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Abubakar Malami (SAN): An Inventive Chief Law Officer or Arrogant Partisan?

Posted: Jul 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Not until Wednesday July 13 when he appeared before the Senate Committee sitting over his matter, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), had serially failed to honor the parliament’s invitation for him to defend the role he played in respect of the case of forgery instituted against the Senate leadership by his office. This development has given rise to questions as to whether the man is simply an arrogant partisan or a surefooted senior counsel who knows the law, writes STEPHEN UBIMAGO in this piece…

To say there is no love lost between the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the leadership of the National Assembly is to state the obvious.

For the legislators, the AGF has been carrying on as though constitutionally superior to them, having repeatedly defied their authority in failing to honour their invitation to appear before them, first, in April following his intervention in the Kogi State House of Assembly crisis, which the parliament saw as a rude executive review of their own earlier intervention in resolving the crisis.

Secondly, until just this Wednesday, the AGF refused to honour the invitation of the legislators to appear before them and answer questions as to whether or not the criminal charge of forgery, which his office brought against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, was informed by partisan considerations.

Regarding the Kogi House of Assembly crisis that arose from the fact that on December 10, last year, the Speaker, Honorable Momoh Jimoh-Lawal, and other principal officers of the House were purportedly sacked vide an impeachment hearing effectuated by five out of a 20-member house, the National Assembly had ordered the police to seal off the House to forestall any further ferment of the crisis.

According to the Senate, the move was pursuant to section 11 (4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution, which empowers the National Assembly to take on the task of administering the legislative business of any state in the federation where it had become impossible owing to extenuating circumstances in the affected state.

Then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Solomon Arase is said to have obeyed the Senate order to seal off the House, while however stressing that his compliance was subject to the advice of the AGF on the Kogi House matter.

Against the backdrop of the AGF’s intervention, the IGP would order the unsealing of the House, which earlier had been sealed off on the Senate’s orders.

This, the Senate read as an impudent review of its action by the AGF, maintaining that Malami overreached himself and acted ultra vires, since it was only the judiciary that had the constitutional power to review its legitimate action; not the executive.

But according to the AGF, the said section 11 (4 – 5), which the legislators referred to as granting them the authority to make the order, had not been given the right interpretation by the duistriguished parliamentarians.

He maintained that the said s. 11 (4) in reference speaks of “prevailing situation in the STATE,” not in the HOUSE, maintaining there is no unsettling or crisis situation in Kogi State then to warrant the sealing off of the House, although it may be said that the House had been thrown into some crisis due to the purported impeachment of the Speaker and others, hence his order that it should be unsealed.

Thus, for daring to review the Senate order, the miffed legislators went on to invite the Attorney General to appear before them for questioning.

They cited section 89 (1) of the Constitution which enables them to summon at will whomsoever within the Nigerian territory.

The said s. 89 (1) (c) states: “For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitutional and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to….(c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place….”

The point to note however is that regardless, the Minister of Justice failed to show up before the Senate to be questioned over his seeming impudence.

And before long, Mr. Malami was in another confrontation with the Senate, which this time around is hell-bent on a reprisal that would bring the man to his knees.

He must be made to account for why he ordered the police to investigate the Senate leadership over the case of forgery in respect of the Senate Standing Rule. He must also account for why he ordered them to report back to him, following which his office proceeded to file a two-count forgery charge against them.

Explaining the position of the Senate in this regard, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, in a statement said Malami has a “personal and pecuniary interest in the case.”

He explained that ever before the man was appointed minister, he was counsel to the aggrieved Senators who have been nursing the injury of Saraki’s and Ekweremadu’s emergence as President and Deputy President of the Senate respectively instead of them.

The Senator accused Malami of being “the one who advised his clients to report the matter to the Police and now that he has become AGF, he decided to use his constitutional powers to pursue private interest by filing a criminal case in the FCT High Court against the subsisting ruling of a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction.”

He further explained that “When the Senate invited the AGF to come and throw light on the forgery case, it was not to challenge his right to file, take over or discontinue any criminal case but for him to explain the issues of conflict of interest, abuse of office, disrespect of a subsisting order of a court and violation of the principle of Separation of Powers which are being raised against him.

“An Attorney General and indeed any public officer for whose office public funds are appropriated can be invited by the Senate and the House of Representatives to explain certain issues. That is in spite of the fact that the AGF is responsible to the President who appointed him.

“It should be noted that Malami’s name is still on the list of lawyers defending Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi and others in the Federal High Court.”

He added, “We invite all Nigerians, including those shouting over whether it was right for the Senate to invite the AGF or not, to read the ruling of Justice Kolawole and conclude whether Malami is still fit to be AGF in a government which canvasses change and rule of law.”

Owing to his consistent snub of the Senate, the legislators Tuesday threatened to issue a warrant of arrest on Mr. Malami should he still fail to appear before them at their next sitting.

The threat was not redundant after-all, as Malami would quickly redeem himself when the next day, Wednesday, and quite unexpectedly, he showed up to answer the Senate.

In his defense, Malami explained that he could not honor the Committee’s last invitation, saying, “My inability to attend was out of sheer circumstances not out of disgust for Senate. I am known for a tradition of honouring invitations.”

This however is not the first time Malami would be accused of partisanship ever since his appointment as AGF by President Muhammadu Buhari last November.

Following the sudden demise of Prince Abubakar Audu, late governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last November 21 gubernatorial election in Kogi State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared the election inconclusive, although Audu had tentatively won it in view of the results, which hitherto had been declared by the electoral umpire.

A seeming constitutional impasse had thereby ensued with the development for which INEC had invited Malami to volunteer an advice going forward.

The AGF’s advise simply came down to this: Pursuant to s. 32 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, APC should substitute the first runner up in the APC primary for the dead Audu, hence the victory won by the joint ticket of Audu and James Faleke should be delivered to Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who did not contest in the election.

Indeed, not a few Nigeria were disturbed by the tenor and reasoning that informed the AGF’s advice and by the fact that it tended to condition willy-nilly INEC’s subsequent actions as the answer for the impasse engendered by Audu’s sudden departure in the middle of an election.

Many saw INEC’s unquestioning, pliant reception of Malami’s advice as not just cynical but the abdication of its independence, since the electoral umpire was equipped with a legal department peopled with competent counsels whose brains could be picked for the job; just as much as it was also at liberty to pursue the advice of independent legal experts not beholden to the whims of the presidency.

Worthy of note is that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not allow the development to enure without a critical response.

The party, in this regard, lampooned the AGF and INEC for seemingly working in cahoots to gratify certain vested interest.

Embattled national publicity secretary of the PDP, Chief olisa Metuh, had noted, then, in a statement: “The party is shocked that INEC, a supposedly independent electoral umpire, could allow itself to succumb to the antics of the APC by following the unlawful directive of an obviously partisan AGF to substitute a candidate in the middle of the ballot process.

“We are all aware that the two legal documents guiding INEC in the conduct of elections, the Constitution and the Electoral Act, have provisions for electoral exigencies as well as empower the electoral body to fully take responsibility for any of its actions or inaction without undue interference from any quarters whatsoever.”

He added, “We are therefore at a loss as to which sections of these two relevant laws, INEC and the AGF relied on in arriving at their bizarre decision to substitute a dead candidate in an on-going election even after the timelines for such has elapsed under all the rules.”

Born on 17th April 1967 in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, to the late Hon. Khadi Malami Nasarawa and his wife Halima Malami, the AGF attended the College of Legal And Islamic Studies, Sokoto between 1984 and 1992 after which he was admitted to study Law at the Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto from 1987 – 1991.

Having bagged his Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) at the Dan Fodio University, Malami was admitted at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos and was called to bar in 1992.

He also obtained a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of Maiduguri in 1994 and was admitted to the inner bar as senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2008.