On Thursday July 28, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, AbubakarMalami, SAN, was quoted in a statement from the Nigerian presidency as calling on the Nigerian judiciary to “open the books to enable both sides see the depth of the decay and know how far to go in putting in place the necessary remedial measures.”
He was asking the judiciary to subject its financial accounts to scrutiny by the executive arm, before more funding could be provided. His choice of words, particularly the clincher, “depth of the decay”, speaks to his conviction that the judiciary, which is his primary constituency, is fetid. Ordinarily, the Chief Law Officer, should be garlanded for speaking out and against his own, though he is currently answerable to the executive leadership.
Malami, according to the statement, signed by GarbaShehu, joined the President in receiving the embattled chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief WoleOlanipekun, SAN and his team, lobbying the General, to increase judges’ salaries and ensure better welfare package for them. Olanipekun’s team, returned from the trip, celebrating a presidential commitment, but the Aso Rock statement, which deliberately included the Attorney General’s challenge and accusation as the last line, is the real outcome of the meeting, for the discerning.
Malami, possibly doubled down on his “dragging” of the judiciary right before his principal, for special effect, because it wasn’t the first time, he would be calling out his own, in the justice sector, for being allegedly opaque in their financial dealings.
On January 26, at the 2022 Justice Sector Reform Summit in Abuja, he publicly whopped the Judiciary for operating like a secret cult on money matter. Leaders of the system, were front row attendees at the event. Malami’s accountability battle-cry against the system, was picked by other stakeholders and there was a rumble against the judiciary at the event.
The leadership of former CJN TankoMuhammed tried fighting back, but it seems mere words would not placate either Malami or his principal. Six months after, the allegation is back on the front burner.
In my younger days, street wrestling was common in Ilesa. When you were certain of eclipsing a foe, you would be the first to draw the battle line, then dare with “koba je baba re lo bi o, kojaila a (cross this line if you are a true born.) And it would not matter whether it was your home turf or you had taken the battle to his doorstep, far away from your father’s homestead. In giddy moments, real tough boys would even attempt dragging their opponents out of their homes, when the latter would want to avoid fighting, not necessarily out of fear of engaging or being beaten, but just for a semblance of harmonious co-existence, to prevail.
Normally, most of the aggressors in situations that I witnessed, read such restrain as cowardice and kept pressing against wise counsel, only to return disgraced. I could recall about three or four of such scenarios but would not want to reopen old wounds, because even without mentioning names, those involved, would know straightaway Lanre was telling their stories, including when they were the underdogs who caused upsets. Ijesa will describe unexpected victories as “Olorungbogofole” (God has helped the weak). Somehow, a couple of my childhood friends and yesteryear neighbours get to read this column and past feedbacks, have shown the Ilesa years, hold special memories for all. Won’t want to sullen that.
When you consistently dare, there is every likelihood you have the keys to the soft underbelly of your opponent. An average Attorney General of a country in a structured democracy, is very powerful. Considering that Nigeria’s constitutional democracy, in principle, was structured after America’s, the office of the AGF, just like its DOJ counterpart in the US, supervises nearly all the investigative bodies in the country. It could do a lot without a noise. It needs no gallery ballet to fight corruption. All anti-corruption agencies report to the occupant of the office. If I were President MuhammaduBuhari, I would have queried Malami, at least verbally, on what he’s got done, about the alleged mismanagement of funds in the Judiciary, between January 26 when he first publicly raised the alarm and July 28, when he was repeating the lines he seemed to have deliberately crafted, to counter the popular and persistent call for better funding of the judiciary. But the President seems to have made up his mind to be demanding accountability everywhere except from his appointees, especially close allies, like the minister. He would rather blame other arms of government, opposition or fifth columnists. This is understandable. The President doesn’t like being held accountable for anything that goes wrong. There must be a fall guy somewhere, to carry the can. He is just extending the “grace” to his own.
Interestingly, those who do not want to be accountable, are always demanding accountability everywhere, though this is not a defence for the judiciary not to be accountable. When judicial officers, sit in judgement over mortal like them, what they are demanding is accountability to the law of the land. So, what about everyone coming to equity with clean hands.
Malami controls critical agencies. Why the market square approach to demanding accountability from judiciary? The question to ask him, is if the agencies under him, which have the powers to scrutinize the books of the judiciary, had demanded for them and were refused. If so, what did he instruct the agencies to do, to compel compliance? Was he not the AGF when EFCC agents and policemen stormed and sealed the office of the CJN in the Supreme Court, when every tactic was being deployed to humiliate Walter Onnoghen out of office?, Why is he suddenly sounding helpless, while obviously trying to mobilise public opinion against the judiciary, without putting pieces of evidence forward that earlier requests to have the books scrutinized, were rebuffed. At least, before you can accuse someone of hiding something, there must have been a rejected request to hand it over.
Somehow, there is a detectable tinge of wilfulness in how the AGF is conducting his war against corruption in the judiciary that puts a question mark on the altruism that fight against alleged sleaze, usually attracts. His latest outing suggests he has been deliberate in picking spots to throw rocky stones at judiciary’s glass house, seeking rats he could pick up in open gutters. On Malami’s watch, a sitting CJN was suspended, put on trial and forced out. Judiciary didn’t stop him. On his watch, judges’ homes, were raided and some arrested. He got the “books” to prosecute them. Judiciary, still, couldn’t stop him. Suddenly, such a powerful fellow is resorting to public opinion and Aso Rock effect, to fight his battles, against the same judiciary he used to “fix” anyhow. Something is definitely fishy somewhere and the applause should pause for the minister, for Nigerians to better understand what is going on between Malami and the judiciary. Subterfuge may be an art of war, but not of, and for decent governance, except what is going on, is a personal and personalized war, packaged as a salvation message.
(To be concluded).
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