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Attorney-General Adoke and the burden of memory

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Senior Nigerian public officers are notoriously parsimonious with their recall once out of office. From among their club memoirs are unusual, especially, from those with any sense of lingering shelf-life. It’s easy to speculate as to why this is so. In a country ruled by whim, risk aversion is prudent when you are out of power. By remaining quiet or feigning amnesia, yesterday’s men limit the likelihood that their successors may remember them for the wrong reasons. Moreover, with government as the principal guarantor of a good life, respect for its rule of Omerta is the only way to retain any hope of access to its revolving doors. When it occurs, departure from this trend is usually enforced. This is why the memoir recently published by Mohammed Bello Adoke is notable. Adoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), was Attorney-General and Minister of Justice under President Goodluck Jonathan for five years from 2010 until 2015. Since leaving office, his name has been linked with several controversies, the most high profile being in connection with the settlement of the now Infamous Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 245 granted in April 1998 by General Abacha to the shadowy Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.

In his memoir, Adoke feels called upon to clear his name by discharging a burden of narration in the controversies that have dogged him after office. Fittingly, his story is published under the titled Burden of Service. The sub-title Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General, underscores the point that Adoke is, remarkably, the first former Attorney-General of the Federation to publish any account of his time in office. In addition to the Malabu Oil controversy, Burden of Service also offers insights into many other highlights of the Jonathan years, including the hand-over of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, recovery of Abacha Loot, the removal of Ayo Salami as President of the Court of Appeal, and the climactic denouement to Nigeria’s 2015 general elections. Adoke’s telling of his version of the stories packs a punch. While his parochial account is interesting in and of itself, it is the vignettes he offers when he is not necessarily pleading his own case that make Adoke’s account deserving of attention. A general theme of his is the shiftiness of Nigerian politicians and he illustrates this with several issues in the book. Five deserve attention. The first is the currency of loyalty in Nigerian politics. Under General Abacha, politicians popularised “I am loyal” as cult greeting. It is not lost on those who are interested that anyone who has need to repeat affirmations of loyalty in this way probably knows nothing about loyalty in the first place. Illustrating this point, Adoke narrates how many people close to President Jonathan donated money to support the campaign of General Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. According to him, “many of my cabinet colleagues, including those known to be close to the President, had made donations to Buhari’s campaign. Those involved included heads of agencies. A Principal Officer of the National Assembly from the PDP was to later confess publicly that he donated N5 million to the APC during the elections.”

This shiftiness is not limited to politics; it also extends to high matters of constitutional legality. This is the second highlight from Burden of Service. Adoke tells a remarkable story about the fate of the Constitution (Fourth Amendment) Bill of 2015, which was said to have failed to receive presidential assent before President Jonathan vacated office. The amendment included clauses granting immunity to law-makers, life pension to former presiding officers of the National Assembly and inducting them into life membership of the National Council of State. It also contained a provision dispensing with presidential assent to constitutional amendments. As Adoke tells it, after the 2015 election, the National Assembly transmitted the Bill to the President for his assent. By the time Adoke learnt of this, President Jonathan had reportedly assented to the bill and authorized for this to be returned to the National Assembly. The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Administration, Matt Aikihionbare, confirmed this. So, Adoke raced to the presidency to explain to the President the dangers inherent in the provisions contained in the amendment he assented to.

To be continued tomorrow
Odinkalu, co-convenor of Nigeria Mourns,  works with the Open Society Foundations.


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