We begin this week’s public policy analysis by laying out my belief that honour in public life is a universal value. In other words, it is not only in Western democracies that public officials should be held to a high standard of behaviour, anyone falling short is usually expected to fall on their sword. And, that does indeed happen on a regular basis in those countries. Nigeria should be no exception. Public servants here also ought to behave with a high standard of probity and integrity, and to set a good example to the members of staff in their line of supervision particularly when an officer’s judgement on an extremely important public policy issue has been found wanting, at least twice within the space of one year.
Such is the situation with our current Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). In any other established democracy, the minister would have tendered his resignation to the President a long time ago. Failing that, if the President decides to sack him, it would be said that his administration is in disarray, and if he keeps him regardless, he looks weak and ineffectual. No minister should ever be at liberty to hang out his own President to dry this way. But, the question is, what makes these things possible, in this manner, in our country? Why is honour so conspicuous by its absence in our public life?
Before delving into a considered response to the questions before us, let us first examine the two most egregious failings of the Attorney General of the Federation, recently. His judgment has been fundamentally flawed on at least two occasions, possibly more. First, he got himself seriously embroiled in the reinstatement of the former Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who stands accused of massive fraud running into billions of naira and is still on the run from law enforcement agents. This column indeed took the AG to task on this issue earlier this year. See; “Maina: Villain or fall guy?” The PUNCH, January 16, 2018. Malami had been instrumental in the botched attempt to have Maina reabsorbed into the civil service surreptitiously, and had waded in on the investigation of the National Assembly on the matter, also, trying to put a stop to it. In the January piece, I wrote: “We are probably witnessing the unravelling of the biggest and most audacious larceny involving the state apparatus in this country”. That statement remains uncontroverted. It is not entirely certain what Malami’s ultimate intention was, but his precipitous action managed to disrupt the National Assembly’s and other putative probes into Maina. Whatever happened to the missing billions of naira one might ask? Well, it remains ‘missing’.
The second main occasion where the AG’s judgement has been seriously found wanting is the scandal surrounding the “Malabu oil deal”. It involves the disposal of the OPL 245 oil block which began in 2011. It was purchased by Shell and Agip-Eni from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., a firm with ties to the former Minister of Petroleum (1995-1998), Dan Etete. Negotiations for the sale included the then AG, Mohammed Bello Adoke, and Diezani Alison-Madueke, the immediate past Minister for Petroleum Resources, not to mention the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Malami again got himself embroiled in this scandal that has short-changed the country to the tune of billions of dollars. Last week, he wrote a detailed letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking authority to drop the case and allow it to vanish into thin air as it were. He cited all sorts of national security brouhaha that might break out from prosecuting the individuals caught up in the scandal, and concluded that prosecution of Adoke, Alison-Madueke and others would not be in the national interest. In other words, money might have been stolen in billions of dollars, but it is not the end of the world in Nigeria. Let us just move on. Really, Minister? However, to the relief of every right-thinking Nigerian, President Buhari has rejected Malami’s advice and is insisting on the investigation carrying on. The minister simply turned around and went back to his desk to resume supervision of a case he does not believe merits prosecution. Only in Nigeria, readers.
We must assume even now, that the AG is an honourable man. What then is a man of honour to do when you lend the whole weight of your office to a gargantuan issue of fraud such as this and your judgement is found wanting by your President? I mean, what would the likes of Teslim Elias, AG-1960-1966; Nabo Graham Douglas, AG-1966-1972; Dan Ibekwe, AG-1972-1975; Augustine Nnamani, AG-1975-1979 etc., would have done were they to have found themselves in this highly unlikely scenario? My guess is they would have opted to preserve the integrity of the AG’s office by tendering their resignations, no doubt. On an aside, I have to say, that the press have been rather kind to the President on this and many similar issues. If this had been in the West, the media’s feral beasts would have smelt blood and be ready to pounce. The barrage of questions would have been directed at the President to state whether he still has confidence in the AG. But, here in Nigeria, we get ourselves entertained by ephemeral and rather anodyne sideshows such as who is running for what office and the shenanigans inside the two major political parties. Malami is not the only sit-tight minister, of course. There are other notable ones, chief of which is the current Minister for Women Affairs, Mrs Aisha Alhassan, who has publicly repudiated her own boss, President Buhari, claiming he is basically incapable of providing the necessary leadership the country needs, and announced her preference for former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar next time round. Despite this, she remains in the Cabinet!
As I have said in my previous write-ups on this column, so many times, our public officials do not toe the path of honour when required to do so because there is no reward for such personal sacrifice in the wider scheme of things. There is no guarantee that any good would ever come out of such gallantry. Besides, in Nigeria, a minister essentially sits at the equivalent of the dinner table. There is no sympathy for anyone who excuses himself from it out of some quaint, high moral stance. Remember, the minister eats for himself and, like the nursing mother in a wolf pack, eats for a dozen others around him at home, in the village, town, brothers, sisters, cousins, and all kinds of fair-weather friends in the hood. That is not to forget the excessively juicy perks of office: the swanky homes in the leafy central square in Abuja, complete with a neat boys’ quarters, the guards, bar tenders, chauffeur-driven bulletproof Sport Utility Vehicles, civil servants at their beck and call, and all the other trappings of power. They look at the mess they have made of their public duty, then, weigh that against the numbers of their coterie who would suffer real material loss at their departure from government, and the near zero chance of them coming close to the lofty height of high office in the foreseeable future. They then take a deep breath and sit tight. A very crude calculation indeed, and I dare say Malami is not alone in this, but that is beside the point. He may have lost credibility as the AG, but he, like so many others around him, is determined to hang on to his seat at the dinner table, come what may. Honour can go hang! Punch