Right from the outset of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2015, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has been marked for vilification by forces within and outside the government who saw and still see his gain as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as their loss. As it were, barring any act of God, they will have to live with their sense of loss until May 29, 2023 when the second term of the administration comes to an end.
The forces had calculated and, in fact, wished that Buhari would drop him as a cabinet member in his second term, or possibly move him to another ministry. But that did not happen. The 54-year-old technocrat/politician stays to their uttermost chagrin. The man from Kebbi is taking the series of man-created storms after his appointment in his strides.
All the anti-Malami forces have yet to relent in their pull-him-down enterprise. This predilection has continued to feed on their first shocker, which was caused by the emergence of Malami as Justice Minister/AGF, thinking that his emergence was a happenstance. After his nomination had received the requisite legislative approbation, he had gone ahead to further earn a presidential validation for the position, prompting some persons who were equally lobbying for the position to have possibly asked one another in exasperation: Abubakar who, as AGF?
Nevertheless, Buhari had already answered that question before naming him into that strategic and consequential ministerial position, which is the only cabinet position provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And, the President’s answer, I believe, would have been circumscribed in the context of his trustworthy interactions with Malami as National Legal officer of their original party-Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). But 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. The essential motivation for 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 legal team had unsuccessfully argued to convince the court to declare a run-off in which case anything could have happened during the run-off. 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 quandary 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 were 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 the good luck Malami has had working for the President is that he had been able, before Buhari became president, to earn his trust. And the trust remains unbroken.
The President’s avuncular disposition to Malami has proved very salutary in the discharge of the mandates of his office. But the forces against him have been raising sundry issues with which to upend his stewardship. That has not worked. The forces 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 tell the world 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 to handle the deal. Interestingly, Monfrini had requested to be paid at least another 20 per cent to complete the repatriation of the remaining $322.5 million in Switzerland, which Malami rejected. The Nigerian lawyers, who were contracted in his stead, had accepted five per cent professional fee on the value of the money to complete the process.
Immediately the Federal Government, through the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, announced the receipt of the money to the last cent, lodged with the Central Bank of Nigeria, which she said was more than the $321 million that was widely reported in the media (having attracted about $1.5 million interest), forces began to bat eyelids. And following her clarifications 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, the campaign of calumny against Malami was intensified.
But that clean bill was significant for Malami as it underscored the transparency and integrity of the processes and procedures adopted. He had also passed his memo for payment through the Federal Executive Council (FEC) even when he has the constitutional powers to authorize the payment. His action had added some great values to the Buhari government. Regardless, the forces fought on, moving to the National Assembly to seek to use the House of Representatives to throw spanner in the works. The ad-hoc committee set up by the House to probe the payment of $16.9 million to the Nigerian lawyers did not eventually see through the assignment. Malami’s decision to follow due process in the repatriation process helped to dismantle, with good arguments and documentary evidence, the allegation of planned re-looting of the Abacha loot.
In 2020, a coalition against corruption, comprising Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) and Say No Campaign called on President Buhari via a petition to probe Malami. The coalition had listed fourteen high-profile corruption allegations against him, ranging from financial sleaze to influence peddling. The group’s allegations, in most of the particulars supplied, centred on Malami using his office as AGF to direct withdrawal of several cases. The question then was: did the office of the AGF have the powers or not to do so, to enter nolle prosequi or instruct the Solicitor General of the Federation or Director of State Prosecution to discontinue a matter in the national interest? The question was resolved in Malami’s favour in critical public discourses. What the group tried to play up was to mention names of the people allegedly involved in the belief that Nigerians might feel somewhat scandalized about such cases review-the Malabu case involving Dan Etete, Mohammed Adoke; Diezani Allison Madueke, the late Mohammed Inde Dikko, Abdulrasheed maina, and Danjuma Goje, among others.
The group had also listed some property in Kano and Kebbi allegedly procured by Malami after he became Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation as issues in its allegation of corrupt enrichment. The details were too salacious to be true. Their goal was made very clear in their call for the immediate resignation of Malami.
There were reports that some forces allegedly working in cahoots with a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, were the masterminds and sponsors of the petition to sully Malami’s reputation and cause his removal from office by the President. Although, Malami reportedly wrote to the President to defend himself against the allegations, the Presidency, as learnt, quietly undertook an independent investigation of the allegations, and discovered that they were not true and therefore not an issue to dissipate energy on.
While that was on, the said former EFCC chairman who had become a subject of investigation based on an official report, which led to the setting up of panel headed by retired Court of Appeal President, Justice Ayo Salami, whose report had since nailed him, thus paving the way for the emergence of a new chairman, was already sinking deeper and deeper into the mud of corruption allegations against him.
In navigating the storm of existential threats in the discharge of his official duties, Malami’s nine lives, like those of a cat, have become quite evident in the atmospherics and nuances of the story of his survival. And just recently, the malicious forces resorted to wishing Malami dead. The takeaway from their celebration of the purported collapse of Malami at an event in Kebbi was that if they could not get President Buhari to remove him from office, they would be satisfied for him to die so that his place can be taken by another. But the impression they created was that Malami was seriously sick on account of the incident and was hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit of one of the hospitals in the country.
Whereas there was nothing of such, Malami has continued to carry out the functions of his office, living out an old English proverb, which states: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays; for three he strays, and for the last three, he stays.” Malami is staying in office in the home-stretch to the end of the second term of the Buhari administration, having successfully strayed in the midst of enemies within and without, and played with wolves donning the garbs of associates.