The Buhari administration makes no pretence about its determination to eradicate corruption, a top priority on the change agenda. The law is undoubtedly instrumental in achieving the desired change.
May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi engaged the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN on this recurring subject. The Chief Law Officer of the Federation discussed his agenda and top priorities as Attorney General of the Federation including his resolve to approach the war against corruption holistically.
You have come into the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation at a challenging time for the Government considering its immediate position on certain national issues and as the spearhead of the prosecution of corruption in a Government that is defined by the fight against corruption. What are your immediate priorities for your first 100 days?
I must start by thanking you for this opportunity. As you are aware, we assumed office on the 12th November, 2015 and since then, we have hit the ground running. In response to your question, I agree with you that it is a challenging time for us as a nation. However, the fact that the current government has the political will and capacity to wage a frontal confrontation against corruption and other national challenges confronting us as a nation is not in doubt.
In terms of my priorities for my first 100 days in office, I must state clearly that my priorities cannot be divorced from the priorities of the Federal Government which are: restoration of national security, stabilisation of the economy and waging a total war against corruption.
Having said that, my top priorities as Attorney General of the Federation of this great country is to lay a solid foundation for a sustainable reform of the justice sector where rule of law takes pre – eminence over and above the rule of man. It is important for us as a government to let every Nigerian know that we are not in a Hobbesian State of Nature when people rule according to the dictates of their minds as opposed to the dictates of the laws.
In the heart of the aforementioned priorities of the government lies the need for enthronement of justice, fairness, sincerity of purpose, patriotism and fair play either in our dealings with fellow Nigerians or in our dealings with the government, her resources and assets. In this regards, and particularly in order to ensure that every citizen of this country, no matter how highly placed, accounts for his/her actions and inactions, my office is seriously working on the composition and inauguration of a NATIONAL LITIGATION TEAM (“NLT”) within the next few days to serve/act as a one – stop shop of seasoned, tested, trusted, focused, determined and patriotic Investigators and Prosecutors to rigorously coordinate and handle the investigation and prosecution of high profile cases of corruption, terrorism and general insecurity in Nigeria.
How does that fit into your wider agenda for the next 4 years? What are the achievable goals and milestones that should be expected from the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation?
Flowing from the priorities stated above, we must bear in mind that reform is a continuous exercise and as long as society exists, reforms will always be required in order to bring an existing system in line with contemporary trends. The idea of the reform is to ensure that what we do as a government is at par with what obtains in the best democracies in the world.
As Attorney General of the Federation and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who is trained in the fine art of legal philosophy and jurisprudence, I see law as a tool for national development and social engineering. However, our law and justice system has not been able to achieve much in this regard due to so many factors which include but not limited to the following factors:
i. Outdated and obsolete laws that are out of tune with modern trends and realities.
ii. Prolonged delay in our criminal justice system.
iii. Corruption and compromises in the conduct of judicial proceedings, in the judiciary and at the Bar.
iv. Inexplicable congestion of courts with cases due partly to the ‘long hand’ recording of proceedings, and the deliberate desire of some prosecution and defence counsel to frustrate trials for their selfish motives.
v. inadequate infrastructure
The nation is in critical need of modern legislation that are in line with changes and development of the modern times and for this administration to achieve real and sustainable economic growth and development, a modern and effective justice administration system is paramount and key. It is the aim of this administration to:
i. Identify areas that require reform or improvement in our laws so as to keep them up-to-date with modern realities.
ii. Promote compliance with the ACJA 2015 which of course has brought some improvement to our criminal justice system. Notwithstanding this, this administration will look into other areas to improve on other relevant laws.
iii. Collaborating with the judiciary and Bar on how best to sanitise the system from corruption by way of self – cleansing so that the institutions would be able to discharge their constitutional duties as the last hope of the common man.
iv. Demonstration of commitment to make justice accessible to every citizen as exemplified by Mr. President when he recently appointed 30 more judges in order to reduce the congestion and heavy case load in our courts.
To cap it all, the Office of the AGF is set to bring about a great improvement in the administration of justice system in order to alleviate delay and improve the judicial process of our country for overall economic wellbeing of the nation.
The demise of the APC gubernatorial candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu and the fact that INEC declared the election inconclusive has led to a legal and constitutional controversy. Can you give some insight into resolving this legal debacle?
I must say that the matter to which your question relates is subjudice. It is a subject matter of an on – going litigation and to this extent, I do not intend to comment on it. Frankly speaking, as the Chief Law Officer of this great country, I should not be seen descending into the arena when a matter is pending before the court. The reason for my position is because of the respect I have for the institution.
The Supreme Court has ruled that section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 does not prevent it (and therefore other Superior Courts of record) from making an Order for Stay of Proceedings in a Criminal prosecution. What does this mean for this Administration’s prosecution of criminal matters which section 306 attempted to abridge by preventing interruptions by way of Orders for Stay of Proceedings? Is there an alternative to the status quo?
The recent presentation on Section 306 refers.
Whether in Civil or Criminal matters, the administration of justice in Nigeria is beleaguered by a slow and unresponsive court litigation system, and an outmoded justice delivery system – much has been said about the absence of basic recording technology or an effective case management. As Minister of Justice, what is your plan for reforming the justice sector?
In addition to the reforms stated above, I am aware that urgent reforms are required in the justice sector if we must meet the international best standards. The areas requiring urgent reforms include but not limited to:
i. Promoting restorative justice
ii. Pursuit of an era of aggressive prison decongestion
iii. Promotion of a mutually beneficial legal assistance.
iv. Training the Judges, Lawyers, Prosecutors and stakeholders in the justice sector on some technical areas of law particularly on the appreciation and significance of admission of electronically-generated evidence in a world already dominated by technology.
v. Evolving a reform to encourage day-to-day trial. This practice was adopted in the trial of Mr. Conrad Murray, the man prosecuted for the death of Michael Jackson.
vi. Giving full effect to Section 306 of ACJA in respect of interlocutory appeals
vii. Enthroning an era of digital recording of court proceedings.
viii. Adopting a “Lobby Approach” as it is done in the U.S to ensure quick passage of necessary enabling laws to enhance administration of justice.
ix. The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation will collaborate with the judiciary, the NBA, Civil Society groups and other stakeholders to devise innovative measures for improving access to justice and respect for the rule of law.
x. Ensuring that the nation’s anti-graft agencies are well mobilised, coordinated, motivated and sufficiently funded to achieve their statutory mandates.
xi. Putting in place formidable mechanisms to ensure security and attendance of witnesses in courts as they are often reluctant to come forward to give evidence because of lack of logistics provision and protection for them.
xii. Pursuing amendment of the Electoral Act and other laws in order to empower INEC and other similar bodies to blacklist perpetrators of serious offences. Unless there is some form of censure for offences, illegal behaviour will continue to taint our national life.
xiii. The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation is poised to take a proactive step to galvanise the State Governments towards making laws that are in tandem with the provision of ACJA as done by Lagos State.
xiv. Setting up a Committee on Justice Reform (CJR)
xv. Setting up a National Prosecuting Team to handle high profile cases of corruption.
xvi. Prompt passage of Proceeds of Crimes Bill and Mutual Legal Assistance Bill. POC Bill focuses on recovering illegally acquired property through forfeiture, confiscation or civil recovery. It also provides the powers to seize, freeze, and restrain criminals from dealing with their ill – gotten assets. It allows for a Central agency to be set up under the law with powers to seize, manage and restrain criminals from having access to confiscated proceeds of crimes.
No doubt very high up in your priorities is the prosecution against former National Security Adviser, Retired Col. Sambo Dasuki. Indeed the Washington Times article “Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari Dupes US” makes this issue greatly pressing because of allegations of the President’s own impropriety in the matter. Without disclosing issues that cannot be discussed because of the litigation, please clarity the Government’s position on this matter. Is the Governmentrefusing to give effect to the Court’s order for the ex NSA’s bail based on Executive Prerogative under National Security?
It is wrong to single out any particular case as being very ‘high up”. The Dasuki’s case you mentioned is just one of the several high profile cases we are dealing with. The statistics on the cases involving those facing trials for reckless abuse of their offices is high. While some have been charged, investigation is on – going in respect of several others. The truth is that war against corruption is total, holistic, apolitical and NOT targeted against any person or group of persons. Like the President had stated on numerous occasions, the government is not against any person as an individual but as a government built on patriotism and honesty, we must ensure that people face the consequences of their actions and inactions. Before now, Nigerians were bored and frustrated that the fight against corruption was only fought in the media but this government is committed to pursue to a logical conclusion all cases involving corruption through the instrumentality of the courts. In responding to your question bothering on giving effect to the court order on ex NSA, I wish to reiterate my earlier position as contained in my first media briefing.
Another key focus of this Administration is the strengthening the Economy and attracting Foreign Direct Investment plays an integral role in doing that. You have been vocal about the importance of improving Nigeria’s “Ease of Doing Business”. How do you intend to execute this and make Nigeria an attractive investment destination?
As said earlier, part of the agenda of the current administration is to stabilise the economy and we know that in order to achieve this feat, the economy has to be diversified and foreign direct investment greatly encouraged. On our part, it is important that we make the business environment safe for profitable investment by putting in place the necessary infrastructure, enact investment – friendly legislations and give good incentives to genuine businesses. I want to be remembered as the Attorney General of the Federation who used law as a tool for national cohesion, national security, sustainable development and growth of his country. To this end, we intend to improve the economy by:
i. Putting in place good tax policies
ii. Promoting transparency, accountability and probity in governance
iii. Ensuring that citizens account for their actions and inactions
iv. Enacting investment – driven legislations
v. Diversifying from a mono – economy into a broad economy
vi. Investing in education to raise literacy level e.t.c
What is your approach to communicating the progress of prosecutions as part of establishing consequences for corruption in the hearts and minds of Nigerians?
As a public officer who runs an open door policy, you can be rest assured that I will keep Nigerians informed of the progress and development in these cases.
Plea Bargaining is a controversial procedure that has attracted considerable and perhaps somewhat undue criticism because of a gap in the perception of justice in our society and what happens in most prominent prosecutions for graft and stealing. Is it not the case that the Plea Bargaining procedure is only as effective as the negotiator/prosecutor in the situation? And if this is so how does the Ministry of Justice plan to develop expert negotiators with the skill sets and influence to achieve more successful plea-bargaining in high profile cases?
Plea bargaining is a controversial concept that has attracted serious criticisms from legal scholars, lawyers and stakeholders in the justice sector. The concept of plea bargaining has been described as one of the obstacles to effective enforcement of the money laundering laws in Nigeria. It has also been viewed as a tool in the hands of the political class to evade full scale prosecution and conviction for violation of money laundering laws.
Permit me to say that the practice of plea bargaining is obviously very embryonic in Nigeria. It was never part of any Nigerian law until 2002 when the Economic and Financial Crimes (“EFCC”) was established. I must also say that there have been arguments for and counter arguments against the usefulness of the concept as a tool for combating corruption but it seems there is a popular opinion among Nigerians that the concept is designed for looters to get away with corruption by agreeing to forfeit a negligible portion of their heavy loot in exchange for undeserved judicial freedom.
This line of argument was particularly fuelled by the recent application and/or alleged abuse of the concept of plea bargaining in setting free some Politically Exposed Persons (“PEPs”) The concept has been vigorously criticised by prominent Nigerians and notable among them is the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who was reported to have described the concept as one dubiously smuggled into the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence. While plea bargaining is susceptible to abuse and to that extent condemnable, I feel that if it must be retained as a practice towards recovery of stolen assets, men of honour trained in the fine art of investigation and negotiation need to be engaged to be part of the process in order to prevent a situation whereby a man would siphon Ten Million Naira and bargain to forfeit Fifty Thousand Naira Only. I look at that practice with disdain.
It has been reported that there is a gap between the funding available to the anti-graft agencies and the actual cost of funding effective investigations and prosecutions. One such example was the UK’s investigation of James Ibori, reported to have cost more than the entire budget of the EFCC in the year it was concluded. How can the anti-graft agencies be empowered to do their work and do it independently? Should there be a different, more effective funding structure?
As much as I understand, investigation and prosecution are an expensive enterprise anywhere in the world – a fact that this government appreciates and given the lean economy at the moment, I think all investigating and prosecuting agencies should utilise as judiciously as possible whatever resources are at their disposal to achieve their mandate while the government will also be looking into ways of improve their funding.
Prison congestion in Nigeria is linked to the steady increase in the figure of persons awaiting trial who are reported to account for over 70% of the estimated 54.156 prison population in the 235 prisons across the country and the majority of whom have also exceeded the term of imprisonment for the offences they are accused of. This situation has been a major cause for concern for all stakeholders in the criminal justice sector thereby necessitating the need for urgent prison reforms. How would your administration resolve this pertinent issue?
The problem of congestion of prisons is a consequence and a fallout of the problems confronting our justice delivery system and once the reforms we stated above are implemented, the challenge of prison congestion will be well taken care of.
The prison decongestion programme which involved the assignment of cases to external counsel is now witnessing some challenges. Your Ministry is reported to have been relieved of those briefs after they were transferred to the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria. However, many lawyers have not been paid for work undertaken under the programme, so what arrangements are being made to pay them?
This will be adequately addressed at the appropriate time.
The recent terrorist acts in Paris and Mali and the insurgency in the Northeast have clearly shown that government has to make security its top priority while balancing its obligation to protect human rights. Can you enlighten us on how you intend to achieve this delicate balance when, for instance, the International Criminal Court is already expressing concern about suspected Boko Haram members who have been arrested but have not been prosecuted.
It is the primary duty of government to protect lives and property of her citizens. While combating insurgency in the Northeast is a top priority of this administration, the government is also mindful of, and balancing its obligations to protect human rights of all and sundry. It is the policy of the government to approach the issue and handle it in accordance with international best practices.
What is the relationship between the Ministry of Justice and the legal officers of other government agencies?
It is cordial. Since my resumption of office as AGF, the Ministry has been keeping in touch with other agencies. As a matter of fact, the planned formation of the NATIONAL PROSECUTION COMMITTEE/TEAM is a by – product of a collaborative effort among the legal officers of the relevant agencies.
The Federal Government is on record to be burdened with a large amount of judgment debts against it. How do you intend to tackle this problem?
As a prudent government, we are critically looking into it in order to arrive at the most effective way to address this matter.
Over 60 Nigerians have been executed in foreign countries in the past three years and almost 200 are either on death row or awaiting trial for mostly drugs related offences. Most of those executed were reported not to have received adequate legal representation in those countries. How do you intend to address the issue, especially in Asian countries?
As a government that has the interest of the Nigerians, home and abroad, at heart, we have begun to look into this issue in order to take a proactive step thereon. As a starting point, we seek to liase with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant government agencies in order to ensure that this matter is adequately addressed. While the assertion of lack of adequate representation by those facing charges for drug offences and related offences abroad is a critical issue that this government will frontally address, I must state that our government will not, in any way, encourage drug trafficking or any form of crime either within the shore of Nigeria or any part of the world.