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LongRead: From Magu to Odili, how Nigeria’s Justice Minister, Malami, is getting his fingers burnt

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Abubakar Malami

Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abukakar Malami (SAN), has become one of Nigeria’s most talked about public officials.

In fact, his other name has become Mr Controversy on account of the many goofs traceable to him or his office.

Since being appointed into office by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, Malami has literarily entrenched himself as one of the most powerful ministers in the administration, with influence and authority that has given him a near larger than life status.

With nearly every outing, however, Malami has had critics breathing down his neck, with many Nigerians wondering how he earned his badge as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and subsequently, the Attorney General and Justice Minister.

Many would quickly recall how Malami got dragged following his comments on Southern Governors ban on open grazing, wherein he loosely argued that the ban in the south was like banning selling of motor spare parts in the north.

The road to power

Many Nigerians may not have known that prior to his appointment in 2015, Abubakar Malami had served as the legal adviser to the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the then political party floated by Buhari.

When he finally became President in 2015, Buhari rewarded Malami with a sumptious appointment as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. The latter has not looked back since then, dabbling into both familiar and uncharted territories.

In the six years he has been at the helm of affairs, Malami has entered into frays with the likes of ousted acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, former Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, masterminded the secret recall and reinstatement of now jailed former Pension boss, Abdulrasheed Maina, overseen the harassment of judges by security operatives, including the recent raiding of the home of Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mary Odili.

But how did we get here, one may be wont to ask? It all started with Malami’s concerted and rigorous efforts to get Magu out of the way.

Getting Magu out of the way

The battle to get the acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu out, of the way by all means, began in earnest in 2020 when Malami wrote a scathing report to President Buhari against the helmsman of anti-graft agency.

The letter he sent to Buhari to nail Magu contained so much corruption and fraud allegations that it was just a matter of time and not when, before the EFCC Czar was swept out of office.

In the memo, Malami accused Magu of a myriad of contraventions, especially the alleged “diversion of recovered loot, insubordination and misconduct.”

The plethora of allegations against Magu read like a legendary list, some of which include:
That the acting Chairman of the EFCC was not acting in the overall best interest of the country and the policies of this administration due to his mismanagement and lack of transparency in managing recovered assets; That he was diverting recovered assets for personal enrichment; That he neglected to investigate the P & ID case as directed by the President; and that he flagrantly disobeyed officials directives and court orders.

Malami specifically accused Magu of improper record keeping citing the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Assets (PCARA) final report that covered the period of 29 May 2015 – 22 November, 2018.

The AGF alleged that it was quite disturbing that conflicting figures were being circulated in the public space by the EFCC as the amount of recovered funds.

One of the many wrongdoings of Magu, he claimed, was the case of two vessels that allegedly sunk at NNS Beecroft Naval BASE, Lagos and NNS Pathfinder Naval Base in Port Harcourt, without trace under the watch of the Acting Chairman of EFCC.

The total value of the assets lost due to thee negligence, according to Malami, ran into millions of US Dollars.

He also alleged that Magu resisted the efforts of the National Assembly to address the transparency of assets recovered from suspects through the enactment of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, 2019, accusing him and his top officials of using these assets to corruptly enrich themselves.

Finally, Magu was accused of blatant display of arrogance and acquisition of illicit wealth that has turned the EFCC into a glorified police station.

Though Magu did put up a spirited defense of his innocence, Malami was to have the final say as a panel set up by the President found Magu guilty and suspended him indefinitely. Malami had the last laugh!

Unseen hand in Oyo-Ita’s fall

Head of federal service Oyo-Ita hospitalized after grilling by EFCC over N3bn scam

Oyo-Ita

Before the travails of Ibrahim Magu in the hands of Malami, a recipient of the Justice Minister’s stable cleaning antic was former Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, who was caught in the middle of the power play that saw the secret reinstatement of Pension fugitive, Abdulrasheed Maina.

Maina, allegedly at the instance of Malami, was smuggled into the country after he had been on the run from the law, reinstated into the civil service and promoted to a higher position.

Oyo-Ita, as the Head of the Service, would not have that and kicked up a storm and that action made her a marked target for daring to go public about the cover ups in the reinstatement of Maina and the role the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, played in bringing back the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT).

She told Nigerians how Malami had by passed her office through the Federal Civil Service Commission and got Maina reinstated into the civil service with a promotion to Director in the Ministry of Interior.

In Oyo-Ita’s reckoning, as the Head of Service, it was natural for a letter of reinstatement for Maina to be issued by her but her office was circumvented and as she was to later make public, she was not in the picture and did not sign the letter reinstating the Pension thief into the employ of the Federal Civil Service.

As the reinstatement of Maina gathered storm, an investigative panel was set up by the Senate to look into the matter, and was headed by Sen. Madaki, with Ayo Omidiran, Sergius Ogun, and Kingsley China, as members.

During one of its sittings, a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, Engr Abubakar Magaji, was invited to explain how Maina was reinstated.

Seeming to play from a badly written script, Magaji put the blame of the reinstatement of Maina on Oyo-Ita, who, according to him, gave the directive for the reinstatement.

“The records I met on ground indicated that the HoS had directed the Senior Staff Committee, SSC, to reconsider the earlier dismissal of Maina.”

Based on this submission, Magaji claimed he simply followed a laid down procedure and subsequently referenced the findings to the Federal Civil Service Commission for consideration and the HoS for further action.

But a visibly shaken Oyo-Ita could not contain the seeming blatant lie thrown at her at the panel and blurted:

“Who is that person? I’m not that person, please. First of all, it is not possible for the Ministry of Interior to hold any SSC meeting without the directive of the HoS of the Federation.”

As the controversy over the recall of Maina rumbled on, the plot to remove Oyo-Ita was being perfected in active connivance with the Presidency. As all fingers pointed at Malami for the secret reinstatement of Maina, Malami insisted that the directives came from the HoS’s office.

“As at 5th October, Maina’s issue in my office was a work in progress and not yet concluded and that can be associated with previous dealings in February, April and October, so the letter giving specific and clear directives couldn’t have genuinely emanated from my office,” he argued.

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However, Oyo-Ita faulted the account of Malami as she stated that she received letters from the office of the Attorney General demanding the reinstatement of Maina, insisting that Malami’s office wrote a series of letters to her office to press for the reinstatement.

She had argued then: “Maina, from records available to us, was dismissed in the year 2013 from the Federal Civil Service for absconding from duty.
“From the beginning of this year, we started receiving series of letters written by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, addressed to the Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission, and copied to the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.
“As those letters came in, the Federal Civil Service Commission wrote to my office, directing us to request the Ministry of Interior to set up a Senior Staff Committee to review the directives from the Attorney General.
“When I got hold of that letter of reinstatement, I held on to the letter because I needed more clarification of that letter, so I was surprised to find out that without officially conveying the letter of his reinstatement or any letter of posting whatsoever, the said Maina was absorbed into the Ministry of Interior which I learnt through the media.
“I want to place on record here that I still have the original letters here with me. My office will never convey such reinstatement letter to Maina, so there is no way he could have resumed work at the Ministry of Interior if he had not been officially notified of doing so by the office of the Head of Civil Service Commission.”

Being being such a pain in the neck, Oyo-Ita was to later face the full brunt of Malami’s wrath when the EFCC came after her with allegations of receiving bribes from contractors as well as claiming fake estacodes.

The EFCC was to arraign her before Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, accusing her of corruptly enriching herself to the tune of N3 billion graft.

Aside the graft charges, Oyo-Ita was also accused of money laundering and stealing of government funds, and was subsequently sacked after the EFCC claimed to have found about N600 million in the bank account of one of her aides.

A statement by the EFCC had said, among others:

“During investigation, it was discovered that Oyo-Ita, in her roles in the civil service as Director, Permanent Secretary and Head of Service, used her companies as well as those of her aides as fronts to receive kickbacks from contractors of various ministries and parastatals where she worked.

“The former Head of Service, in collusion with one Effiok who was her Special Assistant, along with one Titus Tomsin, made bogus claims of fictitious DTA, estacodes, and conference fees which were paid by the government to the accounts of the suspects.”

Sticking out neck for Maina

The bid by Malami to stop Maina’s probe raised many eyebrows, especially the role he played in the secret reinstatement of the ex-Pension boss.

His interest in the case was further accentuated when Malami told the Senate Committee probing the reinstatement of Maina that he (Malami), was ready to face the panel to defend the Maina’s controversial recall to office.

Before then, Malami had approached the court seeking to stop the National Assembly from probing the reinstatement of the fugitive, leading to Senate’s spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi, wondering why the Minister was throwing himself into the ring for Maina’s sake.

While reacting to the court’s refusal to grant the AGF’s prayers, Abdullahi lauded the judiciary for respecting the powers vested on the Upper Legislative chamber by insisting on “fair-hearing” in the matter.

“We are wondering what the AGF is afraid of. When he appeared before our Committee, he was well received and fairly treated. He indeed expressed his happiness with the protection given to him by the committee handling the Maina case,” the Senate spokesman had said.

Before he was smuggled into the country and secretly reinstated, Maina had evaded the law with the active connivance of powerful forces in the Presidency led by Malami for six years, after he was sacked in 2013 for stealing funds meant for Nigerian pensioners through his position as Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT).

In 2015, the EFCC pressed charges of corruption on Maina and his accomplices, but before he could be arraigned in court, he had fled the country, prompting the issuance of an arrest warrant against him, and his listing on INTERPOL’s Red Notice as a wanted man.

Though Maina’s name was placed on the INTERPOL’s wanted list, the notice suddenly disappeared from the international police platform and Maina freely globe-trotted, including meeting with the Malami in Dubai.

In September 2017, Maina was secretly reinstated into the Nigeria civil service and was issued a controversial letter recalling him and posted as acting Director of Human Resources at the Ministry of Interior.

This drew a lot a public outcry and criticism, forcing President Buhari to eventually dismiss him from his administration. Malami’s interventions in favour of Maina had been undeniable, not with their supposed meeting in Dubai and in the full knowledge of former Director General of the State Security Services, Lawal Daura.

Any doubts to the inside role played by Malami in protection of Maina was lifted when the firmer unwittingly admitted in an interview that the meeting he had with Maina in Dubai had the approval of President Buhari.

“At the time the meeting was held with Maina, Mr. President was not aware. But much later, after we returned back home, I took Mr. President into confidence about the information and sought leave to share it with other agencies with the purpose of blocking leakages.

“That was the extent to which the President was aware of the information. It was out of the desire to seek for his directives relating to the information in terms of its application for the purpose of blocking leakages associated with the looting of pension funds.
“It boils down to whether I have indeed acted or I have not acted. Maina had helped in solidifying fraud cases in terms of conviction and recovering stolen funds.
“If hundreds of Mainas believe that they have information to offer as far as the protection of the national interest is concerned, I will meet them and will do so again,” Malami had said arrogantly.

Failed sting operation

Attacks on judges eroding independence of the judiciary —Rights Commission

Following a familiar pattern of sting operations on members of the judiciary, Malami has been enmeshed in the failed bid to raid the home of Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court.

Earlier in 2016, the homes of Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Inyang Okoro, Mohammed Tsamiya, Kabiru Auta, Adeniyi Ademola, I. Umezulike, and Muazu Pindiga had been violated successfully in dawn raids.

The sting operations had been conducted under the watchful eyes of Malami, the all-powerful Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation.

So, when on October 29, 2021, the residence of Supreme Court Justice, Mary Odili, was raided by a team of security operatives purportedly made up of officials from the Attorney General’s office, the Police, the DSS and the EFCC, all fingers pointed, once again, at Malami.

The team, armed with a warrant issued by an Abuja Chief Magistrate, Emmanuel Iyana, stormed the Imo Street, Maitama, Abuja, residence of the Odilis, but were repelled by their security details.

A certain whistleblower, Umar, had alleged as follows in an affidavit dated October 13, 2021:

“I have observed some illegal activities going on in those houses within Abuja are illegal and hereby report the said matter to the law enforcement agency.
“I hereby state that all information provided by me to the EFCC is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.”

In a second affidavit deposed to by a senior police officer, CSP Lawrence Ajodo, (whom the police later said was a fake police officer) the said ‘Joint Panel Recovery Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice’ had allegedly applied to the Chief Magistrate in Abuja seeking a search warrant to search the house.

When the invasion became botched and Nigerians went up in arms, Malami, the EFCC, the Police and the DSS, promptly denied their involvements, leaving Nigerians wondering who may have done the dastardly act, if all the agencies denied being part of the raid.

A few weeks later, the Nigeria Police Force played out a badly written script when it paraded 14 ‘suspects’ whom they alleged raided the home of Justice Odili, including the said CSP Lawrence Ajodo.

While being interviewed, Ajodo admitted that though he was not a police officer, he was a consultant in the office of the AGF and had been used to conduct such raids by Malami in the past.

However, Malami, like the Biblical Pontius Pilate, washed his hands off Ajodo and promptly denied knowing or engaging the ‘fake police officer’ at any time.

While appearing on a television programme, Malami tried gamely to absolve himself:
“By my recollection, either in my personal capacity or as AGF, I do know him (Ajodo); I didn’t engage him formally or informally. That is the position of things as far as Lawrence is concerned.
“The office of the AGF engages people officially, particularly lawyers. But the issue here is about official engagement. If Lawrence has evidence of being engaged by the AGF’s office, he should bring the proof. There is no way someone can be engaged informally as a consultant. So he should provide the public with the letter of engagement by the ministry.
“It is on account of this that I engaged the office of the Inspector-General of Police to conduct an investigation into the matter and look at it from the point of criminality and the police has come up with a report. I reiterate again that I don’t know this man and I have never met him. The IGP has concluded his investigation.

“Government business is a formal business, so if there is any formal engagement of anyone for business, it must be formalized. I can tell you that nothing like Lawrence Ojodo exists in our system or any agency of government that I know.
“There is an asset recovery unit in my office. Government business is regulated through processes and procedure, so they do not operate separately from other departments or against government laid down procedure. The man said he was engaged by the AGF. There are 36 AGFs in the country, so he should say which of the AGF engaged him.
“I think Ajodo has spoken clearly without mincing words on this issue by saying that I didn’t send him on the assignment to raid Justice Odili’s house. That is the issue at stake. The second important issue is that the IGP has investigated this matter and clearly stated that Lawrence is not in any way engaged by my office.”

So who did it?

While Nigerians await, with bated breath, the outcome of the police investigation into the raid on Justice Odili’s residence, the sting-operations of 2016 which were suspected to be coordinated by Malami’s office, is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians and try as much as he has, it will be a difficult task to wash himself off the allegations.

Malami sure has his fingers burning. How much longer will he survive the heat? Only time will tell.

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