By Umar Sa’ad Hassan

Abubakar Malami’s screening on the floor of the senate was the most anticipated of President Buhari’s ministerial nominees. There was a wide assortment of questions spawning from his controversial four year tenure as Attorney General of the Federation for the senators to pick from. That there was quite a number from the opposition that had over time proven to be vibrant and fearless on the floor of the senate was supposed to guarantee that Malami had no escape route. The house of reps had indicted him over the reinstatement of ex-pensions boss, Abdulrasheed Maina who was wanted by the EFCC and is currently claiming in hiding that President Buhari ordered Malami to reinstate him.

The senators would at least while making reference to the overwhelming evidence available, ask Malami for his own version of events. There is also the issue of the clean bill of health he passed on former secretary to the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal regarding the IDP grass cutting scandal before he was indicted by VP Osinbajo’s committee and the EFCC.

There was a lot to pick from but suprisingly,the senators didn’t ask Malami what they were expected to. The former AGF bungling a matter as simple as one on the disobedience of court orders by government tells you he would have made a bigger mess of the weightier questions. First, Malami isn’t in charge of any prison or detention centre in the country. One would ordinarily expect him to stroll past that saying the authorities flaunting the orders of the court are not doing so at his behest while bemoaning the fact that he was being made a scapegoat. But well, the man chose to tell the truth and in a fashion reminiscent of his ‘technician technicality’ CJN brother, Ibrahim Tanko just a week ago, sensationally gave a well known legal position an ignorant colouring. Only in this instance, unlawful as well. Malami sought to justify the breach of the constitutional rights of nigerians being held in captivity despite having been granted bail by saying their release was not in the best interest of 180 million nigerians and that it was his duty as AGF to uphold public interest. This is the number one law officer of the land publicly and unashamedly conferring on himself the power to veto the decisions of our courts.

It is shocking how a man of Malami’s standing and experience in the legal profession would be totally oblivious of the fact that those comments are of a criminal nature. Our laws are clear on what constitute contempt and a flagrant disobedience of a court’s ruling or decision forms a key element of that offence. Contempt ex facie curiae (outside the court room) is followed by an arrest and a trial in court. Except of course he wants to tell us that he as AGF can also decide what laws apply to him. Quite astonishing is how he makes reference to the Supreme Court’s decision in Asari Dokubo V Federal Republic of Nigeria in justifying his position as acting in public interest. It is the prerogative of the courts to grant bail and in that case it refuses Mr Dokubo in the best interest of the public. No individual whomsoever is empowered to arbitarily tow its steps other than a court of law and refusing to comply with the decision of any court of competent jurisdiction amounts to contempt. We aren’t speculating, Malami by his response at the senate, copped to doing just that.

In defending his action, there was nothing to suggest he was aware of the grave implications of his utterances and what that highlights more than anything else is the calibre of persons being appointed by the Buhari administration into sensitive positions. The powers of the Attorney General of the Federation are clearly spelt out in Section 174 of the 1999 constitution (as amended). No provision therein empowers him to choose which court decisions to comply with. Sub section 3 states that-” In exercising his powers under this section, the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process” but the power Malami weilds isn’t captured by the preceding provisions of that section. The issue of public interest and interest of justice brings me to another question I had expected the former Attorney General to be quizzed on. The popular notion is that Sen. Danjuma Goje, a former Governor of Gombe state accused of embezzling billions of naira in office by the EFCC had charges against him withdrawn just weeks ago because he struck a deal with President Buhari in a meeting at the villa to step down for the President’s preferred candidate for Senate President, Sen. Ahmed Lawan. Goje had 2 charges pending in court and most people above any other thing, expected Malami to give the official position of his office on that while justifying how the decision was taken in the ‘best interest of justice or the public’. Malami should be before a court next week and not being named Minister.

Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano 

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