Before the appointment of Abubakar Malami (SAN) as the 22nd honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice on November 12, 2015 impunity was one of those issues that characterized our justice system. A selfish Attorney could have allowed the impunity to remain in place since the people was scarcely aware of it, but Malami against all odds totally went to work by embarking on law and justice sector reforms that has totally rejuvenated our justice system .
He started by professionally guiding the government along the path that has allowed it to step away from acts of impunity and act within the law. The government had acted different from what the expectations would have been under the previous administration.
Having realized that the task of serving as the Chief Law Officer in a very diverse and complex society, was not only daunting, but enormous in view of the administration’s key policies aimed at addressing the challenges of corruption, economy and security, he quickly step into action giving the huge demand of the office.
Indeed, there are kind of changes you get when a capable and committed hand like the AGF is piloting the affairs of Justice Ministry. Nevertheless, he had been actively engaged and pre-occupied with a lot of public-oriented national engagements.
Not long ago, Federal Executive Council approved the memo for the repatriation of looted funds of over $300m from the United States and Island of Jersey. The task was assigned to the AGF and he assiduously worked and ensured the repatriation of three hundred and eleven million, seven hundred and ninety-seven thousand, eight hundred and sixty-six point one-one dollars ($311,797,866.11) of the Abacha loot from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
Government has said the assets will support and assist in expediting the construction of three major infrastructure projects across Nigeria, namely: The Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja – Kano Road, and the Second Niger Bridge. This best explains why these big projects are getting huge attention and will boost economic activities upon completion.
The Federal Government has already approved the engagement of Civil Society Organisation to monitor the implementation of the application of the recovered assets. This is in line with the Open Government Partnership, UNCAC and 2020 Trilateral Agreement with Nigeria, United State of America and Bailiwick of Jersey. This singular move was to ensure transparency and accountability which Buhari Administration stands for.
The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice recorded the following successes, relating to lingering imbroglio between the Federal Government and Process and Industrial Development Limited. They include: Securing an order for stay of execution of the arbitral award, Challenging and changing the order for cash deposit of $200m to bank guarantee, Success was equally recorded for having an order for the extension of time to challenge award and agreement, Nigeria was successful as the court award payment of legal cost of €1.5m in favour of the country against P&ID, Award of payment of €70,000 to Nigeria as further legal cost relating to the issue, Nigeria obtains multiple positive rulings to obtain information from banks abroad which helped in establishing fraud.
Again, through the effort of Nigerian legal team lead by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Nigeria got relieved of $1.5b liability and gains $660,000 arbitration cost in the dispute with Interocean Oil Company.
This saw that US-Based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute ordered InterOcean to pay the Federal Government of Nigeria Six-hundred and sixty thousand one hundred and twenty nine United State Dollars and eighty seven cents (USD 660,129.87) as reimbursement of its share of the arbitration costs incurred in the proceedings.
The Tribunal also absolves the Federal Government of Nigeria from any liability maintaining that Nigeria did not breach any of its obligations in the contract agreement with Interocean Development Company and Interocean Oil Exploration Company.
In order to curtail the spread of Covid-19 during the heat of the pandemic, the court environment was made to observe the federal government restrictions on Covid-19. The office of the AGF saw the urgent need for paradigm-shift to adjust the judicial process to make for recovery of lost grounds occasioned by the lockdown.
One major lesson from COVID-19 is that the Nigerian Justice Sector must seriously leverage technology in the improvement of its capacity and for facilitating fair and speedy administration of justice.
However, in compliance with the extant laws including the provisions Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Establishment Act 2004, the Attorney General set up and inaugurated Inter-Ministerial Asset Disposal Committee. The Committee was given six months to discharge its mandates.
AGF also inaugurated members of the National Arbitration Policy Committee charging them to come out with a comprehensive policy that will, among other things, ensure that domestic transactions originating and terminating in Nigeria are arbitrated in the country.
The Office of the AGF also established an electronic National Depository of Treaties that will serve as the depository of all treaties entered into between the Government of the Federation and any other country of any Ministry, Agency or Department. This is in line with Section 4 of the Treaties (Making Procedure, Etc.) Act Cap. T20 Laws of the Federation (LFN) 2004, which domiciled the National Depository of Treaties in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
AGF saw to the signing of Presidential Executive Orders which are aimed at complimenting the existing legislations and ensure inter-agency coordination in the process of implementation.
Signed into law in 2020 was Executive order No.10 for the implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary Order, 2020.
Also signed into law by the President was the Executive Order number 8 of 2018, amendment 2019 on the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme (VOARS).
On Executive Order 10 on the Autonomy of State Legislature and Judiciary, AGF pointed out that Executive Orders were for ensuring constitutional compliance, complementing existing legislations, ensuring and enhancing operation, enforcement and application of the provisions as well as providing necessary supervision required for the enforcement.
The office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice recorded tremendous breakthrough in securing conviction, under the new anti-piracy legislation at the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt.
The Office has successfully prosecuted and secured three high profiled convictions under the Terrorism Prevention Act before the Federal High Court sitting in Maiduguri.
It is a fact that through the instrumentality of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice personally led the prosecution of suspected international fraudsters at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The suspects were allegedly involved in frauds running into millions of Euros on the pretext of providing Covid 19 Personal Protection Equipment to Germany and Netherlands.
To involve the young people in the affairs of the nation, the Justice Ministry advised the President to assent to the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’, which was proposed by the National Assembly. The bill sought to reduce the age limit for vying for political offices thereby giving young Nigerians the ample opportunity to contest any position of choice.
It has opened up the democratic space and political participation” in the country as the Act allowed many in the young age bracket to contest in the 2019 elections.
It is important to note that many civil society organizations have expressed appreciation over the AGF’s efforts that culminated into the successes recorded in the anti-corruption crusade of the President Muhamadu Buhari’s administration.
Primate Belonwu Ezeanyaeche, National Coordinator of Anti-Kidnapping, Human Trafficking, Drugs and Child Abuse Initiative writes from Abuja