investigated? What precise terrorist activities did Igboho perpetrate before his self-appointed mission of chasing killer herders out of the South-West, which brought him into the limelight last year?

More importantly, has Mr Malami considered the alternative dispute resolution philosophy that his legal profession currently advocates for litigants? As legal advisor to the president, does the AGF think that crushing the opposition, militarising the state, and fighting cases in court, are the only ways to stem the sweeping tide of violence and insecurity in the country? Or is he too conflicted to be clear about the need to adopt the carrot and stick approach in returning peace to this troubled country?

Overall, given the immaturity of Nigeria’s political elite, (which makes the appointed consider himself an unquestioning servant of the appointor) and the importance of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, the country should seriously consider the idea of separating the office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

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