BY IKECHUKWU AMAECHI
It is not for nothing that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice is the only ministerial portfolio specifically mentioned in the Constitution with certain powers given to it. The AGF is the country’s Chief Law Officer.
A former occupant of the office, Mohammed Adoke, noted in his book, Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General, thus: “As Chief Law Officer, the responsibilities of the AGF is like no other in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) … the AGF has a special responsibility to be the guardian of the Constitution. He has a special role in advising the government to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and that government actions pass acid test of constitutionality.”
Section 150(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that: There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation.
As the Chief Law Officer, the actions and utterances of whoever occupies the position must transcend partisanship. Bigotry must be a definite no-no. The position requires a man of character who will rise above debilitating primordial cleavages that undermine national cohesion.
The fact that ideally, an Attorney-General is answerable to no one other than his conscience and the interest of justice makes it even more imperative that whoever is in that office must rise above the maddening fray for the common good.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, delights in playing politics to the hilt to the detriment of the rule of law. In situations that require sobriety and clear-headedness, he is irascible.
It is within the purview of the Attorney-General to advice the president and the government on all matters of law and correct interpretation of the Constitution. Such is the enormous powers and responsibilities of the office that any misstep in recruitment has dire consequences.
That seems to be Nigeria’s fate with Malami who sees himself not as the Attorney-General of the Federation but chief law officer to President Muhammad Buhari and interests he is beholding to, including the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).
Malami would rather uphold the right of way of cows than ensuring the entrenchment of the rule of law and protection of the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
President Buhari’s serial violation of the rule of law and fundamental rights of Nigerians is a poor reflection of the quality of legal advice he is getting from his Attorney-General.
Malami’s latest hare-brained move that seriously calls to question his capacity to act in the position he has found himself is the press conference he addressed on October 22, a day after Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was finally arraigned in court on a seven-count treasonable felony charge after months of legal pussyfooting.
The AGF, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), gathered journalists in Abuja to pronounce Kanu guilty and accuse some unnamed countries of culpability.
If he had stopped there, perhaps, many eyebrows wouldn’t have been raised. Nigerians would have simply concluded that it is in his character to be so insipid.
But what he said next was beyond the pale.
Malami, literally, convicted Kanu for the gruesome murder of former presidential adviser, Ahmed Gulak, on May 29, and Dr. Chike Akunyili, widower of former Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Dora Akunyili, on September 29.
He also alleged that Kanu and IPOB masterminded the burning of the palace of the Oba of Lagos and other public infrastructure across the country during last year’s #EndSARS protests.
The minister said after Kanu was re-arrested in June, Buhari inaugurated a 24-member presidential ad-hoc committee drawn from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Information, Police, Department of State Services (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to investigate activities of the IPOB.
And the 24 wise men came to a predictable conclusion: IPOB and the Eastern Security Network (ESN) have so far killed 175 security personnel comprising of 128 policemen, 37 military personnel and 10 other security operatives.
“Members of IPOB attacked and killed security personnel and burnt down police stations, correctional centers, INEC offices, bus terminals, the palace of Oba of Lagos, banks, hospitals, shopping malls and vehicles, amongst others,” he bawled.
Now, make no mistake. This article is not a plea of allocutus for Kanu and IPOB. But something was egregiously amiss that journalists joined issues on matters of law with the country’s law officer numero uno at the press briefing.
First, Malami was prejudicial to Kanu’s right to a fair trial. The press conference was harmful and injurious to the defence because it amounted to premature judgment and unwarranted pretrial publicity. A matter already under judicial consideration is prohibited from public discussion elsewhere. That is trite law. The press briefing was extremely sub judice.
Second, Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution which provides the AGF powers over criminal prosecutions makes Malami the chief prosecutor in the case. The court is sitting at the pleasure of his high office. If he has convicted Kanu, what else is the judge expected to do? So, a guilty verdict becomes a fait accompli unless the judge is calling the AGF a liar.
Third, scuttlebutt is a taboo in the temple of justice where cases are supposed to be proved beyond every reasonable doubt. All the allegations Malami made at the press conference are mere tittle-tattle as he provided no convincing evidence.
In any case, even if investigations had been concluded, it behoves him to present the facts in court as the prosecutor-in-chief. It is the prerogative of the court to pronounce guilt. What the country’s Attorney-General did amounted to a judicial arm-twist. It is as unethical as it is immoral – a gross professional misconduct.
Asked if Kanu’s presumption of innocence will not be affected by findings of the committee, he said “the court is the final arbiter that will eventually determine.” And you wonder how anyone could say that and with a straight face.
Malami claims findings of the presidential committee will not affect the case, yet he couldn’t resist the urge of using it to convict the accused in the court of public opinion. That is rather disingenuous.
But above all, the intent. And this is what worries me the most. Accusing Ndigbo of being responsible for the #EndSARS mayhem and wanton destruction of properties across the country as Malami did is a deliberate attempt to incite other ethnic nationalities, particularly the Yoruba, against Ndigbo.
When the minister accused IPOB/ESN of burning down the palace of the Oba of Lagos where 12 flats were completely looted and vandalized, over 150 buses at the Lagos Bus Terminal, Lagos State DNA and Forensic Centre, City Hall Race Course, First Bank branch Lagos, Lagos State Public Works Commission, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Marina, High Court Igbosere, Lagos, he knew exactly what he was doing.
It was ethnic baiting – the same sadistic game Lagos State Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu played in May when he alerted Lagosians of a purported impending plot by the IPOB to attack soft targets in the state.
As I noted in my May 12, 2021 article titled, “CP Odumosu, Ndigbo are not Nigeria’s Problem,” there is always a grand conspiracy to demonise Ndigbo in order to harm their collective interest. Malami has taken that devious gambit a notch higher.
Today, so-called bandits from his Fulani ethnic stock have rendered his home state of Kebbi, and, indeed, the entire North desolate, but Malami and his principal, President Buhari, have refused to brand them terrorists despite the clamour by the Conference of Nigerian Speakers, Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari; Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai and the National Assembly.
Malami, who would rather not name people already exposed by the United Arab Emirates as sponsors of Boko Haram terrorists because, according to him, “Naming and shaming of suspects is not embarked upon as a policy by the Federal Government out of sheer respect for the constitutional rights of Nigerians relating to presumption of innocence,” has no qualms naming and shaming alleged sponsors of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba Nation agitator.
To Malami, terrorists who shot down a Nigerian Air Force Alpha Jet, seized anti-aircraft guns from the Nigerian military, detonated explosives on the Abuja-Kaduna rail tracks, breached the security of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), killing two officers, have constitutional rights which lesser mortals like Igboho don’t have.
The AGF who said the Buhari government cannot name and shame suspected financiers of terrorism before they are tried and convicted because “shaming remains a consequence of judicial conviction,” gleefully pronounced Kanu guilty before trial.
Malami may think he is smart, but he is only hiding behind his finger as Nigerians are seeing through his fiendish theatrics and political manoeuvres aimed at demarketing Ndigbo before the 2023 polls. That is not how to be a country’s Chief Law Officer.