By Solomon Yamai
In a season of partisan frenzy, with many red-eyed politicians, rogue tendencies and unprofessional platforms focused on various power-grab and economic intrigues often dressed up as patriotic ventures, discipline and rule-governed processes become threatened.
The position of a country’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice carries considerable weight, especially in charting the course of informed engagement with the critical elements in a democratic mix. That the inherent powers of that office, its responsibility and authority have been serially targeted should worry level-headed, patriotic stakeholders.
Surprisingly, in this quirky targeting game, besides sworn detractors, political vampires and economic saboteurs, some online media and the occasional traditional press outlets are guilty. But these folks and tendencies misread the capacity, professional grit, poise and unflinching focus of the unassuming Honourable AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN.
As it were, with principle, pluck and discipline as watchwords, Malami is handling the latest offensive with his trademark maturity and verve. The issue revolves around a N159 billion Paris Club-related judgment debts owed by states and their local governments. Malami’s endorsement of the legitimacy of the indebtedness followed due diligence carried out by his office. Contrived efforts to controvert this basic fact are at the heart of the online offensive.
Recently, some mischievous and perfidious reports peddled by some online media, specifically, Sahara Reporters and Premium Times, purportedly alleged that the AGF was “pushing for payment of” contradictory and incongruous figures regarding judgment debt and Paris Club refund. But easily noticeable by circumspect observers is that the reports peddled by off-shore Sahara Reporters and the local Premium Times lacked merit as evidenced by not only contradictory submissions but also a hurried aggregation of specious data, unsubstantiated concoctions and figments of the imagination of the writers.
In view of the lessons learnt from the fraudulent P&ID case, Malami and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari have been applying extraordinary due diligence to avoid whatever was suspected to be suspicious liability whose antecedents were rooted in past administrations. During the past administration, Premium Times and Sahara Reporters were allegedly complicit in failing to question the issues or draw the attention of the general public to the matter at that time.
With respect to the enormous volume of the judgment sum and declining resources, coupled with the policy imbibed by the Office of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to save the government of the federation frivolous liabilities, the office of the AGF&MJ embarked on extraordinary due diligence, including directing for investigation of the matter by law enforcement and security agencies, with a view to assess the veracity of the claim.
What is the genesis of judgment debts in question? Clarity is important here. The judgment debts were based on the fact that some affected local governments and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) instituted action against the Federal Government in suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 – LINAS International LTD & 235 ORS v. Federal Government of Nigeria & 3 ORS to recover the sum of $3,188,079,505.96. Judgment was delivered in favour of the plaintiffs on December 3, 2013 (that is years before President Buhari came to office and long before Malami was made AGF). There is more.
Subsequently, a garnishee order absolute was granted in 2016 directing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as garnishee to pay $3,188,079,505.96 to the local government. The garnishee order was granted by H.B. Yusuf (Honorable Justice).
Significantly, both Premium Times and Sahara Reporters chose to turn a blind eye to the judgment and its negative effect on the nation’s economy when it was delivered and in effect chose to attack AGF Malami, who had exerted extra efforts in saving Nigeria from the scourge of consequential liability.
Even when it became inevitable that the payment had to be effected with the consent of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and ALGON, the office of the AGF had to extract undertaking and indemnity from NGF and ALGON in 2019.
In consideration of the financial status and the volume of the transaction, due diligence relating to contractual undertones and the judgment were carried out by the Office of the AGF in order to guard government’s coffers from being robbed by unscrupulous agents, like the case of P&ID.
The AGF&MJ took steps to be doubly sure about the engagements. The office wrote to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Department of State Service and ALGON to furnish the AGF with facts that will guide the legal opinions to be proffered by the AGF.
On August 29, 2018, the Office of the AGF, through the director of Civil Ligitation, E.O. Omonowa, Esq., wrote a letter (MJ/CIV/ABJ/440/16) to the chairman, board of trustees, ALGON, seeking specific evidence to validate the resolution by ALGON to engage Ted Edwards/Edwards & Partners to recover funds related to the refund of Paris and London debt over-deductions and any amount so recovered by Ted Edwards/Edwards & Partners.
The Office of the AGF&MJ also sought five other specific data to validate authorisations and resolutions by ALGON to ensure they were vested with legality.
Conflicting with claims by the Premium Times report that a letter from ALGON dated September 10, 2018, denied involvement of Ted Edwards/Edwards & Partners for the said project, seven years before the so-called letter ALGON resolved to and did engage the parties for the project. The AGF’s office wrote letters to law enforcement and security agencies, including the EFCC, to conduct independent investigations on the issue.
Sadly, Sahara Reporters and Premium Times ignored the ethics that govern their sector and were not only mischievous but opted to be economical with facts by deliberating failing to present the foregoing facts to the public.
The online media groups deliberately chose to mislead the public by refusing to also inform the public that the EFCC and other security agencies had, at the request of the AGF’s office, investigated this matter. Against this backdrop, some posers crop up. What was the basis of the Premium Times conclusion. Was it logically and justifiably founded or not – especially given the stringent due diligence carried out by the AGF’s office?
It is beyond dispute that, flowing from a clear historical antecedent of the role it has played in the case of P&ID, the AGF’s office has remained steadfast in the sustenance of the public interest, which, in effect, is saving the Federal Government from frivolous financial liabilities.
The reports and due diligence of the law enforcement and security agencies provided on this matter contradict the mischievous publication of Premium Times and Sahara Reporters but the fact remains inevitably glaring that their reports are without bases.
Clearly, Malami is not a saint. But the parameters for appointing the AGF and Minister of Justice in Nigeria do not specify sainthood as a key requirement. His choice simply acknowledges the capacity of focused individuals to change their society for the better.
Against the background of his clear accomplishments, despite the bracing challenges, the nation’s top stakeholders and patriots can really not afford to fold their hands and watch a competent, bold appointee of the President go down with consequential retributions for governance.
Going forward, AGF Malami must ensure that no persons or groups distract his investigations and governance footing by clogging his workspace with petitions and allegations that have been disposed of in the past, having been found wanting for lack of substance. Forces that are afraid of the outcome of an unbiased investigation are no doubt behind these antics.
•Yamai writes from Jos,