What Will Buhari’s Justice Minister Be Remembered For?

By Funsho Abdullahi

For a public official that still has at least two years to continue to serve in his current capacity, it is probably a little too early to begin an appraisal of how history will judge the performance of Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s chief law officer.

Nevertheless, it is important to mention that the abstract nature of Malami’s work as Attorney General of the Federal should not be downplayed. This is because, compared to his counterparts in other ministries who can count tangible projects like roads, projects, and other activities — Malami’s work involves harnessing the technicality of the law for the benefit of Nigerians — a process which can be long, tedious and comparatively invisible to the less-discerning. This is why, for the achievements of the Attorney General to be understood and appreciated, there is a need for constant curation, cultivation, and explanation behind the activities of the Minister, the Ministry that he oversees, and the impact on President Buhari’s change agenda.

President Buhari’s 2015 change agenda had a deliberate focus on addressing the three key challenges of corruption, economy, and security. These three cardinal challenges required the instrumentalities of the law to yield results. Therefore, the generic performance of the entire government depended largely on how the person who would occupy the position of ‘Minister of Justice’ played his or her role.

Abubakar Malami (SAN) who first came into office on the 12th November 2015, as the 22nd Attorney General and Nigeria’s Minister of Justice. From the years of previous mismanagement, mistrust, and misrule by the previous ruling party, expectedly, his appointment carried with it the immediate burden of prospects — both from the President and his fellow Ministers. Additionally, the Minister of Justice was expected to coordinate the multiple, diverse, and complex stakeholders in the entire justice architecture to prepare the legal framework for the administration’s key policy choices.

To achieve the mandate of providing effective legal instruments for the seamless implementation of the agenda of the Buhari government, the justice ministry under Malami contributed significantly to the drafting of various Presidential Executive Orders, specifically Executive Order six which concerns the preservation of assets connected with corruption; and Executive Order Eight, which stipulates a Voluntary Offshore Assets Registration Scheme (VOARS). The latter is particularly significant considering its target on tracking and preventing illicit financial flows both into and out of the country.

Malami also worked hard to give Nigeria a coherent National Judicial Policy which details the direction Nigeria is headed in terms of justice administration, especially the procedure for administering criminal justice. This policy framework, according to the minister, has helped to improve the judicial process and equally enhanced citizens’ access to justice.

Conscious of the need to respect the human rights of those who err against the law, the justice minister contributed significantly to the deployment of a Virtual Automated Case Management System (VACMS) which, added to the existing Prison Information Management System (PIMS) enabled the government to integrate a biometric prisoners Information technology as a means of decongesting the mostly overcrowded Nigerian prisons. Malami had indeed made obvious his determination to achieve transparency in prison operation and helping the government achieve proper budgeting for the welfare of inmates when, on October 31, 2017, he inaugurated the Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion (PCPRD) headed by the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Ishaq Bello. The committee has facilitated the release of more than 5,000 prisoners so far.

Of course, Malami has continued to strengthen the government’s capacity to prosecute its anti-corruption fight by facilitating the reviews of existing laws, most specifically those relating to financial transparency and accountability in governance. Some of these include the Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017; Anti-Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017; Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill 2017; Proceeds of Crime Bill 2017; Public Interest Disclosure and Witness Protection Bill, 2017; and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2017. The NFIU Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly has since been assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari sometime in July 2018.

The Asset Recovery Unit (ARMU) of the ministry of justice under the leadership of Abubakar Malami has also assisted tremendously in the asset recovery campaign of the Buhari government. A multi-sectoral International and national cooperation in the recovery of stolen assets have been initiated to ensure transparency in the management of government affairs and the reforms of Nigeria’s anti-corruption policy and electoral law.

Towards the end of his first tenure as a Minister in 2015, Malami personally reported that “the Federal Ministry of Justice, under my watch, released the National Anti-Corruption Strategy Framework (NACSF) for collaboration by all the relevant agencies.” The NACSF, which was initiated to focus on the essential components of the anti-corruption fight such as, prevention of corruption, public enlightenment, campaign for ethical re-orientation, enforcement and sanctions/recovery of proceeds of corruption, has since achieved the result of closing the prevailing gaps in the anti-corruption initiatives inherited by the Muhammmadu Buhari administration.

Since his re-appointment following the victory of President Buhari in the 2019 elections, Abubakar Malami has continued to focus on sustaining the achievements recorded in his first tenure. He has continued to undertake an aggressive implementation of the Asset Recovery Campaign of the Federal Government, working with anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement, and security agencies in the recovery of public funds stolen domestically and those transferred offshore. Malami is also currently spearheading the efforts to secure the independence of state legislature and judiciary to guarantee greater transparency in the governance and justice administration at that level.

Success, they say, demands more work and greater commitments. This is no doubt clear to Malami, who has carried on his work like he is pressed in a race against time. As he sets out to accomplish all that he has set out to achieve, with his hands still on the plow, it is almost inevitable that Abubakar Malami (SAN) will have more stories of accomplishments to share in the days ahead.

For now, we watch and wait.

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