Not many who listened to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami during a press briefing after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday would get the message. Malami disclosed to State House correspondents that the FEC had approved the payment of N500million professional fees to lawyers engaged by the Federal Government to defend it in the case instituted by the telecom giant MTN.
The FG had imposed a penalty of over N1 trillion on MTN for some regulatory breaches. But MTN went to court to restrain the FG from recovering the money. The FG consequently had to engage lawyers to defend it. Malami said N500 million was approved for payment to the lawyers as professional fees.
The fees certainly look huge. But the AGF was quick to add that the amount represents less than one percent of the money to be recovered. The revelation is that instead of paying five percent as professional fees, which is the internationally acceptable standard, the FG shrewdly negotiated to pay only one percent as professional fee.
What this means is that the government had saved a huge amount of money which could have otherwise gone into some private pockets. But what this demonstrates, more than anything else, is that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is transparent, accountable and prudent. And for spearheading the process, the AGF deserves some commendation for his professionalism, integrity and patriotism.
A similar commitment to the country was demonstrated in the negotiations for the eventual repatriation of the $322 million stolen by the late Sani Abacha and domiciled in Switzerland. The AGF had engaged two Nigerian lawyers with international legal expertise to conclude the process of repatriation of the loot. Some self -motivated critics had alleged at the time that Malami gave job to his boys for personal benefit. But in actual fact, the action saved Nigerian millions of dollars.
The foreign lawyers initially handling the transactions were requesting for 20 percent of the loot as professional fees. But the Nigerian lawyers were prepared to accept five percent to deliver the same service. The lawyers were engaged and they eventually pushed the process to the end with the repatriation of the $332 million Abacha loot to Nigeria last month.
Malami’s doggedness and commitment to bringing back funds stolen from the country is extra0rdinary. Working quietly but sure-footedly like his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari Buhari, the AGF is delivering results in such quick succession like a man racing against time. It is as if he thinks time is running for the country and every stolen kobo would be valuable asset to bringing the country back on the path of economic prosperity.
Last Wednesday Malami also revealed that Nigeria had engaged countries like the UK, US, France and others in further negotiations relating to repatriation of looted funds. He said the negotiations have produced a fruitful outcome in the form of another $500 million looted funds agreed for repatriation soon. He said “… we are almost concluding the processes relating to the repatriation of additional $500 million.”
It is amazing how Malami manages to work under the radar and achieves such monumental results. His self-effacing strategy is perhaps the reason why some of his critics portray him as ineffective. Some have even suggested he was working against the anti-corruption fight of Buhari administration without providing any evidence.
A case in point is the FGN vs MTN case when some critics accused him of cutting a deal with the telecom company after pocketing some hefty bribe money. But the AGF’s disclosure last Wednesday must make such critics hide their faces in shame. Now we know that the FG never wavered in pursuit of retribution against MTN, but that the company sued the government to get it to back off. And that the government had to hire lawyers to ensure MTN never gets the chance to escape paying the over N1 trillion fine.In the end, MTN capitulated and decided to settle out of court.
The AGF seemed to be all about the money, always seeking pragmatic ways of recovering Nigeria’s looted funds, even if it means cutting a deal with the devil, as the Maina case suggested. But when you are the type that loves to get results as quickly as possible, and you are also self-effacing as Malami, you are likely to get into trouble so often.
The way he got into trouble when he was deliberately mis-represented in the controversy surrounding the alleged recall of the former Chairman of Pension Reform Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina. The House of Reps last October conducted a public hearing on the circumstances surrounding his recall and re-instatement and appointed an ad-hoc committee led by Aliyu Sani Madaki, an APC legislator from Kano to do the job.
Malami’s alleged meetings with Maina were misconstrued as plot to smuggled the fugitive back into the civil service and help him escape justice. But as Malami himself explained during the hearing on the matter, the AGF was perhaps too eager to recover stolen money for Nigeria that he cared less about possible mis-interpretation of his actions.
Expectedly, the committee turned in a jaundiced report that immediately became controversial. The committee’s report made it obvious that someone had an axe or two to grind with the AGF. Contrary to legislative norms, the committee turned itself into a judicial body and pronounced that Maina’s reinstatement was “fraudulently masterminded” by Malami.
And the committee’s only evidence was that the AGF met with Maina in Dubai knowing full well that the ex-pension task force boss was a wanted person. Curiously, the committee acknowledged in in its report that Malami admitted that the ex-pension chief was part of a ‘pension syndicate’ that fed fat on pension fund, yet it accused him of fraudulent intentions.
There is no doubt that Malami would rank among the most successful AGFs this country has ever had if such assessment is based on achievements. Since the Buhari administration was inaugurated in 2015, scores of impactful executive bills have been passed and signed into law. The anti-corruption fight has never been as comprehensive and far reaching as now.
Ashiru wrote this piece from Abuja.