A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Festus Keyamo, in this interview, tells BAYO AKINLOYE the role he believes the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, played in the controversial recall of the wanted Abdulrasheed Maina
What do you think about the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami’s role in the controversial reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina?
I think it is important that we understand the Maina saga very well; we must understand the facts. Sometime in 2013, Maina recovered some looted funds as the chairman of a pension committee. The EFCC declared him wanted. At the same time, the Senate also set up a committee to probe him, but he refused to appear before the Senate committee and the upper legislative chamber issued a warrant for his of arrest. Maina fled the country. When he fled the country, his lawyer went to court on his behalf to challenge the procedure that led to the Senate issuing a warrant of arrest against him. The case was heard in court and the court quashed the warrant of arrest issued by the Senate against him. The reason the court did that was because Justice Bello of the Federal High Court (Abuja) felt that the Senate did not follow proper procedure in issuing that warrant. The court, however, said that does not mean the Senate does not have the power to invite anybody – it said the Senate has the power to invite anybody but must do so properly. Following that, the court now went ahead to advise Maina that he should voluntarily appear before the Senate committee as a responsible public officer who has nothing to hide. That was the judgment of the court.
The court did not quash the EFCC’s attempt to arrest him – the warrant of arrest obtained by the EFCC. The court did not issue a restraining order against EFCC arresting him. The court did not comment on the merit of the allegations against him. Therefore, the court did not clear Maina of any wrongdoing. The court did not comment on the allegations against Maina. On the other hand, the court encouraged him to appear before the Senate committee to clear himself. But Maina continued to remain in hiding. Sometime this year or in 2016, he wrote to the Attorney General of the Federation – Malami – parading that judgment in court from Justice Bello. He told the AGF that the court judgment meant that he had been cleared of allegations against him and that the AGF should facilitate his return to his office as a civil servant. The attorney general, in turn, seeing that judgment, wrote three letters. Let me quickly add before I continue that because Maina absconded from his post when the warrant of arrest was issued against him by the Senate and the EFCC, failing to return to his duty post, he was dismissed from service. Before Maina wrote the letter to the attorney general, it was reported that Maina and Malami met somewhere in Dubai –what was discussed and what went on between them nobody can ascertain.
What do you think about Malami’s correspondence, on Maina’s behalf, to the Federal Civil Service Commission?
The attorney general wrote a letter in January 2017; he didn’t get a response. He wrote another letter in February 2017. All the letters were addressed to the Federal Civil Service Commission, impressing it upon it to give effect to the judgment of Justice Bello and recall Maina to the office. The commission was then compelled to write to the office of the Head of Service of the Federation, forwarding the letter of the attorney general. Then, the office of Head of Service wrote to the Ministry of Interior that it should look into the matter based on Malami’s letter. Afterward, a committee in the ministry looked into the letters of the attorney general and the civil service commission and decided that Maina should be recalled.
Should Malami have written such a letter?
Now, that is where the puzzle begins. I have the greatest respect for my learned brother, Malami, but in this case, it appears that he did not do well in taking steps regarding the recall of Maina. I have a heavy heart discussing this issue. But I must do so because my friend (the attorney general) occupies a public office. When Maina approached him with a letter requesting that he should be recalled based on the court judgment, the first thing that Malami should have done was to enquire from the EFCC about the allegations against Maina. He also has the power to call for Maina’s file from the EFCC so that he could study the file and make an informed opinion on the issue because the judgment did not quash any proceedings against Maina. So, why did Malami overstretch the judgment in order to give Maina a clean bill of health as a means to reinstating him in his office? The Senate did not suspend Maina from office or dismiss him from office. The Senate has no power to dismiss or suspend Maina from office. So, the proceedings in the Senate had nothing to do with Maina’s employment. Why was Malami writing letters persistently – three times? Why was he giving the directive to a commission that is not under the Ministry of Justice?
The attorney general has no power to issue directives to any persons than those under his ministry. He has no right to give the directives; no attorney general has a right to do so. He can only offer legal advice, in most cases, only when his opinion is sought by that ministry; not by private persons. Maina should have directed his petition to the Ministry of Interior that dismissed him, asking that he should be recalled based on the judgement. Then, the interior ministry can now seek the legal opinion of the attorney general. All Malami did was to enforce the court judgment, albeit, wrongly. But when the chips are down, Malami absolved himself from the contentious recall. He said he was not the one that gave the final order recalling Maina. But he was the one that directed them to act in that manner. All the process of recall was set up by his persistent letter writing to the Federal Civil Service Commission. Malami knows Maina has not cleared himself before the EFCC and he knows the weight that his legal opinion as the attorney general carries. By implication, he had said Maina had no case to answer and that was why he was recalled. Can Malami still handle the file of Maina having demonstrated bias over the issue?
What do you think about the fact that the principal actors in the matter are trying to absolve themselves?
The whole episode is completely embarrassing. Somebody has to take responsibility for the situation. The head of the civil service tried to absolve herself from this issue; she said she told the President (Muhammadu Buhari) about the matter. She was aware of the correspondences and the decision made by the interior ministry. If she had reservations about the decision she should have put that down in writing. Why did she have to wait till now to act holier-than-thou?
We also want to know members of the committee in the Interior that decided to bring Maina back? Has that committee been in place or was set up purposely to bring back Maina? We want to know. The only bright spot in all of this is that the President reacted appropriately. He did not exhibit an I-don’t-care attitude. But the whole episode is embarrassing.
Don’t you think Malami and the Minister of Interior should step down because of this embarrassing incident?
The President has called for an internal investigation. He knows those he works with better. He has the final prerogative regarding such matters. By the end of the probe, he would have known the level of involvement of all these people and he can decide to take any action. I think Mr. President should know that the only reason Nigerians have persevered with this government so far is that they perceived that this government has taken the anti-corruption war a step further than previous administrations. He should be wary of incidents like Maina’s so that his anti-corruption image isn’t dented.