By Gabriel Amalu
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, is on trial in many fronts. With respect to the knotty issue of the Process & Industrial Development Ltd (P&ID) scam against Nigeria, the learned silk has distinguished himself creditably in his capacity as the chief law officer of Nigeria. With respect to his fight with the suspended chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, the jury is still out as to whether he was accentuated by ill-motive in his petition indicting the erstwhile corruption czar.
The learned AGF is also at odds with the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA) of which he is a prominent member, for allegedly acting mala fide, ultra vires and in bad faith in his purported unilateral amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC). Unfortunately for the learned silk, the din associated with the purported amendment of the RPC, has overshadowed the success recorded by Nigeria in successfully raising a prima facie case of fraud with regards to the arbitral award, in favour of P&ID.
While the EFCC is also laying claim to the success story, the AGF clearly deserves kudos for his dogged fight against those who wanted to scam Nigeria of over $10 billion, a significant portion of our national budget. As the judgement of the English Court showed, it was Nigerian government officials and lawyers retained to defend Nigerian that were in bed with P&ID and their collaborators in what perhaps could have been one of the greatest heist against the country, in recent time.
In his essay, in Thisday Newspaper, titled: P&ID and its Nigerian Conspirators, Shaka Momodu, wrote a damning indictment of senior officials of the NNPC, Ministry of Petroleum Resources and a learned silk and former Attorney General of Lagos State, Olasupo Shasore, SAN. Quoting from the judgment, he x-rayed a judicial indictment of Mr Oguine and Ms Taiga of the NNPC, and Ms Adelore of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, all of whom became alleged collaborators, instead of defenders of the Nigerian interest, they work for.
Of note, the alleged actions of the senior lawyers which amounts to professional misconduct, took place while Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, who is standing trial for financial crimes against Nigeria, was the Attorney General of the Federation. Again, in the matter for which Adoke is standing trial, AGF Malami has stood resolute, and ignored the plea of his predecessor that he was being unfairly targeted by the foreign lawyer acting for Nigeria. For standing up against those who betrayed their fatherland, the AGF deserves to be commended.
Like I said earlier, the jury is not out with regards to the counter-accusations levelled against the AGF, by the former boss of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu. As I wrote on this page, not long ago, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Since it was Malami’s petition that led to the suspension of Magu, and Magu has alleged similar malfeasance against Malami, it is only fair that those allegations be scrutinized. My position on that has not changed.
But, since many Nigerian have trust in the panel of enquiry set up by the president, under the leadership of retired Justice Ayo Salami, to do a comprehensive job, it is fair we await the outcome of the enquiry to know, between Magi and Malami, the one who betrayed the trust of President Muhammadu Buhari. This column only hopes that the tribunal would conduct its enquiry in a judicial manner, so that the outcome can withstand a judicial review.
The third issue on which the AGF has received criticism is his purported amendment of the RPC, over which some lawyers have threatened a lawsuit, with the aim of stripping the AGF of title of senior advocate of Nigeria. The NBA led by a new executive has also protested against the unilateral amendment of the RPC, a responsibility reserved for the General Bar Council, which the AGF heads. Apart from the AGF, the attorneys generals of all the states, and 20 representatives of the Nigerian Bar Association, make up the council.
The power to amend the RPC is provided by section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act, as amended by law No 21 of 1994, and it is clearly reserved for the council. So, unless the council met and made the recent amendment, a unilateral action by the AGF is ultra vires, null and void. While the AGF has kept mum since the controversy broke, senior lawyers have taken sides depending on their interests, clearly beyond the issue at stake.
Of course, the NBA is afflicted by many ills, including the alleged subjugation of the electoral process, to achieve preconceived outcomes. A clear evidence of that is that the immediate three past elections have been the subject of controversy, including in one instance allegation of criminal misconduct, arising from the conduct of the elections. So a number of lawyers are unhappy with the process, and some of them see the interference from the AGF as a deserved comeuppance for these electoral manipulations, by some members.
While this writer is unhappy with the electoral process, and has canvassed for an improvement, such disenchantment is not enough to support the AGF to usurp the powers of the bar council. Those whose anger have beclouded their position on the issue should retrace their steps in the interest of rule of law, the fundament of the legal profession, which they profess. Again, no doubt, the huge revenue accruing from annual dues and cost of stamp that the NBA generates have become a sauce for those who have made membership of the executive body their own law practice.
These group would do everything and anything to gain a position in the bar, and once they have gotten there, they become careerist in the executive body or its extended bodies. That is the anger of some others who don’t give a damn if the body implodes. Again, such disposition will not aid the profession in the long run, everything considered. Furthermore, a number of the aggrieved have personal issues with their colleagues who have fed fat from their time in the executive.
Many of them have used their membership of the bar executive, as the ladder to higher privileges, even when they have not distinguished themselves in the profession. To save the NBA, the new executive body at the national level, should do what it can to purge itself and state executives of the avarice and ills that is trying to upend the association. Unless there is internal healing, those working to divide the bar, would gain from these discontentment.
In conclusion, I urge the AGF, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, to acquit himself creditably, while he has the powers of the office vested in him. Sooner than later, the office will leave him willy-nilly.