- What I Told Buhari About Maina
- El-Zakzaky, Dasuki Being Held In Public Interest
In this feisty interview, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami, answers questions on a broad range of issues from the government’s anti-corruption war to the continued detention of Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his own political future.
It’s a page-turner.
One major item on the agenda of this government is to fight corruption but two years down the road, there is hardly any high profile conviction. Why?
Well, if you are talking of corruption and also of prosecution, it is not something you can view in isolation. In direct response to your question, I will have to say it is not true. There are a lot of convictions in high profile cases; take a case like that of Bala Ngilari, for example (the former Adamawa State governor was arraigned by EFCC over allegation of N160m financial misappropriation and misconduct. Though he was convicted by the high court, the Court of Appeal discharged and acquitted him). It is a case in point and I believe a case involving a deputy governor is indeed a high profile case. The case of Orubebe, a former minister (acquitted by an Abuja high court over a six-count charge by the ICPC in an alleged N1.97billion contract fraud), I think is equally a high profile case. But then, above all, it is not strictly about convictions when you are talking of corruption. You are living witnesses that a lot of asset forfeitures, temporary and permanent, were secured along the line of conviction. I think there are a lot of cases ongoing, high profile cases for that matter. So, conviction is not an end in its own right. But whether indeed there has been arraignment, whether the cases are ongoing, whether convictions are secured and whether indeed public properties were recovered in the course of prosecution. So by and large, if you look at the fight against corruption within the context, the spirit of prosecution, I think is not a very unique charge against the background that these cases are ongoing and along the line, convictions are being secured, along the line, recoveries are being made and it is not that these cases are overlooked.
Are you suggesting that the recovery of looted properties and funds is an end in itself, one that you seek in order for justice to be served?
It is not an end but factors relating to the fight against corruption are being consummated within the context of high profile prosecution, even if conviction is the end we seek. But the fact that recoveries are being made is also a plus in the fight against corruption. Prosecution is not a one day or overnight affair. It is a process and achievements relating to such a process are being recorded along the way, achievements relating to forfeiture, orders of forfeiture being drafted in the course of prosecution. So, all through the process, successes relating to prosecution are being recorded.
At a point, a judge said some of these cases were being mismanaged. Isn't part of the problem, the fact that you bring prosecutors that are inexperienced in prosecuting criminal cases? Why is it that you bring lawyers from basically anywhere? Someone, for example, has been a maritime lawyer for 20 or 30 years and because he is a SAN, you suddenly turn him into prosecutor?
Well, it is not about a big name, it about specialty. The undertones associated in these cases vary. For example, there are cases that have maritime undertone, it only natural that you bring a lawyer that is experienced in maritime to prosecute it when the need for it arises. The coloration in every case varies, that is why you require people of special skill. But the truth of the matter is that prosecution of criminal cases is a process that involves multiple agencies. For example, when it comes to investigation, the role of the police cannot be ignored, that of the EFCC, the ICPC and associated agencies that have the responsibility of investigating. And then added to that, you equally factor in legal drafters, people with special skills in legal drafting for the purpose of drafting charges in line with the prevailing principles of law as it relates to the crime. When it comes to actual proceedings, you equally require a very good advocate with special skills in the field that is up for determination in a particular court. Added to this; the investigators, legal drafters, prosecutors, the court element also plays a role. It is a composition of various stakeholders participating in the prosecution process. It is not something you can look at in isolation. You have to have a comprehensive picture in arriving at a decision as to who should now be involved at the point of investigation, at the point of prosecution and which court ordinarily should have jurisdiction over and above the matter in contention.
Two points: first, you appear to disagree that these cases are being poorly prosecuted? The second is on the legal drafters. In so many cases, you file charges, two, three months later the charges are amended. Who’s responsible for the back-and-forth? Your legal drafter in-house or lawyers from outside?
It depends on the circumstances; but let me first disabuse your mind from the conclusion you arrived at earlier that cases are poorly prosecuted. They are not. That is why I have taken time to bring to your attention the multiplicity of the parties involved in the act of prosecution. It is wrong for you to jump to the conclusion that cases are poorly prosecuted, particularly against the background that we have three layers of court that determine the outcome of a case. One example is a case that was determined at the Code of Conduct Tribunal level and the subject was entirely acquitted. The matter eventually went to the Court of Appeal and the court took a position that some of the determination of the lower tribunal level were wrong in law. So for you now to arrive at a conclusion as to whether a case is poorly or properly prosecuted, you have to allow for the conclusion of the process of appeal. So now against this background, what case is it that was lost at the Supreme Court level that justifies your conclusion that cases are being poorly prosecuted? It is only when a decision is taken at the Supreme Court level that you can now be on a proper footing to jump to conclusions that a case is poorly prosecuted or is not. When a case has not gone through the hierarchy of the courts, it would be preemptive and premature to jump and arrive to the quality of the prosecution or otherwise.
Can you tell us categorically that the aim of the federal government is get conviction in cases of corruption or will the government be satisfied with recovering looted funds?
The aim of the government in corruption and the fight against corruption is all inclusive. All inclusive in the sense that we target conviction, we target recovery and then we target public satisfaction or public interest at the end of the day. So it is not an end that is exclusive in its right but an end that is all inclusive in the sense of protecting public interest. And the protection of the public interest is from the perspectives of conviction and also the recovery of stolen assets.
SERAP got two court rulings asking the Federal Government to publish details of loot recovery and the names of those involved. Why has the government not obeyed these rulings?
Well, you are not fair on the government to jump to that conclusion, particularly on disobedience to court orders on details of the looters. I believe if you keenly follow the details relating to recovered assets, you will be aware of the fact that about three or four weeks back, the president put in place an audit committee that was mandated to gather data from the agencies of government responsible for recovery of public assets. The intention at the end of the day is to comply with the orders of the court that were granted. Against this background, the effort put in place by this government to gather all the details shows it would be premature to suggest it has disobeyed a court order. Obedience is a process and you have to take into consideration certain reconciliation processes with a view of coming up with a solid and comprehensive data, particularly if it is not time bound.
From your perspective, do you think it is a criminal offense to be in contempt of court?
Well, contempt attracts conviction naturally, so it is indeed a criminal offense. The punishment depends on the nature of contempt but the bottom line is that is a punishable offense and it is indeed a criminal offense. But the term is usually discretionary depending on the severity of the contempt.
You recently accused EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, of frustrating the Federal Government fight against corruption. What is the basis for doing so?
There was no such accusation and I have to say clearly, that is a baseless allegation.
Do you have faith in the EFCC chairman?
You see, the fight against corruption is not about individuals. It is not about Abubakar Malami, neither is it Ibrahim Magu. It is about institutions and the prevailing state of things is that I have utmost faith in all the institutions, particularly against the fact that we are working hand in glove. As far as the fight against corruption is concerned, we are working together in terms of investigation. We are working together in terms of prosecution. We are working together in terms of the pursuit of looted assets both locally and otherwise. So the idea of a kind of friction as being portrayed by the press, I think is more or less only in the press.
Where do you think the press is getting all this from?
I am not certain honestly, with all sincerity. One thing I am certain of, the conclusion that you arriving at now that I have lost faith in Magu, I don't know how you arrived at your conclusion. It is definitely not from the office of the Attorney General. So those are the kind of insinuations that are in the public space at times over which you have no control. Most of the time, you try to figure out the source and the conclusion. You have arrived at a conclusion. May I respectfully ask for your source?
It has been said that you are actually unhappy with Magu because you wanted him to release some files of governors under investigation, which he was not prepared to release. Is this true?
It is not true. Some of these cases relating to governors are pending in court and are ongoing. Perhaps because the office of the Attorney General has supervisory role over the commission, the need may arise for you to, as a matter of policy, to decide to look into the progress being made over the cases and arrive at a decision. Early on, I spoke on forfeiture; to look at the cases whether there is need for an application to be filed relating to the forfeiture or to look into the cases with view of solidifying certain aspects of it. We look at the cases to decide what should be done in respect of them. I think the act of supervision by a ministry is an act that allows for making inquiries, seeking to know the position of things when the need arises. But it is not about friction in any way.
In this government, it goes beyond your relationship with Magu. There is interagency rivalry and insubordination. A case is the rivalry between the SSS and EFCC. Do you think it is harming the anti-corruption war?
Disharmony, acrimony in whatever we look at is not good for the system regardless of the nature of the system, not just in the executive, but also in the legislature and judiciary. But I think it is not disharmony or acrimony that naturally affects the functions of the institutions. It is not about individuals, it is about the institutions. If the institutions in their own right operate effectively in terms of their targeted functions, honestly I cannot conclude that disharmony, if indeed it exist, is negatively affecting the agencies and their functions.
It doesn't appear that way from the public point of view. Recently the SSS prevented the EFCC from arresting a former DG. Can you also tell us what exactly happened?
You see, when it comes to issues that you pick from the public space, particularly the social media space, honestly I would not like naturally to rely exclusively on such information. But I have to tell you categorically that in the discharge of my duties I have not been formally briefed on the circumstances, if any, that led to public insinuations relating to the purported face-off between the SSS and EFCC. Honestly, I wouldn't like to arrive at any conclusion without being formally and properly briefed over the issue.
Now it happened more than a month ago. If you haven't been briefed, the Attorney General, then there is huge failure in the system. Are telling us it didn't happen?
It is not that I am telling you it didn't happen. And when you are talking of a vacuum in the administrative processes in the event that the Attorney General is not briefed, I think you are looking at it perhaps only from a legal point of view. When the issue at stake is security, even as the Attorney General of the Federation, there are things that are exclusively meant for the consumption of the president. If I may cite an example, looking at the National Security Agencies Decree of 1986, it says anything that has to do with finances of the agencies – the security agencies – are directly answerable to the Presidency. It follows accordingly that it is not everything that the office of the Attorney General is bound to know. The office (of the AGF) is only bound to know those things that will prepare it for the purpose of public prosecution for the sustenance of public interest. So it does not go to establish the existence of administrative inadequacies or failures.
You just said that it's more about institutions rather than about individuals. It was an individual that EFCC attempted arrest. Are suggesting that the EFCC was wrong?
I am not making any suggestions on that matter, at least not without knowing the facts and circumstances of the situation.
There were rumours that some corruption cases against some judges (from the north) were deliberately mismanaged because going the whole hog might hurt your political ambition. Is that true?
Perhaps if you can be specific, I will be able to address your question directly. But one thing I want to tell you and assure you is that as far as the prosecution of corruption cases are concerned, regardless of the individuals or institutions involved, there is nothing like discrimination.
Are you planning to run for the governorship of Kebbi in 2019?
I have never in life, as a person, formed a personal opinion of engaging in election contest. When contest is an issue, it was never my personal decision to offer myself for contest. Contest for governor, over time was something that was forced on me by the prevailing circumstances of people inviting me into it. I think perhaps what is material here about my person is that ordinarily, in all sincerity, I wanted to disengage in anything active in public life, in terms of the pursuit of political interest. My intention in life was to retire at the age of 50 from anything active including my legal practice, which was my mainstay. By His Grace, I have had the opportunity to attain relative stability in life before I was 50. I was able to have some business interest and investments that earned me enough money to cater for my bills and I felt if I could pay my bills generally, there was no point in life to push hard for an engagement in public or political life. So it was never my intention in life to contest right from the onset, much less now when an opportunity has been accorded me to serve my nation and I am comfortable and satisfied with the contributions I have given from the responsibilities that was placed in me and the confidence placed in me. So I look at life, particularly the public life from the point of service and I have had an opportunity from the office I hold to make meaningful contributions to the development of the nation. I do not see myself, forcing myself into any contest. But then, it is only natural, man proposes but it is eventually for God to dispose. That is my conclusion.
What if your people call you?
Honestly, even if my people call me, it calls for extensive consideration. Extensive for that matter because honestly God knows, as a person, I do not see myself offering to contest any political office. Offering myself is out of the question and it has never been part of my agenda in life to offer myself. But then service to humanity is part of me.
What was your role in the Rasheed Maina saga?
I played a role of public interest. The truth of the matter is that sometime in January 2016, I had cause to travel the United Arab Emirates as part of the entourage of Mr. President. The intention was to sign certain agreements to attract investments to Nigeria. The agreements were also intended to lay the foundation for the fight against corruption, particularly against the background of education that a lot of monies were looted from Nigeria and perhaps were housed in UAE. That was the public interest of it I was talking about. It was during that trip that Maina made frantic efforts to meet with Mr. President. Incidentally, he was not accorded that opportunity and as he told me, it was suggested to him that he could not have access to the President, he could consider talking to the Attorney General who was part of the entourage. He succeeded in getting my number through the associated staff, who was also part of the entourage. And then he kept calling. I did not have his number because we never had cause to engage in life. The calls were incessant and I felt I should pick it. He introduced himself but not by name. It was by being a Nigerian, who was interested in meeting with you as the Attorney General and offer you very useful information that could be of help to the government in its drive relating to the fight against corruption. That was how it started. I did not in all sincerity give him the go ahead to see me. I was just contemplating whether to meet with who was calling or not. Eventually he called back to introduce himself as Maina. When he now mentioned the name Maina, the controversy being generated about his person back home immediately rang a bell in my memory. I equally developed interest particularly because he talked of information that was of public interest. The office of Attorney General is saddled with the responsibility of sustenance of the public interest as against individual interest. But then, arising from the controversy, I felt I should perhaps discuss and seek the clearance of certain security agencies for the purpose of operating on the side of caution. That was how eventually, I decided to call on the DG of State Security Service for a second opinion as to whether or not to allow for a meeting with Maina. He suggested to me that it was a good idea considering that it was of public interest. But he suggested to me that I should look for a third party to part of our meeting. Coincidentally, the National Security Adviser was equally part of the entourage. I mentioned it to him and decided eventually to meet with Maina.
So the NSA was present at the meeting?
The NSA and I met with him at the reception of the Emirate Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. He came along with his wife. We were not aware that he was in the company of his wife. He later told me that he was apprehensive, so his wife was lurking around and in the case any eventuality, she could relate what actually happened. So we discussed. The discussion happened to be very meaningful, particularly from the point of national interest. It was a time that Maina intimated us to the fact that there exists a cartel, a syndicate within the pension scheme. The truth of the matter is that what was been paid as pension on a monthly basis was around N5bn or so. But the actual figure required for pension settlement per month was within the range of N1.3bn. The implication of what he was saying was that around N3.7bn or so went into personal pockets. He provided detailed information in that respect. And he equally intimated me that there existed 66 accounts that were being used in that respect. He also confided in me that the pension syndicate had taken control of a sizable portion of the media. And in fact, they were targeting people that were adverse to their cause, rubbishing them, including the investigators that were working on the pension scheme. He confided in me that there was an attempt on his life, when he had fallen out of favor with the syndicate. Back home, I looked at the information. I shared it within the government circle. We took advantage of the information provided by him and it turned out to be substantially and factually correct as it relates to a pensions syndicate. And also as it relates to ghost pensioners within the pension scheme. And it turned out to be beneficial as it reduced the pension wage by a sizable degree, that is N5bn to N1.3bn accordingly. So that is what happened. But one thing I want to put across clearly is the fact that our discussions with Maina were without any strings attached. He simply came to me as a patriotic Nigerian desirous of providing information that could be beneficial to the government.
Was the President aware of the meeting?
At the time the meeting was held (with Maina), Mr. President was not aware. But much later, after we returned back home, I took Mr. President into confidence about the information and sought for leave to share it with other agencies with the purpose of blocking leakages. That was the extent to which the president was aware of the information. He came to be aware of the meeting with Maina much later. It was out of desire to seek for his directives relating to the information in terms of its application for the purpose blocking leakages associated with the looting of pension funds.
You said the information he provided you turned out to be substantially true, which means you investigated. Has anyone from the syndicate been arrested? Why is no one being prosecuted? And then why didn't you share this information with the public. Why didn't you put the public in your trust?
As it relates to prosecution, as it is, about 14 cases were initiated and there were two convictions in respect of pension.
It was based on information from Maina?
It is part of it because the information provided by Maina has helped in solidifying the cases in terms of securing convictions. Some of these cases were pending even before the information was made available.
So the two people you got convicted, they were part of the syndicate? And what about the accounts you mentioned?
They were. As for the accounts, they were generally frozen and recoveries were made by relevant security agencies. That is the position of the accounts. About 12 of the cases, as I am talking to you, are pending and ongoing.
You also said at the meeting, there were no strings attached, which means he didn't place conditions, he didn't ask to be reinstated in the civil service. Whose decision was it to have him reinstated?
In 2016, much later after we were back from UAE, Maina sent in a letter to the Office of the Attorney General seeking to be reinstated and attached a copy of the judgement which he claimed to have obtained and some orders as well. There was an order to the effect that he should be removed from the watch-list. There was a judgement in respect of a warrant of arrest issued against him by the National Assembly which was set aside. His lawyer now asked the office of the Attorney General to now give consequential effect to the community reading of those judgements. A consequential effect in the sense that Maina was dismissed or claimed that he was dismissed from service on account of his absence from duty and his absence was translated to the issuance of a bench warrant by the National Assembly. His argument was that since his dismissal was a product of the warrant of arrest, which was eventually nullified, the dismissal from service cannot stand. That was the argument of his lawyer in the letter. And then on the basis of that argument, he was craving for the intervention of the office of the Attorney General for him to be reinstated back in service. As is the tradition in the office of the Attorney General, upon receipt of the letter, I now instructed a line officer to look at the claims, judgement, the orders and the letter of the lawyer and advise the Attorney General accordingly. The line officer responded much later and then arrived at the conclusion that consequential effect could indeed be given to the judgement attached by Maina's lawyer. My mind was not settled on his conclusion and I now minuted back to him and asked him to canvass the argument as to how nullification of the warrant of arrest could translate to reinstatement. There was no further correspondence from the line officer for about two months or so. He now developed a new memo. This time around, he was suggesting that there existed a pending case before the National Industrial Court that was again instituted but Maina as at the time Maina was dismissed from service. The lawyer now developed further argument that by the principles of law that when a matter is pending in court, parties must refrain from further action. So he now suggested that the community reading of the two; the fact that a warrant of arrest was issued that was issued was nullified by a judgement of the court and the fact that as of the time the warrant of arrest was issued, there was a pending case at the National Industrial Court, I should see reason in justifying, directing or perhaps recommending the reinstatement of Maina back into service. But then, the court processes referred to in the subsequent memo were not attached to the opinion. I now minuted back to the line officer directing that he should provide the court processes. That was it. There was no further correspondence from the line officer up till when the story came in the media space that Maina was indeed reinstated.
You didn't reinstate him?
No. It was work in progress as far as the Ministry of Justice is concerned. As at October 5, there was a letter that was developed by a line officer, advising that Maina should be reinstated. But those other previous inquiries made by me immediately rang a bell and I now put the letter on hold to allow me time to have a holistic further review of the file. That was the time the issue of reinstatement now came all over the place. It became very surprising to me that this was happening.
Who reinstated him?
As far as the office of the Attorney General was concerned, it was work in progress. There are certain things you have to take into consideration if at this point, you are talking of who reinstated Maina. I think in the course of public hearings, some people accepted responsibility. I don't know whether you are privy to those sittings. But then, the truth of the matter is whether Maina is reinstated or was not reinstated, it boils down to a constitutional issue as to who has the responsibility of reinstating Maina within the context of the constitution. I think it is appropriate at this juncture to refer you to section 158 of the constitution that clearly states who has responsibility of reinstating Maina in the event that there is need for so doing. I have to tell you, in the office of the Attorney General, the reinstatement of Maina, as at today, was a work in progress and no conclusion has been arrived at.
You are pushing back the responsibility of reinstating him to the Civil Service Commission and the Head of Service. But some details are missing in the account you just gave. Isn't it a fact that he was dismissed because he absconded from duty not because of a warrant of arrest?
When I talk of work in progress, in arriving at conclusion in the office of the Attorney General, we take in a lot of factors. One thing I could remember very well is that I wrote a letter to the Civil Service Commission, developing certain questions and seeking information there, which were intended to assist the office of the Attorney General to arrive at a decision. I demanded for copies of the court processes with a view to look into them. I equally requested for the development of further argument relating to the claim of Maina's lawyer. So in arriving at a decision, naturally the office of the Attorney General takes a lot of factors into consideration. That is why I said it was work in progress. My query as to how the nullification of the warrant of arrest will translate to reinstatement, my request for court processes, my letter to the Civil Service Commission seeking clarification in respect of certain areas; were all intended to allow the Attorney General look into multiple factors that were of some relevance or consequence to respond to the lawyer.
From the time line by the Head of Service, a lot of the blame goes to your own office. You’ll have to acknowledge that some damage has been done to the President’s image because of this. Don't you think the right thing for you is to accept responsibility, maybe even resign?
Resign at the instance of a media hype, at the instance of a pension syndicate that I believe I should prosecute?
Do you genuinely believe this is just media hype?
I genuinely believe so and with a lot of political undertones.
What about the image of the President? You are fighting corruption and you bring in somebody with allegations of corruption hanging over him, a fugitive from justice that is still in hiding.
Where is the corruption element in the reinstatement of Maina, assuming without conceding that Maina was indeed reinstated? Are you insinuating that certain corrupt undertones were prevailing? What damage is there against the President as far as this scenario is and pension syndicate is concerned?
Maina has been accused of corruption; he has been accused of mismanaging billions of naira. He was even on the run from Nigeria.
The office of the Attorney General is the custodian of public interest and if the public interest demands that I should bring Maina back for the purpose of enhancing the capacity of the office to prosecute the pension syndicate, I could unilaterally exercise that decision. That decision has been vested in the office of the Attorney General. The idea of bringing Maina back is not an issue provided it is done in the public interest, if indeed I have taken steps to do that.
If it was genuinely in public interest and you had a cooperating witness, it goes back to the previous question on why you did not explain all these things to Nigerians?
Do I have the responsibility of taking Nigerians into confidence? If for example I have taken a decision...you are jumping to conclusions about the reinstatement. I told you it was work in progress. At the end of the day, if the public interest demands that I should bring Maina back, I will definitely do so for the purpose of enhancing the fight against corruption.
Looking back at all the controversy it has generated, would you act differently?
It boils down to whether I have indeed acted or I have not. If hundreds of Mainas that believe they had information to offer as far as the protection of the national interest is concerned, I will meet them and I will do so again.
Why has the government refused to release Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife?
When you talk of release in compliance with court order, there are a lot of factors you have to take into consideration. Among the factors that play out in terms of compliance with the court order, the constitutional right of appeal is a factor that you naturally have to consider. The multiplicity or dimensions of investigations are issues you take into consideration. Public interest as against individual interest is equally a factor you have to take into consideration. Now if there exists a ruling against which you appeal and perhaps file an application for stay of execution, the idea of disobedience does not arise. If one person is charged with an offense of fraud and then along the line, certain dimensions relating to murder in the cause of perpetrating the fraud arises, the state has the responsibility to investigate the murder. The fact that he has been granted bail on fraud does not take away the right of the state to take him into custody for the purpose investigating murder. If national interest is at stake for example, you are accused of insurgency or you are accused of breaching national security and then you are an individual craving for a private right, the public interest naturally prevails. What I am trying to put across is the fact that you cannot jump to conclusions as to the existence of obedience or disobedience to court orders without factoring the prevailing circumstances. And unfortunately, when security is involved, it is not all the time that they are open to the public. In essence, compliance with a court order or disobedience to a court order is a function of a lot of factors.
What does the government have against him that you think he doesn't deserve bail?
Some of these factors are playing out naturally for the government to take the position it has taken. And the public may not necessarily be entitled to know arising from the security implications until such a time it becomes necessary for the public to know. It is not everything that the public is entitled to know as a matter of right, particularly when the national interest is at stake.
Do the Elzakzakys have any rights?
Each and every Nigerian is entitled to certain rights within the context of the constitution. But those rights are subservient to public interest. I think what you need to know is that there are state offenses. I believe you know that it is Kaduna state government (particularly as it relates to some of these issues) that is prosecuting him for certain state offenses. But for whatever reason, I wouldn't like to preempt or make disclosures because of the security implications and because they are not ripe for public consumption. What the public will know is at the discretion of the court. Even in court, when the need arises, for certain information not to be made available to the public, an application could be made for a kind of off-camera proceedings.
Will thousands of his followers who lost their lives get any justice?
The matter justice is a matter naturally for judicial determination. Each and every case will be considered on the basis of its peculiarities and merits.
Former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, has been granted bail a number of times and yet remains in custody. Why is that?
The same explanation of el-Zakzaky is equally applicable. The case is ongoing. He has been severally produced before the courts.
Is Dasuki a political prisoner?
I am not aware of a political offense within the Nigerian context. So, being a political prisoner does not arise at all. And the charges are there. Perhaps maybe you need to review the charges for to arrive at a decision as whether he is indeed a political prisoner.
This particular case relates to the arms deals and money that was shared before the election. Every other person that was involved has been granted bail except for him. Why?
What is the implication of the arms deal if I may ask a question? Money is provided for the procurement of arms and then the arms are not procured. Military personnel lost their lives as a result, individuals lost their lives as a result. What is your definition of an arms deal?
Beyond the arms deal, he was National Security Adviser. He had no real office. Politically, constitutionally, he acted on behalf of the President. His office was within the Presidency. How is it that the President is not facing any charges? That is why we ask again, is Dasuki a political prisoner?
You see, the idea of attachment as far as constitutionality is concerned, is not an issue. It does not go to say that you cannot charge A without B for example. It depends on the facts that are available. If the facts are peculiar to you, nothing can stop you from being considered for prosecution.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has threatened to blacklist Nigeria by the end of 2017 for failing to implement Egmont Group guidelines. Where do things stand now?
Well I think the situation is redeemable. Egmont Group sent what and what they require for the purpose of redeeming the situation. That is what and what is expected of Nigeria to do. I am happy to report that a committee was put in place by the presidency and that committee met and assigned responsibilities. It is a multifaceted committee inclusive of the National Assembly and inclusive of the executive. That committee met, came up with a recommendation and assigned responsibilities. For example, the office of the Attorney General is expected to play a certain role by way of taking some administrative steps relating to certain regulations that were mentioned by the Egmont Group for the purpose of having them revoked or refilled. The office of the Attorney General has to take those steps. The National Assembly is expected to play a certain role by way of making certain amendments to the EFCC Act, particularly as it relates to the administrative independence of the Financial Intelligence Unit. Those expectations on the part of the National Assembly, they are working aggressively hard on it. I understand some of the bills have indeed reached the final reading. And then financial independence for the FIU came into play as one of the demands of the Egmont Group. I am happy to report that as far as the 2018 budget is concerned, the FIU had a line budgetary provision, distinct and separate from that of EFCC. The responsibilities assigned to the office of the Attorney General, we are consummating. The fact that the National Assembly is working aggressively hard in terms of the passage of the relevant laws and making amendments to the existing ones, the fact that financial autonomy and independence is accorded the FIU, my conclusion is clear that indeed, the situation is not only redeemable but indeed, we will overcome it very soon.
Autonomy and independence are two different words. They mean entirely different things. A lot of people believe the National Assembly, rather than give FIU autonomy, want to make it an entirely independent body. Is this aimed at weakening the EFCC?
I stand wherever will bring Nigeria back into the fold of the Egmont Group. If the Egmont Group will be satisfied with the autonomy, I will be 100 percent happy with it. If it requires independence, I will be equally happy with it. But one thing you need to know is that I do not see it from the point of weakening because the essence of autonomy and independence is that of discretion. That is according discretion to FIU and making it accessible. For example, if the Financial Intelligence Unit is not independent, a request by the police for information can only be granted upon the approval of the EFCC. So, if the essence is to take away the bureaucratic bottleneck that now brings inefficiency in the system and making FIU accessible to agencies like NDLEA, agencies like police, ICPC for example, I do not see it as undermining the EFCC but rather strengthening the system and access to information for efficient prosecution of cases among other things.
Is there a deadline for Nigeria to meet the Egmont Group requirements?
As it is, we are in constant correspondence. In terms of deadline, we agreed on timelines. That is why I told you earlier that the office of the Attorney General consummated what is expected of it. And then the National Assembly, in fairness, is also well working aggressively. Senator Chukwuka Utazi was the chairman of the committee that was put in place. And arising from the responsibilities assigned to the National Assembly in terms of seeing to the consummation of the legislative bills that are pending, they are equally working hard. We are all commonly in agreement that time is of the essence and then we are working in that direction, trying to keep to time, so that within the shortest possible time, things are concluded at our own end, and then we take the necessary steps.
The Federal Government was widely criticized for the midnight raid on the homes of judges sometime ago. Do you regret that decision?
Issues of governance are not about regret but about efficiency, doing things in the right way and manner. In arriving at a decision as to whether things are done in the right way or manner, there is always room for improvement. There is always room for going back to the drawing board to analyze the prevailing and legal framework with a view to ensure things are done in a rightful and orderly manner. So, regardless of the circumstances, the most fundamental thing is that we are, on a daily basis, from the point of efficiency, looking at things from the legal framework and ensuring things are properly done.
Did you approve of the raid?
I wouldn't like to answer that question.
It is one thing to arrest judges and charge them with a crime. But it always seems political if you include a justice of the Supreme Court. Regardless, during the time of President Obasanjo, he had problems with some judges. He went through the NJC and then had the Senate impeach the judges. Why couldn't this government do it that way?
It depends on what you are looking at. If you are looking at it from the point of criminality, then it goes without saying that only a court of law could pronounce someone guilty. But if you are looking at it from the administrative point of mere removal, perhaps some other considerations might be coming to your mind. But then, I think the peculiarities of the situation we have at hand border on corruption. Two, they border on criminality. And there are no two ways about it, when an offense is at stake, then the court is where to go.
The reality is that you are taking these judges to courts that will be presided over by their colleagues. And it is natural that they will fight back. Very recently, the Appeal Court ruled that the EFCC could not prosecute judges unless they are indicted by the NJC and until they are removed from office. Don't you think this is the natural consequences of the missteps on your path?
Guided by the judicial oaths of office and the administrative oaths of office, I think we are bound to operate on the basis of no fear or favor. So allowing certain extraneous considerations that could kind of negate the provisions of the judicial oaths of office is out of contemplation. Honestly, I do not look at things from a kind of sentimental point of view. But I think a judicial officer has a responsibility to be bound by his oaths in determining cases and issues on the basis of clear absence of fear or favor.
Do you agree with that ruling of the Appeal Court?
It is not about agreeing or disagreeing. A judgement of the court is a judgement of the court. But then you have to operate within the constitutional rights provided. And if I were to look at it from that perspective, I would definitely appeal.
You support EFCC's appealing the ruling?
I will support an appeal against the background that is constitutional. It is a matter of right and then we need to test decisions as to the last bus stop.
Do you think the present makeup of the NJC is interested in fighting corruption?
As I stated in the course of answering a question, in whatever we do, we are making efforts towards efficiency. We cannot rule out going back to the drawing board for the purpose of accommodating new ideas that will improve the efficiency of the system. One thing I can clearly tell you in all sincerity is that the NJC is working hard in cleansing the system. I think recently, a lot of cases were treated, a lot of recommendations targeted at cleansing the system were made by the NJC. So the NJC as it is, is alive to its responsibilities. But then the possibility or need for further improvements cannot be ruled out.
The government has been criticized for not doing enough to use the instrument of the law to recover billions of Nigeria's stolen wealth. What progress, if any has been made?
I think that conclusion is highly unfair to the government. I do not know any government that has succeeded in making substantial local recovery of stolen assets as has been done by this government. We have succeeded generally in making a lot of recoveries. And then if you want to be just and fair to this government, it is not something that you have to look at strictly from the point of recoveries. If you decide that is what you want to look at, fine. In terms of recoveries for an example, we concluded on the recovery of $381million from Switzerland. Last week, an order of the court was given for the recovery of $85million Malabu illicit flow. We are expecting this any moment from now. I am not certain whether the money has been remitted already. All the processes for the recoveries of these monies have been concluded. And again, we have signed an agreement with government of the United States of America that has now paved the way for a timeline, roadmap for the recovery $700million or so. Added to all this, signed agreements with the government of United Arab Emirates among others for repatriation of ill-gotten wealth. We are working aggressively in that direction. That is it from the point of recovery. But if you have taken a decision to look at the success of government in the direction of the fight against corruptions and crime prevention; in the history of Nigeria, this is the government that has succeeded in the effective implementation of the Treasury Single Account. A situation whereby before, for example, about 66 accounts were opened relating to pension over time. The era has now passed when you will have multiple accounts being operated at the instance of the agencies over which the Federal Government is lacking any idea about their existence or operations. If you are talking of sanity in the banking system, the application of the bank verification number is there. If you are talking of sanity in the salaries and wages, we are living witnesses to the fact that integrated technology that captures workers by their biometrics is now in place. If you talking of prosecution, military, police, politicians inclusive of the legislators and the executive are being prosecuted. If you are talking of the international good will, the government is acclaimed as being serious in the fight against corruption. So, in what way can you justifiably conclude that the government is not doing enough in terms of recovery of looted assets? I think you are not fair. Internationally, the Nigerian government is key in developing resolutions that are being adopted towards the fight against corruption. A resolution that was agreed to during the London Summit in 2016 provides that internationally, there should be no room for looters in terms of investments. It was a resolution that was developed by the Nigerian government. Equally, Nigeria is pushing for the denial of political asylum and associated rights of investment by looters.
How successful have you been at that?
We have succeeded in making it difficult for looters to invest elsewhere. We are making progress in terms of denial of political asylum and Nigeria has equally subscribed to open government partnership. It is the only government in Africa that has now accepted the involvement of the civil society organizations in enhancing the transparency of the process of repatriation of money and their applications.
Will this government prosecute the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal?
You see, this government is not about personalities. That is the truth of the matter. It is about whether there are prevailing facts and circumstances that establish a prima facie case that calls for prosecution. It is not about individuals, it is about the facts and about the existence of prima facie case. The answer depends on establishing a case. When a case exist, then definitely, prosecution follows.
You were part of the three-man committee including the Vice President and the National Security Adviser that investigated the charges made against Lawal. And you did call for his prosecution according to the report submitted to the president. Did you not?
Have you seen the report? I wasn't the chairman of the committee. That is one. I was a member. And then two, it was a committee that was put together by the President and the report was submitted to the President. I think it only follows, naturally, that whatever disclosure should be made about the report of the committee should first come from the Presidency or from the chairman of the committee. I am not in a position to give a clear cut stand as to the conclusions arising from the report.
Why is the report being treated as a state secret?
I doubt your conclusion that it is being treated as a state secret. But then, have you filed any application under the Freedom of Information Act that was denied?
Will you push for the separation of the offices of the AGF and minister of justice?
Honestly, in terms of efficiency and independence of decisions, it is not a bad idea. It is not a bad idea to have the Attorney General protected and insulated from the executive influence. It is not a bad idea to give a trial to something that could be considered in terms testing the efficiency. We have not tested that approach. I think it is something we have to look at from the perspective of efficiency of the system. I will support it because I believe in the fact that some level of efficiency might go into the system.
You were involved in the merger process that gave birth to APC, that is from CPC, ACN, ANPP and part of APGA. Were you confident that the merger would lead to electoral victory in 2015?
As at the time it was consummated, I was very much confident because of my calculations. On the part of the CPC for example, honestly I strongly canvassed for it. We tried it in 2011. But then time was against us. The truth about of the matter is that if you look at the consistent 12 million votes that President Buhari had been getting over time from the north, and juxtaposing it with the constitutional provisions relating to geographical spread, it was my position that the only answer then was a merger. Even if CPC had succeeded in getting 16 million votes then, without the constitutionally required geographical spread, it couldn't have translated into the election victory for the party. Assuming we had 15 million votes and PDP then had 13 million votes but PDP had geographical spread, at the end of the day, it is only natural that PDP would the winning party. So, I felt the merger was the open option that could easily translate our votes to electoral victory.
You are one of the very few people from the CPC that made it into this government. A lot of them, along the way, they fell out with the president. There was Buba Galadima and Sule Hamma. There are also those that campaigned for him under APC but were left high and dry. Do you think it will cost him in 2019?
At what point did anyone fall out with the President? If you want to assess the political fortunes of the president as it relates to association or relationships, something you might have to consider is perhaps from the point of merger or perhaps prior to primaries. With all modesty, I want to state that as at the time the primaries were conducted, Buba Galadima was already not party to that association; the same thing with Sule Hamma. Eventually, when the campaign structure was put in place, they were equally not party to it. And they were not part of the campaign structure. From those antecedents, it is not something you factor into the assessment of the political fortunes of the President. As to those from the APC, you have to be more specific.
What is your vision for the ministry of justice?
It would be to leave behind a ministry that is institutionally strong capable and able in terms of the recovery of stolen assets, in terms of international engagements and the leadership to get things done easily and effectively. An institution that can stand on its own in the capacity to prosecute cases and the capacity to advise government. An institution strong and professional. I have in mind, an institution that can effectively compete at the international level both in terms of professionalism and in competence, in terms of spirit, doing things well and in good order.
What are the three most striking lessons you have learnt about being in government?
One great lesson that I find interesting in governance is the fact that whatever you successfully do, is never a factor for consideration. But whatever little thing people feel you have done out of order, make the headlines. So governance I believe is a very complex situation. For example, I have taken pains to tell you what achievements were there in the fight against corruption, crime prevention with TSA and in the recoveries made. But your major point of interest is the convictions, which is one of the successes in the fight against corruption. So, I have come to understand that whatever you have to do, you simply strive in making contributions to the development of the nation and forget about praises. Praises are never there in governance. But blames are everywhere for you. That is a great lesson I have found. And then two, I have equally come to appreciate that we must promote public as against individual interest. It is the public interest that eventually will make us succeed. Before now, what matters is not the infrastructural development of the nation. But perhaps allowing for the money to be shared. Now the government is working extra hard in developing the infrastructure. Nobody is talking about the infrastructure. But people are agitating that there is no money. I have equally come to understand that your inadequacies are what count not your achievements. For the first two years, when this government came to power, there has been consistent supply of petroleum products and commodities. Nobody was hailing the government over it. Now that limited inadequacies have set in relating to the supply, people are all over the place. When this government came into office for example, the security situation was terrible. Nobody was certain of going to Church and coming back hail and hearty. Nobody was sure of going to the Mosque and coming back home. Now relative peace has set in, people are no longer talking of peace and are talking of human rights abuses, disobedience to court orders without factoring public interest. People were accused of diverting public funds meant for procurement of arms on account of which many people lost their lives. People are talking of non-obedience to court order in regard to people that were accused of diverting funds. So I have come to understand that governance is not an easy job.
What are the things that give you hope about Nigeria's future?
Honestly, the ability of the government to form policies and stand by those policies. For example in agriculture, as at the time we came in, and brought in anchor growers as an agricultural policy, things were relatively difficult as it relates to food and the associated demands of the people. The government was under serious and extraordinary pressure to displace the policy and allow the inflow of rice. We stood our ground and insisted that we have the capacity as a nation to feed ourselves. As it is today, we are producing more than 70 percent of our local demand for rice. And then people engaged in agriculture are being accorded the required security and protection. People that could not previously feed in the rice market are now dominating the agricultural space. One good thing about it is having a policy, believing in the policy and sticking to it come rain, come shine. At the end of the day, we will get to the Promised Land. Nigeria is one of the few countries that could go into recession and within the shortest possible time, regain a kind of economic stability. All those things are about political will and doing things right. Internationally, the commendation coming our way about the way and manner we do things equally gives me great hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I believe in Nigeria now much more that at any other time particularly against the background of consistent policies.