When a coalition of civil society groups petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari accusing the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami of abuse of power, their prayer was that the AGF should step aside from his office.
The petition, signed by Olanrewaju Suraj, Debo Adeniran, and Ezenwa Nwagwu, cited reports in an online news platform as the basis for their call on the President to excuse the AGF for an investigation.
However, in his memorandum to President Buhari, the AGF said the petitioners were mere hirelings doing the bidding of desperate politicians, who lost out in the wrangling over the control of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee (NWC) preparatory to the 2023 general elections.
It would be recalled that prior to the petition, which was a celebration of contents of an online news platform, Nigerians were regaled with allegations of corrupt practices within the anti-graft body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which led to the inquiry into the activities of Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the suspended acting chairman of EFCC.
Magu, through his counsel, Wahab Shittu, swore that he would no longer keep quiet in the face of evident twisting of facts against him.
Shittu, in a statement made available to journalists, stated: “Our client, in spite of service to country, has gone through sponsored, unprecedented and unjustifiable coordinated attacks designed to infringe on his liberties and prejudice the work of the investigation panel with a view to prejudging and convicting him in the public space.”
Although circumstances surrounding both cases – attacks on the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami SAN and Magu’s probe – seem similar and closely intertwined, there is no doubt that the anti-graft war of the Federal Government is under threat.
While some critics blame Magu’s probe on some power play in the administration, others insist that the suspended EFFC acting chairman is being investigated as a serving police officer, stressing that the Justice Ayo Salami panel investigating him is a quasi-orderly room panel.
Democracy and legal rights activist, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, who spoke to The Guardian on Magu’s contention that he was not confronted with the allegations that warranted his ‘arrest’ and detention, said Magu forgot that he is a serving police officer.
According to Okonkwo, “Magu is a serving police officer, what he is going through is a quasi-criminal orderly room trial, it does not fall within the purview of the enforcement of his rights according to section 36 of the constitution.
“So as a serving police officer, his seniors or those that appointed him can subject him to an orderly room trial. It is not a trial by a court of law. Even though a retired judicial officer heads the panel, it does not make it a court of law. He is not a retired police officer, to bring him to the purview of the combined provisions of sections 6 and 36 of the constitution.”
Magu’s travails began with a memo from the AGF to President Buhari outlining 22 issues distilled from grey areas in a report by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), which indicted the former EFCC acting chairman of various transactional shortcomings as well as alleged insubordination.
Supporters of Magu, especially some civil society groups, which usually serve as special purpose vehicles to mainstream issues of interest, expressed the belief that Magu was unjustly being persecuted.
The barrage of attacks that followed Magu’s probe landed on the AGF, thereby creating the impression that the Justice Minister, Malami, was the architect of the inquest into the former EFCC boss’ activities.
It could therefore be deduced that Shittu’s allegations of sponsored unprecedented and unjustifiable coordinated attacks on his client were also being targeted at Malami and invariably President Buhari and his anti-corruption agenda.
Although most interventions on the Magu affair struggled to separate the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and its occupant, the mix between the influence of entrenched political forces, which targets the anti-corruption battle and those angling for future political relevance is not far fetched.
IN his first statement at the initial attempt to remove Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from office as national chairman of APC, former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, noted that the ‘ambition 2023 virus’ was at the root of the crisis in the party.
While pointing out that the greatest casualty in the political infighting within the governing party was President Buhari, he stressed that “this illness afflicts many in the political class along with their allies in the media.
Watchers of the progress of President Buhari’s second term contend that the presidential ambition of some top politicians in the APC is destroying not only the party but also the administration’s determination to successfully deliver on its core mandates, particularly the anti-corruption battle upon which the president was popularly elected.
While the outcry against rising insecurity in the country has continued to peal, the crisis in the anti-corruption battle seems to have become a veritable weapon of counter-political attack and partisan infighting.
The petition by the civil society coalition coming at a time another group, KCC, wrote to the president complaining against the Minister of Justice, Malami, underscores Tinubu’s assertion that 2023 consideration has become a virus to the Buhari administration.
The impression is subtly being created that nobody within the administration is clean, especially given the exposes at the House of Representatives’ investigation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
Apart from the fact that some former board members of Kebbi Concerned Citizens (KCC) denounced the petition again as a political hatchet job from those opposed to Malami’s speculated governorship ambition, chieftains of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) have picked holes in the allegations contained in a report by the online portal, Sahara Reporters.
The online news platform had claimed that some of the properties traced to the AGF include Rayhaan Hotels in Kano and some other choice properties in Birnin Kebbi.
But a former member of APC merger committee, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said the hotel in question had been in existence before Malami’s appointment as AGF.
Okechukwu said: “What struck me was that we slept in the same hotel pictured in the photos making the rounds on social media during the campaigns for the 2015 general elections.
“If the Attorney General owned the hotel before he came into office in 2015, is it correct to accuse him on this count? As members of the campaign team, I vividly remember how our party members enjoyed themselves pro bono at the behest of Abubakar Malami in the hotel.”
Although the timing of the reports seems to establish the nexus between Magu’s probe and attacks on Malami, the political angle could not be lost given speculations that the minister, who contested the Kebbi governorship might still be nursing that ambition.
Sandwiched by the designs of political adversaries both at the national and state levels, the AGF’s position as the last man of defense in the Buhari presidency could have opened him up for attacks as politicians continue to scheme ahead of the 2023 general election cycle.
That might explain the stance of a Kebbi-based social-political group, Zuru Patriotic Forum (ZPF), which described the media attacks on the Minister of Justice as “sponsored and barbaric.”
Speaking through its chairman, Mallam Sani Tadi, ZPF said it was shocking to see the disjointed and dubious petition from Kebbi Concerned Citizens (KCC) against the AGF.
Denouncing the KCC petition as a poor rehash of the tendentious imputations by Sahara reporters, ZPF said it was under no illusion that “KCC had fallen for the sponsored accusations against the AGF.”
While expressing its confidence that “no plot to tarnish the image of Malami, who remains a shining light of Kebbi, will stand,” ZPF declared: “As a people and as a movement formed to ensure, contribute and propel the development of our emirate, zone, state, and country, we can’t be a party to a handsomely sponsored campaign of calumny against leaders just for political gains.”
Recently, the AGF responded to the insinuations and allegations against his office in the petition to President Buhari. He informed the president that those behind the spurious allegations of corruption contained in recent media reports were searching for evidence that does not exist anywhere.
Alluding to the raging crisis within the APC, Malami stressed that political schemes towards the 2023 election cycle informed the prevailing aggression and nasty media campaigns against him.
In the memo to the President, sighted by The Guardian, the AGF attached documentary evidence showing that the properties on which his traducers based their false allegations were deposed to in his asset declarations to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
The AGF detailed his earnings, including salaries, allowances, estacodes, and sundry income and benefits of businesses he received since his appointment as Minister from 2015 to date.
Part of the AGF’s letter read: “On assumption of office in 2015, I had a course as a constitutional requirement to file my assets declaration form at the point of assuming duty as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria detailing my assets which include: my houses (both residential and others), farmlands, hotel, school, and other enterprises.
“Statements of accounts from all my banks were also submitted to the Code of Conduct, which was duly verified as is the procedure after submission is made. A copy of the form is attached hereto as annexure AM 1, should Your Excellency wish to personally review it.”
BEING the chief law officer of the country, the likely implications on the attempts to smear and frighten Malami are manifold. First the protagonists have not hidden their grand intention to have the minister excused from further performance of his official functions.
In the event of such inauspicious development, those who Tinubu said are infected with the ambition virus 2023 will move in to hijack the judicial process, which without would affect the outcome of the forthcoming APC national convention as well as the trial of corruption suspects.
Most intriguingly, as Tinubu stated, the biggest casualty in the struggle for ascendancy is President Buhari, whose record of achievements in his anti-graft battle could be thrashed.
According to the former Lagos State governor, “in a broader context, those afflicted with the 2023 virus do a grave disservice to President Buhari and his administration. Instead of seeing President Buhari as our present leader and commander-in-chief, their sole contemplation is upon his eventual exit.”
Perhaps noticing the subtle plots against its administration, particularly through the concerted attacks on the AGF, the Presidency explained that Magu’s probe was a necessary inventory of its strategies and processes in the fight against corruption.
In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, President Buhari disclosed that a series of documented allegations were made against Magu.
He explained that after a preliminary review of the allegations leveled against the former acting chairman and other members of his staff, “there were grounds for a detailed investigation to be conducted.”
If those calling for Malami’s suspension wanted to incite the Presidency to extend its stance on Magu to the AGF, it is either they failed to note the difference in both circumstances or they devised a stealth ambush for the presidency to fight against itself.
Unlike Magu, Malami went through Senate screening before his appointment as the substantive chief law officer of the country. Yet, Magu’s allies seem to be riled that what the Senate could not achieve after Magu’s two failed screening efforts, Malami’s official communication to the President expedited.