Since the beginning of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2015, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has been vilified by powers both within and outside the government who saw and continue to see his appointment as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as their loss. As it stands, barring an act of God, they will have to live with their sense of loss until May 29, 2023, when the administration’s second term ends.
The powers had calculated, and even hoped, that Buhari would remove him from the cabinet during his second term, or transfer him to another ministry. Who, however, did not occur. The 54-year-old technocrat/politician remains, much to their chagrin. The man from Kebbi is taking the sequence of man-made storms that have followed his appointment in stride.
Both anti-Malami powers have yet to relent in their attempt to bring him down. This predilection has continued to feed on their first shocker, which was triggered by Malami’s emergence as Justice Minister/AGF, believing that his emergence was purely coincidental. After his nomination had earned the required legislative approval, he had gone on to win presidential validation for the role, causing some people who were also lobbying for the position to probably exasperately question one another: Abubakar who, as AGF?
Nonetheless, before appointing him to that strategic and consequential ministerial role, which is the only one provided for in the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Constitution, Buhari had already answered the query. And, I believe, the President’s response would have been limited in the sense of his trustworthy experiences with Malami as National Legal Officer of their original party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). But that was not the case that demonstrated his unwavering devotion to Buhari. The presidential election petition that was instituted after the 2011 election in which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Dr Goodlcuk Ebele Jonathan as the winner was a measure of his commitment and loyalty.
Senior lawyers were hesitant to take on Buhari’s case. Several Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) represented Jonathan and INEC, but only three SANs represented Buhari: Malami, Oladipo Okpeseyi, and the late James Ocholi. Okpeseyi was the legal team’s boss. The primary motive for the Buhari legal team was not monetary in nature, as Buhari did not even have enough money to pay the regular fee. The team concluded that Buhari had an argument that could be proven in court: not that he had won the 2011 election, but that Jonathan had not received a plurality of validly cast votes.
The legal team had unsuccessfully argued to the court that a run-off should be declared, in which case something could have happened during the run-off. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, upheld the election results. However, with Buhari’s election as president in 2015 as the candidate of a coalition of parties that birthed the legacy All Progressives Congress (APC), some of the lawyers who had shunned Buhari’s petition because he was operating from a disadvantaged role had gravitated into the APC and were close to some gladiators who positioned them for appointments.
When Malami was named Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, it was just the beginning of his problems. If Malami had not been elected to the post, he would not have been subjected to the calumny campaigns orchestrated by a proxy whose benefactor had intended to appoint into the cabinet solely for the position of Minister of Justice and AGF for selfish reasons. But Malami’s good fortune in working for the President is that he was able to win Buhari’s confidence before he became president. And the trust has not been breached.
The President’s affable demeanour toward Malami has been extremely beneficial in carrying out the duties of his office. However, the powers opposed to him have raised a slew of concerns in an attempt to destabilise his stewardship. That did not work. The powers had attempted to imply that the Abacha loot was being re-looted because Malami decided to terminate the contract of the Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, in 2016 and named a team of Nigerian lawyers to complete the repatriation process.
What they wouldn’t tell the world was that by doing so, Malami had put an end to Monfrini’s murky professional allegations, which he had been handling since 1999, when he was hired by the Federal Government to handle the deal. Interestingly, Monfrini had asked for at least another 20% to complete the repatriation of the remaining $322.5 million in Switzerland, which Malami denied. The Nigerian lawyers hired in his place had agreed to a 5% professional fee on the total amount of money to complete the process.
Forces started to bat an eyelid as soon as the Federal Government, through former Finance Minister 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 widely published in the media (having attracted around $1.5 million interest). And, following her clarifications that there were no issues with the repatriation, as well as the offer by the Nigerian lawyers who completed the repatriation process to be paid $16.9 million, the calumny campaign against Malami was stepped up.
The clean bill, however, was important for Malami because it demonstrated the reliability and fairness of the processes and procedures used. He also routed his payment memo through the Federal Executive Council (FEC), despite the fact that he has the legislative authority to do so. His actions had added significant value to the Buhari administration. Regardless, the forces battled on, marching to the National Assembly and attempting to use the House of Representatives to throw a wrench in the works. The House established an ad hoc committee to investigate the payment of $16.9 million to Nigerian lawyers, but the task was never completed. Malami’s decision to obey due process in the repatriation process helped to demolish the accusation of planned re-looting of the Abacha loot with strong arguments and documentary proof.
In 2020, a group of anti-corruption organisations, including the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), and the Say No Campaign, petitioned President Buhari to investigate Malami. The coalition had named fourteen high-profile corruption charges against him, ranging from financial deception to influence peddling. The majority of the details provided by the group centred on Malami using his role as AGF to guide the withdrawal of several cases. The question then became whether the AGF’s office had the authority to join nolle prosequi or advise the Solicitor General of the Federation or the Director of State Prosecution to discontinue a matter in the national interest. In vital public debates, the issue was settled in Malami’s favour. What the group tried to play up was the names of those allegedly involved in the Malabu case, which involved Dan Etete, Mohammed Adoke, Diezani Allison Madueke, the late Mohammed Inde Dikko, Abdulrasheed Maina, and Danjuma Goje, among others, in the hope that Nigerians would be scandalised by such cases.
In its accusation of corrupt enrichment, the group also identified some property in Kano and Kebbi allegedly obtained by Malami after he became Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. The facts were far too juicy to be valid. Their aim was made clear in their demand for Malami’s immediate resignation.
According to sources, some powers allegedly operating in collusion with a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, were the masterminds and supporters of the petition to sully Malami’s name and compel the President to remove him from office. Despite the fact that Malami allegedly wrote to the President to defend himself against the allegations, the Presidency, as learned, secretly conducted an independent investigation into the allegations and discovered that they were false, and therefore not a topic on which to expend resources.
While that was going on, the said former EFCC chairman, who had become the subject of an official investigation based on an official report, which led to the formation of a panel led by retired Court of Appeal President, Justice Ayo Salami, whose report had since nailed him, paving the way for the emergence of a new chairman, was sinking deeper and deeper into the mud of corruption allegations against him.
Malami’s nine lives, like those of a cat, have become very apparent in the atmospherics and complexities of his survival storey as he navigates the storm of existential challenges in the discharge of his official duties. Recently, the evil powers resorted to wishing Malami dead. The takeaway from their celebration of Malami’s alleged collapse at an event in Kebbi was that if they couldn’t get President Buhari to remove him from office, they would be content for him to die so that his position could be filled by someone else. However, the perception they generated was that Malami was critically ill as a result of the incident and was hospitalised in the Intensive Care Unit of one of the country’s hospitals.
Where there was none, Malami has continued to carry out the duties of his office, living up to an old English proverb that says, “A cat has nine lives.” He plays for three, strays for three, and stays for the last three.” Malami is remaining in office until the end of the Buhari administration’s second term, having effectively strayed in the midst of enemies both inside and outside, and playing with wolves dressed as humans.