SUNDAY ISUWA reflects on the unique expectations from the office of the Attorney General of the Federal (AGF) and Minister of Justice in light of political pressure

In the United States (US) where Nigeria copied its democratic tenets and structures from, the Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Office of the Attorney General (AG) to represent the federal government in cases before the US Supreme Court and to give legal advice to the president or the heads of cabinet-level departments.

The office, as the top post in the Department of Justice, oversees the nation’s largest and most important collection of legal and law enforcement operations.

In essence, the US Attorney General is considered the federal government’s top legal official, responsible for advising the president and his/her cabinet on matters of the law and managing the Justice Department’s many offices and departments.

Although the AG post is held by a lawyer, the attorney general is often viewed as a political and legal figure which naturally makes the office holder operate within the ambiance of controversy.

The scenario is not so different in Nigeria. The Nigerian Constitution also established the offices of the attorney general (AGF) and a minister of Justice who shall be the chief law officer of the federation who must be qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than 10years.

According to Sam Kargbo, a legal practitioner, by virtue of the Constitution, the AGF also serves as minister of Justice is concerned with questions of policy and their relationship to the justice system.

This dual role of the office naturally situates the officer holder in the direct line of fire of sorts.

The immediate past minister of Justice and AGF, Mohammed Adoke, had called for a split of the office of the AGF and that of the minister.

Advancing his reason, Adoke, in his book, “Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney General,” said: “This is because when acting as Attorney-General, he is answerable to no one but his conscience and the interest of justice, but while in his capacity as minister he must take directives from the president and do the president’s bidding.”

Adoke who occupied the seat of the minister of Justice and attorney general of the federation between 2010 and 2015, said there is always a conflict of interest in being the AGF, “which has enormous responsibilities requiring independent thought, mind and direction and also the Justice minister who is an appointee of the president with the mandate to assist him in the discharge of his executive functions.”

For pundits, herein lie the dilemma for whoever occupies the position as he or she is bound to operate within the ambiance of controversy. The office holder, analysts opine, are, more often than not, on a collision course with political leaders in the course of their duty.

Much like previous Justice ministers as himself, Malami, in recent times, has been in the line of fire, both on the legal and the political positions of the government.

From the controversy over the invasion of the home of Justice of the Supreme Court, Mary Odili, to the separatists agitation brouhaha, and the Paris Club Refund consultancy fee saga.

After several accusations, Malami, last Friday, had to deny an arrested suspect’s confession linking him to the controversial invasion of Justice Odili’s home.

The suspect, Lawrence Ajodo, had, while being paraded alongside 13 other suspects, by the police, claimed he was engaged as a consultant by Malami.

Amid wide condemnation of the invasion, both Malami, and the Inspector-General of Police Usman Baba, as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Department of State Service (DSS), distanced themselves from the operation.

Also, the legal issues with the separatist groups led by Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu respectively, have also put Malami in the spotlight even though he said the country will be thinking towards a political solution to the issues.

To this proposal, senior lawyers, Femi Falana, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, and Ifedayo Adedipe, have asked the government to quickly set the dialogue process with the various secessionist groups in motion.

While it would seem like Malami got a measured response with regards to the dialogue option with separatist groups, he has had to feel the wrath of governors for insisting the right thing should be done over the Paris Club Refund matter.

Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, had accused the AGF of supporting consultants and private firms to fleece Nigerians of their money, a claim that Malami has since denied.

He maintains that he is merely seeking justice for the consultants that worked for the government.

Although these issues are stillunfolding, his supporters believe that the ministry under his watch has not done badly despite the political climate it has had to function in.

Malami was one of the young ministers in Buhari’s cabinet. But under his direct purview, the Asset Recovery and Management Unit of the office revealed that N59,163,029,949.46, as well as $385,495,900.00, were locally recovered to the Nigeria government.

Despite the political pressure, Malami, it was gathered, pushed for President Buhari’s fight against corruption which received a boost with the recovery of over $73 million being part of the proceeds from the sale of OPL 245 by Malabu Oil and Gas Company to ENI/SHELL. With regards to the recovery of stolen assets stashed abroad, his efforts culminated in signing of MOUs which saw the return of $322.5million and $500million located in the United States, Island of Jersey and France.

“As a minister of Justice, Malami, was instrumental to the revolutionary movement in the war against corruption which included the drafting of Presidential Executive Order Nos. 6 and 8 on the Preservation of Assets Connected with Corruption and Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme (VOARS) respectively,” Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, an aide to the Senate was quoted as saying.

Gwandu added that Malami saw to the establishment of a Virtual Automated Case Management System to integrate Prosecution Data with the existing Prison Information Management System by incorporating an Integrated Biometrics Prisoners Information Technology to fast track Prison Decongestion in Nigeria.

He said Malami’s tenure saw the inauguration of Law Review Team which lead to the establishment of Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017; Anti-Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017; Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill 2017; Proceeds of Crime Bill 2017; Public Interest Disclosure and Witness Protection Bill, 2017 and The Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2017.

“These initiatives included the whistleblowing protection policies that prevented the expulsion of Nigeria from EGMONT Group – a Canada-based network of 159 financial intelligence units.

“He successfully sought to design the Broad Policy Framework for improving the Judicial Process and Access to Justice that included assessment of criminal cases that were being prosecuted by lay police Prosecutors before the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

“As the Minister of Justice, Malami also established the Justice Sector Reform Committees in the Federation, providing Sentencing Guidelines for Judicial Officers; f Open Government Partnership Initiatives, Electoral and Anti-Corruption Law/Policy Reforms among others,” Gwandu added.

On these achievements recorded by Malami, Senator Ovie Omo Agege said “for some of us, it didn’t come as a surprise because we expected it.

You are a good man. You are a brilliant attorney. You are a fearless anti-corruption warrior which is one of the major plans made by President”

As much as these reforms in the ministry and the justice system sound, pundits like, Bankole Ajibade, a legal practitioner, argues that, “The office of the minister and attorney general can, in itself, be conflicting and most times attract a lot of distraction, mainly political. But since that is what we have now, we can only expect that the minister continues to do the job conscientiously. But he will need all of the support he needs to succeed,” he said.

Editors Note; Written By SUNDAY ISUWA Originally published in leadership

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