At the center of Mr. Buhari’s fight against corruption is a fine gentleman from the city of Kebbi, Northern Nigeria. A soft-spoken lawyer who rose to the pinnacle of Nigeria’s legal profession, the distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Mr. Abubakar Malami is his name. On the pages of the newspapers and online mediums today, he is not new to being talked about — most recently for the memo that indicted the Economic and Financial Crime Commission’s Boss, Ibrahim Magu for grave misappropriation of resources entrusted with him. This event has only put Mr. Malami at the fore of the national discussion. It was unearthing him to both criticism and accolades. But this should be no worry for a man who is responsible for fetching in billions of recovered funds, once looted, back to the coffers of the Nigerian purse, he will no doubt earn for himself unhappy enemies. And they will fight back like Mr. Magu says: “dog eat dog.”
Nigeria has lost billions of dollars to the hands of criminals who have put their hands into the purse of government and stolen recklessly. President Buhari, a man, known and revered for his character of integrity and honesty, which no friend or foe can point to, and say “you stole this, or that” won his election, and even re-election, on the solid trust of the Nigerian people that he would not just recover funds stolen by the petty thieves. They had left the oil-rich country dry and low, but put those men in jail.
Years before he came, the Nigerian government was a bazaar. Share this, share that. Zero accountability. And these fleecers had an alibi: a weak prosecuting and judicial system. No doubt, Mr. Buhari, on coming to office nagged at a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that his biggest headache was the judiciary. It has been.
A robust Attorney General, who doubles as the Minister of Justice in Nigeria, was needed to make the war against corruption and the battle for the soul of Nigeria victorious. Abubakar Malami was billed for the task. He did not just bring a no-nonsense mien to the table, but also an understanding that to tackle the corruption problem that Nigeria faced, it needed to start with the root of our laws, our processes, and our anti-corruption prosecutorial system.
This birthed the National Judicial Policy. Its mandate was to bring about a direction and coordination in Nigeria’s justice sector. This was made possible through continued engagement with the various stakeholders of the country’s justice system: from the Nigerian Bar Association to the National Judicial Council, among others. This has not just yielded a much more defined justice sector, but this interaction has brought about the weeding of the rotten eggs from the system.
Mr. Malami SAN plays a critical role in the running of President Buhari’s government: he is the mind and brain behind the legality of every of the President’s decisions. Being the Attorney General, Mr. Malami is consulted on any action the President must take. More recently was the opinion he gave on the status of who was indeed leading the All Progressives Congress — President Buhari’s ruling party. His decision led to the eventual dissolution of the party’s National Working Committee and the setting up of a National Caretaker Committee that has been more celebrated than frowned on, compared to its predecessor.
He has also been instrumental to critical bills that have become law under this President, especially those that have provided bulwark to President Buhari’s fight against corruption. The famous Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, the Proceeds of Crime Bill, are a few to mention that have the ink of the Attorney General in their drafting.
The regulations and guidelines his office has introduced have made better the coordination of the country’s fight against corruption. The National Anti-Corruption Strategy document and its policy for implementation are masterstrokes. The Asset Tracing, Recovery, and Management Regulations make the process for recovering looted funds coherent and the outcome accountable.
This guideline has ensured that there is better coordination of inter-agency investigation and proper maintenance of the data of recovered loots and assets — things Nigeria did not have in its system beforehand.
On many occasions, supporters of President Buhari do not hide their joy in celebrating the masterstroke decisions he makes. The depth and scope of these decisions are telling of a master-strategist. Behind the veil of these deft moves is an Attorney General who has brought structure, precision, and orderliness to the way the government’s decisions are made.
Mr. Malami may not be the darling of many. Still, when it comes to engineering right technical decisions and preparing the needed legalese for the smooth sail of President Buhari’s work, he is no doubt the darling of his boss.
Eden Finn is a researcher on justice reforms and open governance.