Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, can be described as strong pillar of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration given his strategic position, the strength of his legal opinions to the administration and the levers of government that his office controls. In spite of the enormous powers conferred on him by office as the AGF, Malami exudes humility and maintains a simple lifestyle in carrying out his vast responsibilities to the nation.
In this interview with Northern Region Editor, Soni Daniel, Malami speaks of the efforts his ministry has made in the past seven years to make life better for Nigerians using the instrumentality of the law. Excerpts:
WHAT justification has the Nigerian government to hold on to the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, after the various court judgments freeing him?
To release or not to release Nnamdi Kanu is a function of the law and the rule of law for that matter. In arriving at a decision whether to release or not release, one; you look at the rule of law, two; you look at the public and the national interest, three; you look at the security situation, and four; you look at international diplomacy. Let me first talk about the rule of law. This is someone that has been granted bail on account of charges that have been preferred against him at the court. To the international community, a case of fugitive is established against the background of bail jumping. Two, arising from national security, this is someone that is charged with treason, incitement of the public, destruction of civil authority, a kind of murder and assassination of others on account of his incitement. That bores down to issues that bother us on issues of national security and criminality.
Three, on account of international diplomacy, this is someone that has turned against his person, using the international community or a foreign country to launch an attack against a nation, against his nation, for example for that matter. So all these naturally come into play to determine what you do. So, if you have equally gone through judicial processes, multiple cases, a case of treason, a case of homicide, a case of jumping bail, among others, the fact that you have indeed succeeded in one case as opposed to multiple others that are pending, goes to establish the fact that that case cannot be the only basis and criteria for determining whether you are entitled to be released or not.
So the simple question is, whether what the Federal Government has done, by way of not releasing Kanu, is justified within the context of the rule of law, and my answer is yes; it is justified. This is because the single case that has been determined is not the only pending case against Kanu, as there are other multiple cases associated with treason. There exist multiple appeals that are pending and yet to be determined, and then again, there are international public interest dimensions, and the essence of the government is the sustenance of the public and not an individual interest.
So would the Federal Government have moved Kanu back to Kenya as ordered by the court?
When the cases are exhausted, when within the context of the rule of law and the decisions and conclusions are in his favour, the government will comply. But whatever option is open and available to the government, the government will exploit it within the context of the rule of law, within the context of the rights available at his disposal.
After more than seven years of serving as the Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, what would you pinpoint as your achievements?
Well, it all depends of the perspective of which you look at it. If you look at it from the perspective of the fight against corruption for example, which is the major policy drive of the Federal Government under the Change Agenda that brought the Buhari administration into government, we have made tremendous achievements. Before we came on board you would recall that a single agency of government for example EFCC recorded around 160 records of convictions.
Now, looking at it from what we have done in terms of enforcement as it relates to the fight against corruption, as at last week, within this year alone, we have over 2,665 convictions. So if you are looking at it from the point of enforcement, a government that succeeded within a year in securing 2,665 convictions by one single agency of government EFCC, even when you have in place additional convictions secured by Federal Ministry of Justice, NDLEA and ICPC, it is a clear proof of establishment of success in the field of enforcement.
Now, if you looking at it from the international perception, international assessment of the situation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, UNODC, by its assessment of the Nigerian situation, assessing about 17 indices of the fight against corruption has established by its 2019 report that the Nigerian government has succeeded in multiplying its success in respect of about 17 items. I am talking of enforcement. Now if you are talking of international recognition as well arising from what our president has been doing as it relates to the Open Government Partnership, arising from what we have been doing as it relates to prevention, our president has been recognized as the champion of anti-corruption by African Union, AU.
Now if you are looking at policies for example, what policies do we have in place that establish that we are indeed excelling in the fight against corruption?
We have succeeded in deploying technology which has effectively worked well on the issues that bother on bank verification, treasury single account, national extractive industry and associated things, having in place executive orders particularly Executive Order No 6, which has indeed all summed up to support what we are doing. If you are looking at our success in terms of legislations, we can say that this is one government ever since the establishment of Nigeria as a country that has succeeded in having multiple legislative frameworks that support the fight against corruption. If you are talking of legislations and enforcement, we have succeeded in money laundry prevention and prohibition, Proceeds of Crime Act among others, Terrorism and Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
If you are looking at it from the point of speed for example, this is a government that as at 2015 inherited a situation whereby high profile cases remain in court over a period of ten years without moving an inch but we have succeeded in enforcing the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act which indeed establishes, enforces and re-establishes the speedy determination of cases.
Again arising from the policy drive of the Federal Government, Executive Order 6 places restrictions of movement of people charged with high profile cases. The restriction is in terms of their international and local movements and restrictions in terms of the access to the funds and all these have supported what the Federal Government has done as it relates to the enforcement of the anti-corruption policy. But above all, what is it that we have equally done in terms of supporting the economic development of the nation and the infrastructural development of the nation? This is a government that inherited a judgment of $10 billion against the economy of the country. The huge amount of $10billion is good enough to affect the Nigerian state, enhance its economy, security and education which could have now affected negatively the fortune of the nation. And then this is the government that succeeded in turning things around to ensure that at the end of the day, that the P&ID judgment is not enforced against the interest of the Federal Government thereby saving the country from economic collapse. And this is over and above other multiple cases inclusive of the Global Steel in respect of Ajaokuta Steel, which we have succeeded in reclaiming.
What was the amount?
The amount against the Federal Government was within the region of $5.3 billion and we have succeeded in reclaiming it with less than N496 million, which constitutes 91 percent cut in terms of bringing the steel industry back to life on account of the efforts of the Federal Government. But then if you are looking at the fight against corruption from the perspective of infrastructural development and taking people out of poverty, what is it that we have done? First in 2017, we succeeded in recovering $322 million from Switzerland. That $322million was what laid the foundation for the programme of President Buhari taking 100 million people out of poverty and that was what eventually translated to N-Power, Trader Moni, school feeding programme and associated policy of the Social Investment Programmes of the Federal Government. Now let us look at it from the point of infrastructure. What did we at the FMJ do in supporting infrastructure development? We have equally gone further to make further recoveries of $311million from the US and the UK and that amount was what was eventually deployed in the Second Niger Bridge, in Lagos-Ibadan, in Abuja-Kano expressways, among others. So in essence if you are looking at what we have done as a federal ministry of justice as it relates to the fight against corruption, you can see from the dimension of legislations, convictions and enforcement, policies as it relates to political, establishing in essence the political will on the part of the government to fight corruption, as it relates to infrastructural development and as it relates to economic development of the nation.
I think we have succeeded in establishing for ourselves, indeed a standard, not only of service but a standard of service in terms of driving the policy. But another amazing aspect of it that you can equally consider as a credit to the FMJ has to do with the issue of security. We have also done much in supporting the government in bringing about the desired peace as it relates to the security apparatus of the government.
As a ministry when eventually Nigeria succeeded in procuring the Super Tucano jets for deployment in the fight against terrorism, the need arose for appropriate law to guide in the use of the jets. But then as a nation, we had an impediment because we could only use the Super Tucano jets to fight terrorism at a time when banditry was at its peak, Boko Haram was equally at its peak and there was no way we would have deployed this military hardware in the fight against terrorism without a law. For this reason, we instituted an action and succeeded in securing a court judgment declaring bandits as terrorists on account of which the jets are being deployed and we are here witnessing the successes being recorded day in, day out arising from the deployment of the Super Tucano jets. So in terms of security considerations as well, the FMJ has played a significant role in tackling insecurity in the country.
Nigerians were of the hope that with the declaration of bandits as terrorists, they would be charged to court in mass number through the Federal Ministry of Justice under your leadership. Why has this not happened?
No, it has happened. In fact, long before now, in view of the existing legal framework associated with Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Act, people that were involved in one banditry or insurgency case or the other have been charged and then a lot of convictions were secured. As you are aware there has been in existence a Kainji facility where they are being prosecuted, and a lot of prosecutions were secured and a lot of discharges were equally recorded. So ever since we have been working in the direction of charging, arraigning and convicting and indeed discharging those that are involved in one banditry or insurgency case or the other and it has been going on unabated. That is the true position of things. We have equally succeeded in building greater capacity in the FMJ to handle terrorism cases and that is what we have as a unit in the office of the Director of Public Prosecution that is known as ‘Complex Case Group’ whereby we work together in enhancing the capacity of the prosecutors and that has been paying off.
After the International Court of Justice judgment which ceded Bakassi to Cameroon, does Nigeria still have any outstanding border problem with Cameroon?
Well, it is not a border problem as such but one thing is that there has been a judgment in place and then arising from that judgment, the judgment has to be enforced and this is a judgment that has to do border lines identification. So ever since the judgment was put in place, by the understanding of the two countries and United Nations, a commission was put in place known as Nigeria-Cameroon mixed Commission and the essence of that commission is for the two countries to look at the judgment of the court, agree on the border lines associated with the boundaries arising from the judgment of the court. And that we have over time succeeded in establishing over 2,000 pillars along the boundary lines but it is natural in the interpretation of the judgment, understanding that there could be some level of misunderstanding and that is what has been unfolding. Even though we have succeeded in agreeing on over 2,000 border positions in respect of which pillars have been put in place, there are limited areas I think about three in respect of which we do not agree, that are contestable. And only recently, we had meetings here in Abuja, trying to agree on those three limited areas but unfortunately we were not able to agree and then there were certain considerations that we may have to refer to the International Court of Justice for the purpose of agreeing on those areas.
So in essence taking into consideration the successes as it relates to the placement of over 2,000 pillars arising from the judgment, I think it is indeed a success story but the whole essence is establishing a model to the effect that as Africans we can resolve our differences, using mature and judicial ways as against the antecedence of historic wars and battlefields engagement for the purpose of settling disputes that have to do with borders.
Do you have any regrets about this country?
Well, I have no regrets whatsoever. One thing I can say for certain perhaps is at a point arising from the greater noise-making capacity of the adversaries, they have succeeded at a point in trying to paint the person of Abubakar Malami black but that black painting has eventually translated into having an opportunity to say my own side of the story, blow my own trumpet in terms of bringing to bear, making efforts to bring to bear what contributions I have indeed made to the development of the nation.
And that eventually is what we are witnessing should they be taking into consideration that the modest efforts put in place by Abubakar Malami and rewarded fast by being re-considered for the appointment as the Attorney General of the Federation for a second time. Two, by way of being the longest serving attorney general as at 2022 and three, by way of investiture and conferment on me as the Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON, which eventually establishes that my modest contributions as a person are really appreciated.
I do not regret when I pass through Lagos-Ibadan seeing the road being constructed on account of my modest contribution to the recovery and deployment of such recovery. I feel elated any time I pass through the East and see the Second Niger Bridge and being a part and parcel of it having in place just I am excited when I go through the North and see the success of the Abuja-Kano Highway being constructed on account of the modest recovery of which I was opportune to be part and parcel of.
How would you want the man Abubakar Malami to be remembered when the history of Nigeria is written?
Well, as a person, I want to be remembered as someone that indeed established a history of using the rule of law in advancing the course of justice and the deployment of available resources for the enhancement of the national development and protection of the public as against individual interest. I want to be remembered as someone who promoted public interest that translated to multiple successes associated with the fight against corruption and the development of the country through the use of the FMJ in making unprecedented recoveries of looted assets and deploying same in the infrastructural development of the nation. I want to see a history recognizes Abubakar Malami as a minister of justice that inherited a very serious security situation across the country and but successfully used the instrumentality of the law to drastic improve the security situation of the country among others.
Above all, I want to be remembered as someone whose tenure was eventually recognized by the government that indeed culminated in the investiture in him as award of honour in recognition of the modest contributions he made to the development of Nigeria as a country.