Upon his successful ascendance to power in 2015, key and most urgent jobs that needed to be delivered to Nigerians by President Muhammadu Buhari, which also served as parts of his election promises were the war against graft and insecurity. So, President Buhari had to search thoroughly for an unbiased and fearless erudite chief law officer that can help in his justice reform drive aimed at ridding Nigeria of corruption and insecurity. To help the president tackle insecurity, pervasive corruption according to the demands of Nigeria’s constitution is a legal luminary, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Appointed Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice in 2015, Malami, having responded to the call of President Buhari, has placed his footprints in the sands of time, following his laudable justice reforms initiatives in Nigeria. From the humongous recoveries of looted funds, to speedy trial in rape cases, as well as the laudable initiative on the decongestion of the nation’s Correctional Centres which include monitoring the compliance of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, Malami is aesthetics of legal dexterity personified. Like a colossus, Malami bestrides the nation’s legal space among his contemporaries, using his office to make a difference. With the aid of the constitution, he engaged in dispensing hope for the ill-treated, justice for both the rich and the poor, as well as ensure character sanity in the nation’s judiciary.
With guidance from Section 174 and 211 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which among many other provisions empowers the Attorney General of the Federation “to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria other than a court-martial in respect of any offence created by or under any law of the House of Assembly,” Malami has continued to uphold due regard for public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal and due process.
On his asset recovery strides, Malami’s role in the repatriation of $311 million looted by the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, from the United States cannot be overemphasized. The loot, which added value to the national treasury, lends credence to President Buhari’s economic drive, vis-à-vis the anti-corruption war. To meet up with his mandate of the reform of the judiciary, Malami decided to collaborate with the legislative arm of government to enact laws that will aid the effective administration of justice in the country. Among the laws are the Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017; Anti-Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017; Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill 2017; Proceeds of Crime Bill 2017; Public Interest Disclosure and Witness Protection Bill, 2017; and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2017. The NFIU Bill has since been passed by the National Assembly and was accented to by President Buhari in July, 2018. Malami’s contributions in facilitating the prompt passage of the NFIU Act prevented the expulsion of Nigeria from the EGMONT Group. The Egmont Group is a global body of 155 financial intelligence units across the world which facilitates the exchange of financial intelligence, expertise and capability. The intelligence units combat money laundering, terrorism financing and serious financial crime. A total of 24 recorded cases involving fraud, forgery and breach of trust where successfully prosecuted under Malami’s watch and suspects sentenced to various terms.
Malami was also instrumental to the Presidential Executive Order No. 00-10 of 2020 signed in May, 2020 which allows for Financial Autonomy for the State Judiciary. Although the 36 state governors have challenged the order at the Supreme Court, Malami has vowed to ensure that justice delivered in the matter. The state governors averred that the executive order President Buhari signed, pushed the Federal Government’s responsibility of funding both the capital and recurrent expenditures of the State High Courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and the Customary Court of Appeal to the state governments. On the speedy dispensation of justice, having received from the Inspector General of Police, a brief which suggests that about 717 rape cases were recorded within seven months, Malami has risen to the occasion by revealing plans to establish special courts for the speedy trial of rape cases. This move by the AGF has also complemented the advocacies by the civil society organisations on gender based violence, especially rape. Also, very conspicuous among Malami’s giant strides is his laudable initiative that led to the decongestion of the Nigerian Correctional Centres. On assumption of office, the AGF met congested correctional centres nationwide where out of 74,127 inmates in the correctional centres, 52, 226 inmates are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs), which implies that over 70 percent of the inmates are ATPs. But with the inauguration of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion, chaired by the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, no fewer than 7,813 inmates had benefited from the decongestion programme. A total of 3,789 inmates have been released from the Nigerian Correctional Service Centre since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the country to curb its spread among inmates. Since the inauguration of the committee on October 31, 2017, it has so far visited 32 correctional centres in 14 states. Malami was credited for the success of the initiative which was a federal government’s approach under his watch. The dreaded novel Coronavirus was also a motivation for the decongestion exercise. Malami’s role on taming the menace of drug abuse and drug-motivated crimes also remains conspicuous. He instituted a crackdown on warehouses and joints for the thriving illicit Tramadol, Cough Syrup and Codeine market, particularly in Kano and other states of the federation. This was achieved through the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), an agency under his supervision. The agency apprehended 21 suspected suppliers of illicit drugs to terrorist strongholds. It also confiscated 316 tons of illicit drugs and arrested 9,831 suspected drug offenders, prosecuted 1,244 suspects and secured 1,236 convictions, while seven cases were struck out and acquitted. The NDLEA under AGF Malami also discovered another clandestine laboratory to produce Methamphetamine, bringing the total number of such laboratories so discovered in Nigeria to 18 between 2011 and 2019. Now, Strategies have been put in place to incapacitate drug merchants through the seizure of their assets, including money and ensuring that such assets are forfeited to the federal government. Other laudable feats the AGF has accomplished since assumption of office includes the ongoing prosecution of the three charges involving 14 defendants allegedly involved in the importation of pump action riffles from Turkey, ongoing six cases on pipeline vandalism, ongoing prosecution of 1,359 cases from which 125 cases have been prosecuted within 100 days due to the innovation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 that allows day-to-day trials.
Going forward, the AGF, fearlessly with much tenacity, beamed his searchlight on the nation’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Even though the EFCC is an independent body free from the AGF’s control, he was able to spot out traces of corruption in the EFCC based on the demands of his office as the number one law officer of Nigeria, and on July 15, 2020, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, was suspended. The Presidency agreed with the Malami that Magu needed to be investigated on allegations of diverting recovered loot.
Finally, the most recent is Malami’s role in the refund of the $200 million Process & Industrial Development (P&ID) case by a London court. The British court ordered the release of the $200m which according to the AGF, was a guarantee put in place as security for the stay of execution granted to Nigeria for the appeal filed against the judgment of Justice Christopher Butcher for the execution of the arbitral award of $10bn in favour of P&ID, a firm based in the British Virgin Islands.
An astute lawyer, public administrator and politician, Malami is expected to do more in the “Next Level Regime” of President Muhammadu Buhari for two reasons: One is to maintain his already built reputation for justice delivery for Nigerians and secondly, good representation of his people from Birnin Kebbi and Kebbi State where he was nominated. It will be recalled that in 2014, Malami contested for the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kebbi state, but lost to Mr Atiku Bagudu, who is now the incumbent governor of the state. The people of Kebbi may wish to have a second thought on Malami if he decides to seek their mandate to run as governor, considering his giant strides in the justice sector.
•Martins, a public affairs analyst, contributed this piece from Abuja.