What is the duty of the attorney general of the federation (AGF)? The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended listed the duties of the AGF on 174(1) as follows; “The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power –(a) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly; (b) to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person, and (c) to discontinue at any stage before judgement is delivered any such criminal proceedings institute or undertaken by him or any other authority or person. (2) The powers conferred upon the Attorney-General of the Federation under subsection (1) of this section may be exercised by him in person or through officers of his department. (3) In exercising his powers under this section, the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.” The power of the attorney general of the federation is huge; that is why if not properly handled could lead to abuse. Little wonder, that since the return of democracy in 1999, the attorney generals of the federation from Michael Aondoakaa, to Mohammed Adoke had left office trailed by controversies. Recently, the attorney general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was in the news that had left many Nigerians scratching their heads, asking, what is going on?
In late October the news media was awash with the report that some security agents invaded the Abuja residence of the supreme court justice Mary Odili, the wife of Peter Odili, the former governor of Rivers State. The security operatives, who were made up of soldiers and officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), among others reportedly identified themselves as members of a joint task force. The security operatives, reportedly said they received information on “illegal activities” going on in the house. It was gathered that the security team on the ground in the house, comprising men of the State Security Service (SSS) and the police, turned back the visitin security agents, having not been convinced by the reason given as to why they were in the house. Although it was initially thought to be a joint operation by men of the SSS and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the two organisations distanced officials from the incidence. This was interpreted by many Nigerians as another attempt to muscle the judiciary. The dastardly act was later denied by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, insisting that investigation would unravel the culprits. Malami’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, said the ministry or the AGF “is not involved in any way”. However, when the police paraded the alleged culprits it left many questions unanswered.
Parading the suspects, police spokesman, CP Frank Mba, revealed that the alleged perpetrators consisted of persons drawn from the police, military, journalism, civil service, and the legal profession. He disclosed that seven of the suspects, including two soldiers, were at large, even as he vowed that all suspects at large would be apprehended. Mba described the leader of the illegal operation as fake Chief Superintendent of Police Lawrence Ajodo. According to him, the suspects were loose canons and document forgers running their criminal enterprises and had not been hired by any personnel from the Ministry of Justice.
Another twist to the matter was the claim by one of the culprits that he was a consultant to the office of the AGF. The attorney-general of the federation distanced himself from the confessions of the suspect and called on the suspect to produce evidence of contractual agreement between them, the terms of references for the alleged consultancy service and when he was engaged. The special assistant to Malami on media and public relations, Dr. Umar Gwandu, made this known in a statement issued in Abuja.
Also, recently the 36 state governors under the aegis of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) have had cause to question the AGF’s patriotism.
The governors claimed that the AGF was working against public’s interest by insisting on the payment of $418 million to private consultants from the accounts of state governments. The consultants are claiming a percentage of Paris Club refunds as payment of services they said they rendered to the states and local government. The federal government had determined to pay the consultants from state accounts but a Federal High Court restrained it from making such deductions until all issues relating to that matter were fully determined. In a statement signed by the spokesman of the office of the attorney-general of the federation, Umar Gwandu, the AGF suggested that the states and local governments had acted in bad faith for taking the case to court. The deductions were ratified by several court judgements, the AGF said, and the federal government only had to step in to avoid forfeiting any of its assets, since it was also a defendant in the lawsuits against the states.
But the NGF, in a statement signed by its spokesperson Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said the AGF’s actions “raises questions of propriety and the spirit of justice.”
“The HAGF is supposed to be the chief arbiter in all matters concerning Nigerians, especially the poor masses of this country. It is incumbent upon him to, not just ensure that justice is done, but that justice is seen to have been done,” the statement said.
“The undue haste, with which the statement was issued even before the service on the AGF of the court processes and the order dated 5th November, 2021restraining the Federal Government, seems to suggest that there is a special relationship between the Office of the HAGF and the consultants over and above Nigerian citizens, whose interest the HAGF as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation is statutorily bound to always protect.”
Also, quite recently, the AGF’s name came up for scrutiny when it was alleged that he issued a directive that a part of the $136 million belonging to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should be paid in naira equivalent. The claim was made by Keystone Bank. The bank made this revelation during a hearing of the Ad-hoc Committee on Assessment and Status of all recovered loots, Movable and Immovable Assets, covering loots and assets from 2002 to 2020 by agencies of the federal government.
Malami, who had established that a total of $136,676,600.51 was to be paid to NNPC, directed that 96 million be paid in dollars, while 40 million should be paid in naira. “Out of this entire amount, we paid $96 million in United States dollars and we paid the equivalent of $40 million in naira,” according to Lawal Ahmed, the Executive Director, North and Public Sector Directorate, Keystone Bank. He also said that Malami recommended the exchange rate at N305 to a dollar. Many Nigerians are still processing this incident and also wondering, what is going on!
Not many Nigerians would forget how the AGF equated motor spare parts sellers across the country with killer herders that had been terrorizing farmers in Nigeria, for which he drew a lot of flaks. The office of the AGF is a sacred position, and like Caesar’s wife, should be above board. And also above suspicion!
A former Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the Bill Clinton administration, Jamie Gorelick, describing the qualities of a good attorney general said the primary responsibility of the attorney general is to be the voice for the rule of law, and to ensure both the effective and impartial enforcement of the law, and advise the president and the rest of his administration on the ways in which the actions that they take can conform to law and policy and the Constitution. That is the type of attorney general, Nigerians want Malami to be!