Malami: Divided by mirth and mischief
Abubakar Malami, the nation’s chief law officer, has always made headlines for various reasons. On April 17, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) turned 55.
From the accounts of those privileged to be associated with him, he is generous, affable, and accessible. It is also alleged that his acts of kindness were some of the factors that earned him the exalted office of Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister for Justice.
Some others see the lawyer as a calculating politician, who uses his acts of kindness to prop his image and acceptability to the masses.
However, those who knew him in the days of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), say it was on account of his generosity that President Muhammadu Buhari, who founded the defunct CPC rewarded him with the post. Malami was said to be in the habit of offering CPC faithful, especially members of Buhari’s campaign organisation free lodging and breakfast at his Rayhaan Hotel, Kano, during the electioneering for Buhari’s unsuccessful 2011 presidential bid.
So, perhaps on account of his dual mandate as lawyer and politician, Malami’s actions and utterances have always received mixed reactions from Nigerians.
The first time that Malami made a remark that attracted huge political consequences for Nigeria and democracy was in November 2015, when he was barely one month in office.
Speaking during a seminar put together by the Nigeria Law Reform Commission (NLRC) towards the reform of the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, he said that the All Progressives Congress (APC) could replace Prince Abubakar Audu, for the rescheduled December 5, Kogi State governorship poll.
Audu, who was on the ticket with James Faleke, had died midway to the collation of results from the ballot held on November 19, in the state. The popular expectation was that Faleke should replace his principal if the election was to go on.
But, Malami told lawyers at the NLRC event that he was guided by Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution, and Section 33 of the Electoral Act, stressing that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should conclude the poll within 14 days.
Riled by the pronouncement, which was adopted by the Prof. Yakubu Mahmood-led INEC, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), questioned Malami’s competence and knowledge of the rudiments of the law.
In a statement through its then National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the PDP called for the immediate resignation of the AGF and Prof. Mahmood, stressing that “INEC as a statutory body has the full complements of technical hands in its legal department to advise it appropriately.
“We wonder why it had to wait for directives from the AGF, an external party, if not for partisan and subjective interest,” he added.
Without reflecting on the feasibility of Faleke, the deputy governorship candidate stands as the best person to inherit Audu’s votes and substitute him at the run-off election, but Malami said that the right for substitution by a political party is sustained by Section 33 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
Ever since he rendered that magisterial legal opinion, Malami cut out the public image of a partisan apologist more than a national law officer, whose utterances are received with either mirth or mischievous snarls.
Such a scenario presented itself recently when the AGF, who until last Friday was angling to govern his home state of Kebbi, revealed how he has been able to banish poverty from the homes of some hopelessly poor and lifted some struggling citizens of the state into the millionaires’ club.
Although he did not release the names of beneficiaries, Malami told his supporters that over 500 persons had become millionaires courtesy of his generosity. Kebbi State people know that the AGF has been doing some philanthropic works through his non-governmental organisation called, Khadimiyya for Justice and Development Initiative (KJDI).
But, while he was making the 500 millionaire-club claims at his Government Reservation Area (GRA) abode in Birnin Kebbi area, his political rivals were preparing to challenge him by weaving convincing doubts about the credibility of his assertions.
The chief law officer made the remarks while trying to push back on the outcry that attended the distribution of 30 exotic cars to his political foot soldiers in the state. Some of the vintage cars included, 14 Mercedes Benz (GLK), eight Prado Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), four Toyota Hilux, and four Lexus LX 570 each.
However, while the AGF was delivering that good gesture, his detractors accused him of trying to induce voters. They recalled his tangle with the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the disposal of the country’s crude.
Those who picked holes in Malami’s philanthropy recalled how he authorised the auctioning of many sea vessels containing crude oil and diesel to a company that was previously accused of stealing from the products. In an attempt to push back on the confusion at the time, Malami’s media aide, Dr. Umar Gwandu, maintained that the auction was not illegal.
He argued that Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited, which was awarded the auction contract remained innocent until proven guilty.
Gwandu noted that the allegations over the auction and other corruption claims were causing Malami “great distress, psychological trauma, anxiety and greatly injured his character and reputation.”
It was that soft underbelly of the minister that his rivals touched upon when the reports of his SUV bazaar hit the airwaves. Incensed that his good gesture should attract such negative interpretations, Malami spoke once more.
While accusing his detractors of spreading falsehood about him despite the good he has done for people, the AGF bemoaned: “One thing is certainly arising from my submission, they are busy over the time destroying the lives of our youth, providing them with drugs.
“We have been busy over time supporting our teeming youth with offers, in terms of offers of employment, we have succeeded in supporting over 700 people across the state, who gained employment.
“They have been busy destroying while we have been constructing, we have succeeded in constructing over 200 boreholes across the state, and we are supporting the state by way of creating over 500 millionaires across the state.
“We have succeeded in supporting over 6, 000 people who gained COVID-19 intervention of N550, 000 each, which accumulated to about N3.2b.”
He blamed local and international “mischief-makers” for the attacks on his person as well as “spreading lies that are baseless, unfounded.” He added: “To this end, I want to state, I have not, neither my person, nor the foundation, which I am associated, neither my friends have shared a single vehicle to any executive officer of APC in the state, much less of the delegates across the state.”
However, as the young AGF tried to counter his detractors and plead his innocence, the political side of his public office remained the target of the mischievous volleys against him. In allusion to his powerful political rivals, the AGF said those accusing him of using proceeds of corruption to induce delegates, “are used to hard drugs.”
In a bid to deflect that weighty “misconception and misinformation,” Malami said he would soon distribute aeroplanes instead of only cars. Yet, the more he tried to join issues with his detractors, the opposition continued to deride him on social media, taunting him to explain the source of the stupendous wealth he was sharing.
To his discomfiture, Malami’s opponents dug up damaging reports by an online platform, SaharaReporters, detailing how he “acquired several property, whose value run into many billions of naira” since being appointed as Nigeria’s chief law officer in President Buhari’s administration.
In sum, Malami’s ‘frenemies’ painted a picture suggesting the attorney general allowed hubris to interfere with the performance of his duties. For instance, they noted that the purchase of such choice property as “an underground hotel in Sokoto, three houses at Peace Estate, Abuja, and a brand-new state-of-the-art school in Kebbi,” was beyond his legitimate means.
At last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, President Buhari ordered ministers that were nursing the ambition of contesting in the 2023 poll to resign before tomorrow. Would this be the final opportunity to say goodbye to the office, which has given him visibility and wealth?
There had been previous attempts to cause his removal, including also an attempt to divest him of his SAN title through the disciplinary committee of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee for misconduct.
Last year, Malami was accused of promoting a bill to transfer the powers of all prosecution and investigation to the Office of the Attorney-General. While the passage of the bill would have removed the independence of anti-corruption agencies, the move was said to be a ploy by the AGF to stop the prosecution of his allies.
In the face of President Buhari’s quit notice to ambitious ministers, it is left to be seen how Malami would respond: Continue in office and forego his gubernatorial chase or quit to seek election to the office of chief executive of Kebbi State, which he tried unsuccessfully in 2014? In the next 24 hours, the come will come to become.
Sources in the Presidency alleged that President Buhari helped the AGF solve his dilemma by rejecting his resignation. Other sources in Kebbi said Malami weighed the options and found out that a bird in hand is worth more in the bush and decided to sit back as AGF.
However, dismissing insinuations that the Attorney General of the Federation chickened out of the governorship race out of fear of defeat, his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Gwandu, said his principal chose altruism and patriotism over private political interest, stressing that Malami reserves the right to choose to voluntarily shelve his gubernatorial ambition or not.
“It is a matter of personal conviction and individual right, which didn’t violate any law,” Gwandu stated, adding that the Minister of Justice, Abubakar did not resign, but withdrew his ambition to contest for the 2023 Kebbi State gubernatorial poll.
While pleading with well-meaning and right-thinking citizens to accord respect to an individual’s right to freedom of choice in matters relating to the political contest, Malami’s aide declared: “The decision is not only a demonstration of altruism and patriotism but also of contentment, self-control, placidity, and decisiveness in problem-solving.”