By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Nigeria must have had a swell Christmas if the provision of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the Swiss Federal Council and the World Bank on December 7, 2017 for the repatriation of princely $321 million Abacha’s loot confiscated by the court of Switzerland was activated. The provision, ipso facto, explicitly asserts that the repatriation of the looted fund would begin two weeks from the day the MoU was signed.
By simple calculation, Nigeria should have begun to receive the money as from December 21, 2017, barring unforeseen circumstances. Regardless of the number of tranches in which the money would come into the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria, it can safely be concluded that the sum by the time it is completely repatriated would represent a substantial accretion to the federation account or any account dedicated for that purpose.
The Swiss government and the World Bank expect that the money would be tied to specific development projects particularly in the health and education sectors that would be of immense benefit to the country. They must have been persuaded that President Muhammadu Buhari, with his much-vaunted integrity, would be able to prudently utilise the money. Back home, the belief is that the famed integrity of Buhari was contributory to the positive international collaboration that resulted in the signing of the critical MoU and the eventual conclusion of the repatriation process.
Indeed, the reluctance to sign the MoU for the repatriation of the money under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration was precipitated by concerns that the money could be misappropriated or re-looted. Amid the avalanche of negative media reports about corruption and impunity that purportedly reigned in that government, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) at the time, could not pull through the signing of the MoU.
Therefore, the current Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) has achieved a great feat for pulling it through, this time round, and at a professional fee charged by two Nigerian senior lawyers-Mr Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN) and Temitope Isaac Adebayo that was rock-bottom when compared to the offer by Mr. Enrico Monfrini and Christian Luscher, the foreign lawyers, who began the process.
Plaudit must be given to Malami for deploying our local content capacities to save the nation of a huge amount that would have been lost in the process as professional fee. According to media reports, the foreign lawyers that had been working on the matter from the outset were re-engaged to conclude it, but they would not accept the five per cent on value that Nigeria was ready to offer as professional fee.
In their counter offer, Monfrini and co., reportedly insisted on getting twenty per cent, which the federal government rejected. The federal government, at that point, decided in 2016 or thereabout to engage two Nigerian lawyers, with international experience, who eventually helped to wrap up the deal, having settled, as gathered, for a paltry four per cent professional fee.
Significantly, by resorting to Nigerian lawyers, the federal government is building the capacity of our local legal resource persons to be able to handle issues relating to looted funds repatriation. Such experience will in the long run enable the Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, working in concert with Nigerian senior lawyers, to build a body of knowledge and history of experience in repatriation of looted funds and allied matters.
When I read the report in an online news platform about sleaze hitting the loot recovery as creation of “job for the boys” by Malami, I was worried until I became aware of the cold facts as stated supra. Indeed, did the sponsors of the report think it was wrong for Malami to have appointed the Nigerian lawyers who offered, at less attractive terms, the same services that Monfrini and co. insisted they would offer only on payment of 20 per cent on the value of the total money?
Did they think it was not necessary to appoint replacements for Mofrini and co. to provide legal consultation and guidance to officialdom or what exactly was their point? Or was it that they would have loved to be the ones appointed instead of their fellow Nigerian lawyers to handle it? Or, were they simply at pains to see Malami achieve the great feat and therefore wanted to tar the process with the brush of malfeasance? Did they think Malami had used the opportunity of the fund repatriation to fleece the federal government? Their gambit has, unfortunately for them, exposed Malami as prudent and patriotic in this national assignment.
I do not think we should focus attention on the legal fee, which I strongly believe is the reason, the fifth columnists -some senior lawyers- had decided to initiate media attacks against Malami. If it is about the professional fee, then it is much ado for nothing when what is paid the Nigerian lawyers is compared with what the foreign lawyer asked for. If it is about tarnishing the name of Malami anyhow, or calling his reputation to question, they have also failed abysmally woefully. Their strategy at deploying media attacks to expose what they thought to be Malami’s underbelly has boomeranged and they are now the pitiable butts of their own jokes.
I see Malami as a lucky person, having clinched the respected Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation from among the litany of powerful interests that jostled for it, He is an unassuming gentleman who committed himself from the outset to the realisation of the Buhari presidency. But unlike some of his predecessors who rambunctiously performed the functions and, in that same fashion, abused the powers of the office, Malami has, since stepping in the saddle, maintained a high level of equanimity and taciturnity. He does not play to the gallery. He also does not overly give in to political considerations at the expense of national interest in the discharge of his duties.
Much as these typify the worthy character of decent personages in governments globally, Malami has through commitment to proper conduct and the anti-corruption credo of the Buhari government, cut a niche for himself as an exemplary public officer. Overall, the turn of events has shown that his integrity capital in government is unassailable by the vagaries of media sponsored attacks. The axiom, truth will always vindicate, perfectly applies in this circumstance.
But this is not to encourage Malami to become more laid-back as he has been in terms of public communication and proactive media engagements about his office and interactions with the public. There is the need for him to engage Nigerians in a more strategic utilitarian modus such that in the long run, the Nigerian public would be more informed and better educated about what his office is doing, especially about contentious issues requiring legal advice to the president and/or legal interpretations by the court.
So, for me, the takeaways from this unfortunate saga of trying, in vain, to sully Malami’s reputation are, first, that the public should be wary to take some reports hook, line and sinker except proved on the basis of incontrovertible facts. Second, those after Malami should consider a retreat and allow him to focus his eyes on the ball. Third, he should up the ante of his public communication in order to keep the public abreast of developments in justice administration. Fourth, and this has to do with the feat he has achieved with the use of Nigerian lawyers, he should continue to explore local legal resource contents in every possible area of global engagements.
Mr. Ojeifo, editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch magazine, contributed this piece via email@example.com