By Johnson Eze
Abubakar Malami, SAN, Nigerian Minister of Justice & Attorney general
One of the key enablers of economy anywhere in the world is functional judicial system-one that plays its roles in a robust, effective and dispassionate manner to ensure that every human activity is carried out in conformity with the orderly and rightful rules of engagement. In other words a judicial order proactive in maintaining lawful, legal and constitutional conducts. Indeed, followers of development in Nigeria must have observed that this has been the preoccupation of the Present Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mr Abubakar Malami SAN, an many indicators corroborate this fact.
Prior to advent of the present administration, laws in Nigeria were merely on paper and lacked force and implementation. It was ubiquitous to see people committing offences without sanctions or penalties. The result was that the country was being turned into an ‘urban jungle’ where every form of illegality was practicable. For example, corrupt government functionaries were found to be unconscionably stealing and diverting public fund. Contracts were recklessly being violated. The nation’s ease of business ranking degenerated and investors were leaving the country in droves.
However, since 2015 when this administration came into office and when Mr Malami became in charge of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney general’s office, one obvious phenomenon is that Law is no longer respecter of persons. Rather it deservedly became active regulator of relationship, interaction and businesses. Though the mechanism of Justice may appear slow it surely grinds smooth no matter whose ox is gored.
The implication is that the poor are protected from the rich the same way the rich are protected from the poor. The weak is protected from the strong and vice versa and ditto is the good the bad and the ugly. Naturally society is made of mixed characters, the good citizens, the villains, the violent, peaceful, the vulgar etc. It is the law that governs interaction protect Investments and guides businesses which by nature are always involved in one form of litigations or the other
Any close watchers of Nigerian socio-political fronts will surely attest to the fact that it is under Malami-led judicial system that high profile individuals occupying elevated offices have been made to face prosecution for offences they are alleged to have committed which is a clear indication that our laws are beginning to work. Among the first to experience the impartial judicial order were the then President and deputy president of the senate, Sen Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu respectively who faced trial for allegations bothering on forgery of senate rules that brought them to office following petition filed against them by their colleagues in the upper chamber of National Assembly.
It is pertinent to clarify that many especially uninformed persons went about spreading deceptive rumours that the matter was politically motivated witch-hunt targeted at the leadership of National Assembly because they were not president Buhari’s anointed. But those side talks did not move the focused attorney general who rightfully holds to the principle of law that he who alleges must prove hence allowed the matter to take its full course in the court to either be established or thrown out.
To better appreciate the scenario, and why the Office of the AGF handled the issue the way it did, it is pertinent to realize that the justice system is for everyone, in this case for pro Saraki and anti Saraki. The crux of the matter is that the election for the post of senate president was keenly contested by two strong factions. One led by Saraki and the other led by Ahmad Lawal. Following declaration of Saraki as the winner, the Lawal-led faction dissatisfied with the proceedings of the election, wrote petition against Saraki alleging that he along others conspired and forged the senate rules with which election was conducted for their favour. As the Attorney General, it was for the best interest of justice to allow the matter to be fully investigated and adjudicated upon and that was exactly what happened. Similarly another case of asset declaration brought against the same senate president; Senator Saraki at the code of conduct tribunal was allowed to run its full course in court, hence it transcended to Supreme Court where it was discharged and Saraki acquitted.
As if that is not enough, the case of the chief Justice of the Federation, the Chairman of National Judicial Council, NJC and the number one Judge in the country, Justice Walter Onoghen is another landmark proof of non-interference and strict compliance to rule of law posture of the Attorney General. Justice Onoghen was dragged to Code of Conduct tribunal on allegation of false asset declaration that preceded his suspension and eventual sack. The case ran its full length in courts and the law reigned supreme.
Other instances that lay credence to the commitment of the Attorney General to the advancement of rule of law are the resurrection of most of the dormant corruption cases inherited from previous administration. Pursuant to this, persons like the former governor of Plateau state; Sen Joshua Dariye and former governor of Taraba state Rev Jolly Nyame were convicted and sentenced to various prison terms. Also, just recently the Senate Chief Whip, Sen Orji Uzor Kalu who was the governor of Abia state between 1999 and 2007 was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for corruption offences he committed while in office as governor though the case has just been nullified by Supreme Court which in its landmark ruling ordered retrial- a judgement many legal luminaries view as set-back for anticorruption crusade of the administration.
Even key members of the present administration who are found wanting are not spared by the rule of law mantra of the present justice system as the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Babachir Lawal was removed in office and made to face the music of prosecution after being indicted by an investigative panel. Presently, the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC Mr Ibrahim Magu in what looks like the hunter being hunted is facing judicial panel of inquiry on alleged infractions and abuse of office. In all these happenings, who can question the integrity of Nigeria judicial system?
In short, with the momentum the present justice system is moving in invoking the powers of the law to address some shortcomings in Nigerian society as exemplified in the adoption of Administration of criminal justice Act, ACJA, and other essential law reforms, Nigeria is becoming better for living and in doing business as the country’s recent rise in the World bank global ease of doing business ranking clearly attests. What we all owe the system and the indefatigable Minister of justice and attorney general is our support by being law abiding as it takes two to tangle.