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Malami, Abacha Loot And Online Platforms

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There must be a reason why some online platforms are fighting Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice. Anyone familiar with journalism knows the difference between being a critical watchdog journalist and a crusading journalist.

Watchdog reporting, no matter how critical, is in the line of duty of a responsible journalist. But crusading journalism is fighting for or against a cause. When such cause is in the public interest, the journalist is seen as an activist. But when the cause serves a narrow interest, and facts are no longer sacred, it is yellow journalism.

Reading through a recent report entitled: “US blocks Malami’s lawyers from taking a cut on $500m Abacha Loot”, published by one of those online publications on May 7, 2018, one couldn’t but conclude that Malami must have stepped on some powerful toes who are now bent on getting back at him using the media, or to be more specific, hack writers online.

Quoting unnamed sources in the Presidency, the medium claims the United States government says it will only deal with Nigeria on a government-to-government basis for the restitution of $500 million Abacha loot. There is nowhere in the report where the US government is quoted as saying it would not deal with a third party or Malami’s lawyers. It was obvious that the headline chosen for the story was a deliberate ploy to misinform readers to portray Malami as corrupt and unfit for the position of an AGF.

The facts of the matter reported by the platform also went ahead to confirm that there is an agenda to bring Malami down for reasons that are yet unknown. On 30th April, President Muhammadu Buhari visited the United States to meet his United States counterpart, Mr Donald Trump. During the meeting, Buhari reiterated the need for the United States to repatriate stolen assets and funds traced to Nigeria’s public officials as these funds would assist in developing the country’s economy.

Following this meeting, the attorney general of Nigeria and the attorney general of the United States met on 1st May, 2018 to discuss the details on how to facilitate an early repatriation of the forfeited funds to Nigeria. Several issues were discussed concerning stolen Nigerian funds laundered through banks in the US. The issues discussed included the loot of the late D.S.P Alamsiegha, the Abachas and that of the Bagudu family, and how they would be repatriated.

With regard to the Abacha loot forfeited to the United States Department of Justice, it was agreed that although there might still be a third party claim to these funds, it was in the best interest of both parties (Nigeria and the US) to commence the negotiation of a memorandum of understanding for the funds to be applied to a specific development project.

The United States further requested that Nigeria indicate the project it would like to apply the funds to following which the attorney general informed that this would require consultations with the president and other cabinet ministers. Nigeria requested two weeks to enable the minister to review the 2018 budget and determine which of the president’s development priorities already set out in the 2018 budget would be approved.

Timelines were set out for the conclusion of the negotiation of the processes leading to the repatriation of the funds, which include the submission of a proposed budget for discussion, drafting of an MOU, defining the monitoring framework to be put in place by Nigeria and the US for the repatriation of the funds.

The issue of an alleged Malami lawyers’ cut-off from the negotiations was never discussed. In fact the lawyer mentioned in the aforementioned report as Malami’s lawyer, Oladipo Okpeseyi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), was at the meeting as Nigeria’s legal representative in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Island of Jersey and France. Nigeria’s legal representative in the United States, Anthony Egbase, also attended the meeting.

The platform reported falsely that Malami attempted to engage private lawyers who were going to take a cut as legal fees “even though they did not play any role in the recovery of the stolen funds traced to the former military Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, who ruled Nigeria from 1993 to 1998”. It also claimed that officials of the US department of justice “told President Muhammadu Buhari point blank during his visit to the US that they would not deal with any third party in the restitution of the funds”.

This is not only a fabrication, but also betrayed pathetic ignorance about international diplomacy. Such decisions are communicated in writing and documented, and not made off-the-cuff the way the medium had reported. It merely exposed the online publication’s “sources” as desperate persons determined to bring down a man doing his job as diligently as he understands it with the intention of ensuring that the country benefits from any deal regarding the funds illegally stashed away in the United States. As medium set up to inform and educate the public, the online medium owes itself a duty to ensure that its readers are fed with factual news at all times. And the so-called sources must be made to deliver proof of the information to give.

Unfortunately, this has become a familiar trend in most online publishing outfits. That particular medium was the only one that also recently falsely reported that in 2016, Malami appointed two Nigerian lawyers as legal consultants for the repatriation of $321 million Abacha loot recovered from Luxembourg in 2014 after all the processes had been concluded. The medium alleged that the lawyers were “hurriedly” engaged and they were to be paid “almost $17 million for doing nothing”.

But it turned out that Malami had actually saved the country millions in dollars by engaging Nigerian lawyers instead of foreign lawyers who had insisted on collecting 20 percent of the recovered loot.

It is a testimony to the professionalism of the AGF that he had refrained from disparaging the media on accounts of such wanton publications of falsehood and half-truths. It must also be a thing of bitter regrets for his adversaries that President Muhammadu Buhari still thinks Malami is doing a good job as the Attorney General of the Federation.

The president is not daft; he’s not stupid and he’s not unaware of what goes on in the government he heads. He knows, perhaps, more than many that forces of darkness are always at arms with good intention.

– Ekwueme wrote from Lagos




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