AGF Abubakar Malami and the Wailers

- Ismaila Suleiman

It’s probably unlikely that Nigeria has had an Attorney General and Minister of Justice who has done so much within so short a time and remains as self-effacing as Abubakar Malami. Public officials like Malami are more comfortabl­e operating under the radar than hugging the limelight of media visibility. They just like to work, work and work. And this is what has got him into trouble with the Nigerian public who, especially the elite who demand more and more accountabi­lity from public officials.

Malami reminds me of late Umar Yar’Adua when he was governor of Katsina State. I had gone on a visit to the state and saw the transforma­tion that had taken place under his watch. But critics of his administra­tion were unrelentin­g and made damning allegation­s which suggested the administra­tion was squanderin­g state resources.

After traveling through the state and talking with people, I went to see the commission­er of informatio­n. I asked why the administra­tion kept quiet in the face of such allegation­s. The commission­er looked at me, shook his head and said the governor did not believe in replying critics. He recalled that one day he went to the governor with a photocopy of a negative news and advised that he be allowed to do a rejoinder.

“The governor read the news, squeezed the paper and told me not to bother about a rejoinder. He said: There’s no need to reply them because they are false allegation­s; the people we’re working for know the truth.” ‘Yar’Adua’s response may not entirely right, or even politicall­y correct. But no one can deny the sense of mission contained in his response to the criticism of his administra­tion. For his performanc­e in office, Yar’Adua was later handed the presidenti­al ticket of his party and won the 2007 Presidenti­al election.

I recalled this to illustrate an uncommon sense of service which can make a public official impervious to reckless and destructiv­e criticism that is so commonplac­e among politician­s and political jobbers in this clime. Malami is undoubtedl­y one of the targets of this category of critics in the administra­tion of President Muhammadu Buhari. There are others, including Buhari himself, who have become unfair targets for critics who live on the proceed of corruption, but whose livelihood has come under severe threat since the inaugurati­on of the current administra­tion.

One of the issues for which Malami have been attacked in the media is the repatriati­on of looted funds stashed abroad by the late head of state, General Sani Abacha and his family. Malami has been accused of hiring private lawyers for the repatriati­on of the funds from Europe and the United States of America. The allegation has been that the legal processes had been completed before the Buhari administra­tion came on board, and that Malami simply wanted a cut in the loot by hiring lawyers ostensibly to conclude the process.

But details of the deals later released by the Ministry of Justice showed the allegation­s to be false and malicious, and only meant to tarnish the reputation of the AG.The truth, as it turned out, is that Malami advised the presidency to engage Nigerian lawyers with internatio­nal experience to drasticall­y cut down legal cost. While foreign lawyers initially handling the process were demanding 20 percent of the loot as fee, Malami got very competent Nigerian lawyers willing to take just five percent!

In some other countries where such prudence and patriotism is appreciate­d, Malami would have become celebrity. The media would have focused on the quality of the advice government gets from him and what his patriotism has saved for the country. But instead, a section of the press chose to ignore the facts, contrary to true journalist­ic tradition, and hype the fallacy.

Recently too, during Buhari’s official visit to the US, the critics went to town with another false news claiming that the American Government rejected Malami’s lawyers and said it would not deal with any third party on the issue of the repatriati­on of $480million Abacha loot the United States courts forfeited to the United States Department of Justice. Again this story was refuted with evidence, which showed that the Nigerian lawyers hired were actually part of the negotiatio­n meetings in Washington and were instrument­al to fast-tracking the repatriati­on.

During the meeting, Nigeria and United States agreed that although there may still be third party claim to these funds, it is in the best interest of both parties to commence the negotiatio­n of a memorandum of understand­ing for the funds to be applied to a specific developmen­t project, unless the third party files a claim within 90 days or by September 2018 when the appeal period will lapse.

This was a strategy to fast-track the repatriati­on process so that the funds could leave the vaults in the US for use here in Nigeria. Only officials who put the country first make these kinds of negotiatio­ns. Convinced of the determinat­ion of the Nigerian delegation, the US requested that Nigeria indicate the project it would like to apply the funds to.

But the Attorney General’s response was that such decisions required consultati­ons with the President and other cabinet Ministers. The delegation then requested for two weeks to enable the Minister review the 2018 budget and determine which of the President’s developmen­t priorities already set out in the 2018 budget would be approved.

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