Now that elections are over and President Muhammadu Buhari has announced an imminent change of cabinet, it is time for every minister to take stock and set new agenda whether they are retained or not.
But one minister that demanded my attention is Abubakar Malami, attorney general and minister of Justice, who has been central to government activities around Buhari’s administration’s major pre-occupation in its first term- anti-corruption. Whether it is the tracing and recovery of stolen assets, prosecution of corrupt former and serving public officials or the establishment of the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption, Malami has been the talking points in the last three years.
There is no doubt that fighting corruption is dear to President Buhari. You only needed to have watched him during pre-election debates and rallies if you had any doubts. You would not fail to notice how his face becomes animated whenever the question or topic shifts to corruption. So strongly does he feel about corruption in government that he equally strongly believes corruption would kill the country if the country failed to kill it.
Now that he has won a second term, he has the next for years to consolidate his administration’s anti-corruption efforts and establish legacies that would outlive his government. This is where Malami comes in.
Whether he choses to keep him in his next cabinet or not, Malami has made himself relevant to the agenda of the Buhari administration. Having worked as Buhari’s lawyer for sometimes before he became president, there are few in the cabinet who understands the President’s mindset and actions as much as he does.
Buhari is a president who gives his appointees a blank cheque, trusting that they would keep their oath of office and act always in the public interest. To many, giving appointees freedom to use their best discretion in executing their assignments is a strength which helps the country get the best from them. But this style is sometimes counter-productive as the president had found out of recent when he claimed ignorance of certain actions of his appointees. It gave the impression the president was not in control of his administration’s affairs.
In truth, some had taken advantage of this to abuse their offices. Such must be fished out and not only given the boot but must be made the administration’s scape goats. But there are some who had taken the Buhari anti-corruption mantra to heart and who would always asked themselves -what does the president and my country expect of me?
No minister has borne the anti-corruption burden of this administration without creating unnecessary storm as much as Malami. Almost taciturn as the president, Malami cuts not the garrulous image of the litigating counsel or the crusading activist. On many occasions when his voice could have added to the din of public discourse, Malami elegantly held his tongue and only intervened when facts were being murdered.
Like when he spoke on the recovery of the Abacha loot to put the record straight and show that the Buhari administration was not squandering the money. Or when he was accused of advising President Buhari to keep Sambo Dasuki, former national security adviser, in custody against court rulings granting him bail. He said Dasuki was being held by the Department for State Services, DSS. He also said the law allows the state to hold anyone in the national interest, as is the case with Dasuki.
But in my opinion, Malami’s greatest achievement is not just how he has been able to negotiate return of looted funds at minimal costs to Nigeria, but the establishment of the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption. The committee, headed by Professor Itse Sagay, has been able to properly focus the anti-corruption drive in such a way that its success or otherwise is measurable.
The committee’s assignment had been hampered by the animosity that characterized the relation between the executive and the legislature under Bukola Saraki, the senate president. By now, the committee, working with other stakeholders, would have initiated and ensured the passage of new bills would improve transparency in government and make prosecution of corrupt persons faster.
Now that a new legislature is on the horizon, Malami and the Sagay committee must get to work with the legislators-elect before even their inauguration. They must get their buy-in and ensure nothing goes wrong this time around.
I have read a statement from the presidency saying the president would not interfere in who emerge leaders in the National Assembly. I want to believe that was a statement for the public and not the real posture of the presidency.
This is a democracy and it would be irresponsible for a president to stand aloof and not show any interest in those that would lead the NASS. Such an important arm of government cannot be allowed to be hijacked by the opposition as we saw in the outgoing legislature. If the Buhari administration had failed in some areas, especially anti-corruption, not a few would blame it on the bellicosity of the leadership of the 8th NASS.
To avoid wasting the opportunity of a second term, the Buhari administration must show covert interest in the selection process of new leaders for the 9th legislature. The administration must as a matter of policy, ensure those who accept it agenda and are ready to join in executing it are supported to emerge leaders in the new legislature.
As the Chief Law Officer of the country and the legal adviser to the president, Malami’s success would be judged by how many corrupt persons go to jail and by how much President Buhari succeeds in institutionalizing the anti-corruption effort of his administration.
You need legal instruments to fight corruption in a democracy. The legislature can give you those instruments and working with them early on would make that easier and they can hit the ground running.
Malami’s magnum Opus is anti-corruption. Buhari has promised a giddy ride to the Next Level. The next level for Malami is to get the country an anti-corruption court where looters would face their waterloo, fairly, transparently but swiftly.
-Achike wrote in from Lagos
Disclaimer: This article is entirely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the views of The Whistler.