Journalism of Courage

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.

Also, specific timelines were set for the repatriation of the funds to the Federal Government of Nigeria for developmental purposes. It is a credit to the Buhari administration and indeed the AG’s office that these negotiations were made in so pragmatic manner that the country has saved a yet unquantified amount of money that would otherwise have been lost to some foreigners.

In spite of this achievements, Malami had refused to blow his own trumpet, much to the chagrin of his admirers. He chose to maintain a dignifying silence, just as his principal-Buhari- and hoping that history would vindicate him. He seems to be telling his critics that he cared less about self, and about them, but more about the country.

Suleiman wrote in from Abuja


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