The common saying that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” seems to be the lot of Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. A man with a cultured disposition and one that is not enamoured by the attractions of high office, Mr. Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria has been in the saddle for over 5 years, but his fight against corruption in public offices has recently earned him the wrath of some jittery kleptomaniacs who see Government as an avenue for self-enrichment rather than a tool for the public good.
Due to his determination to recover Nigeria’s looted funds, some vested interests, and even fraudsters are now heaping insults and false accusations against him, all in a bid to break his will in continuing the fight. Nonetheless, Abubakar Malami remains unshaken in his assigned task, as his love for country and loyalty to President Buhari’s anti-corruption fight is unequivocal and unquestionable. His legal acumen helped Nigeria recover huge sums stashed in both local and foreign banks. One of such humongous recoveries is the repatriation of $311 million looted by Sani Abacha from the United States.
The effort he has so far invested in the recovery of looted funds should not be wasted on the altar of frivolous allegations and blackmail. Under Malami’s watch, Nigeria today has no known political prisoner and for the first time since 1999. Gone were the days of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. The landmark political reforms the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has achieved cannot be divorced from the legal dexterity and huge inputs and initiative of AGF Malami’s Office. Gradually, we are witnessing the recalibration of our justice system from the era of democratic impunity to one that is transparent and adheres strictly to the rule of law.
In these trying times of the nation’s history, we owe it a duty to ensure that well-meaning government officials like the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami are given the necessary support to realise the objective of ridding our country of corruption.
In spite of these achievements, Malami has refused to blow his own trumpet, rather he has chosen to maintain a dignifying silence, just as his principal-Buhari- and hoping that history would vindicate him. As a consummate lawyer, he has been in the vanguard of the advocacy for good governance and integrity in governance and it is too late in the day to distract him from those lofty goals. One can only implore him not to lose focus but devote his time and energy in ensuring that the cankerworm of corruption and dishonesty are eliminated from the Justice sector and the entire public service sector.
Malami and his reforms in the justice sector
The exhaustive and daunting task of serving as the Chief Law Officer, in a nation like Nigeria is very diverse, complex and enormous. Despite these adjectives used to qualify the task before him, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) was not fazed and set out to reform the Justice sector as soon as his tenure commenced in November 2015.
During this period, Malami worked on several justice reforms in a bid to ensure that he left Nigeria’s justice system better than he met it.
One of such landmark reforms was the launch of the document called the National Judicial Policy (NJP), which points the nation’s direction in justice administration, particularly as it relates to criminal justice.
Furthermore, besides preparing and reviewing of court processes, and representing the Federal Government in litigation, the Federal Ministry of Justice, under Malami also designed a broad policy framework aimed at improving the judicial process and enhanced citizens’ access to justice. Activities undertaken in this sphere includes the assessment of criminal cases that were being prosecuted by lay police prosecutors before the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015; the establishment of Justice Sector Reform Committees (JSRC) in about 26 states and the provision of sentencing guidelines for judges.
Under Malami, the Justice Ministry also established a Virtual Automated Case Management System (VACMS) which was intended to integrate prosecution data with the existing Prison Information Management System (PIMS) by incorporating an integrated biometrics prisoners information technology to fast track prison decongestion in Nigeria.
In an interview, Malami was optimistic that the VACMS project “will bring a holistic improvement in the efficiency of the entire justice sector through transparency in detentions, investigations, clarity in prison operations, proper arraignment and speedy discharge of justice.
He further added that the VACMS project will bring about transparency in the prison population at a glance, prevent the incidence of “ghost prisoners” and help the government to accurately budget annually’’.
These innovative approaches and reforms are what the Nigerian Justice system has been crying out for since 1999 with other Justice Ministers turning a blind eye to the plight of the system. Malami’s name will surely be etched in gold when the scorecard of the Justice system that has since appeared to fail Nigerians will be prepared.
Recovering Nigeria’s looted funds: The Malami approach and the successes recorded
A lot has been said about the volume of looted funds stuck outside the shores of Nigeria with a little fraction being repatriated over time. This was the task before Abubakar Malami (SAN) as he was well aware of the attention these funds have garnered over time. He quickly set out to ensure that the commonwealth of the Nation was not left in the hands of foreign nations. As soon as he was sworn in, Malami took the task like a duck to water and has impressed Nigerians with what he has achieved till date.
In a bid to recover these funds, Malami ensured he fostered positive collaboration with foreign partners in a bid to effectively recover our commonwealth through the Asset Recovery and Management Unit (ARMU) of the Ministry of Justice. He also ensured international and national cooperation in the recovery of stolen assets, Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiatives (which are directed at ensuring transparency in the management of government’s affairs) and reforms of anti-corruption policy and electoral law.
Under his watch, the Federal Ministry of Justice released the National Anti-Corruption Strategy Framework (NACSF) for collaboration by all the relevant agencies which revolves around five pillars, to include – prevention of corruption, public enlightenment, campaign for ethical re-orientation, enforcement and sanctions/recovery of proceeds of corruption.
The NACSF was designed to identify and close existing gaps in the anti-corruption initiatives inherited by the administration and emphasise the institutionalisation of result-based systems and structures as well as appropriate incentives for increasing and sustaining citizens-driven anti-corruption crusade.
NACSF was equally directed at ensuring the effective implementation of preventive anti-corruption policies such as the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Bank Verification Number (BVN), enhanced application of the Code of Conduct legislation and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), some of which the administration inherited.
In coordinating the implementation of the Asset Recovery Campaign of the Federal Government, Malami worked with anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement and security agencies in the recovery of public funds stolen domestically and those transferred to offshore while his efforts led to increased international engagement with more than seven countries: the United Kingdom, United States of America, Switzerland, France, Italy, Island of Jersey and United Arab Emirate (UAE).
Malami was also instrumental in the repatriation of $321 million Abacha loot; the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between World Bank, Nigeria and Switzerland for the early return and transparent management of $322.5m stolen assets from Switzerland, which has since been repatriated back to Nigeria and is now being managed by the National Social Investment Office under the supervision of the World Bank.
Abubakar Malami’s immense contributions cannot be overemphasized. His ilk is what is needed if Nigeria is to regain its pillar and giant of Africa.