Again, after multiple sessions in the past, Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami is being probed again by the legal community. In this report, LANRE ADEWOLE weighs the issues.
Embattled Nigeria’s Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) is facing another round of multiple probes, by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Legal Practitioners and Privileges Committee (LPPC) over alleged indictment in the invasion of the residence of judiciary’s second most senior officer, Justice Mary Odili.
Nigerian Tribune is exclusively reporting that a one-man fact-finding panel set up by president of the Bar, Mr, Olumide Akpata, has caused a letter to be written to the justice minister, seeking what he knows about the raid.
Nigerian Tribune can also confirm that the minister had interacted with the one-man panel, though details of his presentation are still sketchy as of press time.
It is also established that the extraordinary one-man fact-searching panel, had also written to the Inspector General of Police, seeking answers to the questions, in-between claims and counter-claims by suspects arrested and paraded by the police in connection with the October 29, 2021 raid.
Mr. Malami’s practice as a lawyer could be in jeopardy if indicted and found guilty by the lawyers’ body. While extreme sanction has lawyers completely debarred, some have been suspended from practice. Beyond the Bar probe, Mr. Malami is also facing the possibility of a probe by the LPPC, statutorily empowered to appoint lawyers as senior advocates.
While the Bar inquest is not any less insignificant, the brewing LPPC probe is of greater consequences if the AGF is found guilty of abuse of office.
While a mild sanction could see him lose the prestigious title for a period of time, a total withdrawal of the title could be the case in extreme situations.
Nigerian Tribune’s search at the Supreme Court, where the secretariat of the Body is domiciled yielded little information on the progress of the petition against him.
Though the process is under wraps, the body, superintended by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the immediate senior to Justice Odili, is duty-bound to investigate the allegations levelled against the minister, which is the standard procedure, once the petition is established to be meritorious.
A former 2nd Vice President of the Bar and the current chairman of the Bar’s section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Dr. Monday Onyekachi Ubani is the one-man panel conducting the assignment.
He would not divulge his findings to Nigerian Tribune, when contacted, saying the process was still ongoing and the information available to him would first go to the national leadership of the Bar.
Before the current episode, NBA and Malami had knocked heads in September last year, when Malami amended the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC), 2007, for legal practitioners, allegedly without due process. Olumide Akpata fired a broadside at the minister, while asking lawyers to disregard the amendment.
Third Probe by LPPC?
On June 14, 2019, Malami as a SAN, had his first encounter with the LPPC’s Disciplinary Panel, over an alleged prejudicial statement made against a former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, then, detained by the administration Malami just served as AGF, before his reappointment.
The Hearing Notice, signed by Patricia Orhomuru esq, the Secretary, Disciplinary Committee of LPPC, with Ref: No: PET/LPPC/23/2018 and dated May 16, 2019, read in part, “Take notice that the above matter is fixed for hearing by the Disciplinary Committee of the Legal Practitioner Privileged Committee of the Office of Registrar Supreme Court of Nigeria Abuja on June 14, 2019 at 11.00 o’clock in the forenoon.”
In the petition brought against him by Sambo’s wife; Hajia Bintu, his son, Abubakar Atiku and his nephew, Senator Umar Dahiru, Malami was accused of granting an interview to the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa Service on July 13, 2018, saying that Dasuki would not be released despite all subsisting court orders for his release on bails.
The family claimed Malami’s statement was prejudiced, unwarranted and unbecoming of a legal practitioner, adding that imposing sanctions on him would make other Nigerians respect the rule of law. Malami eventually appeared before the panel. However, the case was dismissed due to procedural issues on the part of the claimants. He was reappointed AGF in August same year.
In September 2020, an online petition portal against him, Change.org, by a lawyer Izu Aniagu, calling on lawyers to sign on a petition to LPPC, to exit Malami from the Inner Bar, generated close to a thousand signatures.
His alleged offence was unilateral alteration of the RPC. Aniagu eventually tabled the petition before the LPPC, though not much has been heard of it.
Like Aondoakaa, like Malami?
On October 7, 2010, months after he left as AGF, Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa was temporarily suspended as SAN by the LPPC under the leadership of his Benue kinsman now-late CJN Aloysius Katsina-Alu for alleged misconduct while in office.
Then Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Sunday Olorundahunsi told the world that the decision was arrived at after due consideration of the former minister’s response to a petition by the Committee for the Defence of Human Right (CDHR), detailing his alleged atrocious deeds in office, including weakening anti-corruption bodies and protecting politicians like James Ibori.
Two months later, on December 7, 2020, he was banned for two years, after being found guilty of misconduct.
LPPC said it concluded that Aondoakaa deserved to be stripped of the title, in view of the judgment delivered by a Federal High Court sitting in Calabar on June 1, 2010, which branded him unfit to hold the AGF’s office or any public office and declared him as persona non-grata for offences of corruption.
It alluded to the decision of the American Government to revoke Aondoakaa’s entry visa, as a pointer to him, being a bad influence on the Nigerian Judiciary.
Though LPPC had its way with the former minister just like others, then NBA president, J.B Daudu knocked the decision as null and void for the Bench.
He was certain that LPPC lacked the power to withdraw the title it confers.
He argued then; “A few days ago, it was announced by the LPPC, the body responsible for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria upon deserving legal practitioners, who have satisfied existing criteria for the award of the exalted rank, that Aondoakaa has been stripped of the said rank for a period of six months pending the determination of a petition lodged, which alleged misconduct on his part whilst occupying the office of Attorney General of the Federation between 2007-2009.
“Aondoakaa was formerly Attorney General of Nigeria and not particularly liked by members of the Bar and outsiders because he was seen as exceedingly partisan in the discharge of the functions of his office.
“It has been argued by those who support the actions of the LPPC that anybody that is empowered to appoint, expressly possesses implicit powers to remove its appointees from office. See section 11-(1)-(a)-(c) of the Interpretation Act.
“However, the Legal Practitioners Act under the maxim generalia specialibus non derogant (the special provision displaces the general) does not envisage a withdrawal, removal or suspension of the rank of SAN by section 5-(1)-(8) and 6 of the Legal Practitioners Act. Except in circumstances set out in sections 10, 11 and 12 of the Legal Practitioners Act. The long and short of the foregoing is that from its conception, the rank of SAN is a leadership position.
“It is conferred only on persons who have shown exemplary character as well as distinction in advocacy. Consequently it can only be taken away where another statutory body the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee adjudges the person accused of infamous conduct or breach of any of the rules of professional conduct (which the petition alleges that Aondoakaa has breached in this case) guilty.
“LPPC, notwithstanding, its eminent membership cannot and is not equipped to deal with matters of discipline. Its present foray in looking at matters of the discipline of a lawyer under the guise of suspending a person of the rank of SAN is ultra vires, illegal, unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void.
“By way of illustration the Privileges Committee has never considered a petition alleging indiscipline made against prospective candidates for the conferment of SAN. It recognises its lack of powers to do so. What it does is to forward such petitions to the Disciplinary Committee for actions.”
National Welfare Secretary of NBA, Mr. Kunle Edun, disagreed with the former leader of the Bar.
He said, “The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee is a creation of the Legal Practitioners’ Act. The LPPC Rules confers on the committee the power to sanction any lawyer who has been conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The SAN title is conferred by the LPPC on lawyers who have attained distinction in the legal profession in terms of character, conduct and advocacy of law. Therefore, any ethical malfeasance is viewed strongly as a violation of the sacred rules governing the conferment of the rank of SAN.
“The Honorable Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami is subject to the LPPC Rules like every other Senior Advocate of Nigeria. There is no preferential treatment. If the AGF is found to have committed an infraction of the rules, he will be sanctioned. He will not be the first SAN that will be sanctioned for bringing the revered SAN rank into disrepute.
“A Senior Advocate of Nigeria is required to be noble and upright in all his dealings. His conduct both in public and private must be such that will be one of a gentleman, not a troublemaker or a mistake in the profession.”
A Senior Advocate who wanted to speak freely, agreed completely with Edun. Ogunlana, the radical lawyer also agreed that AGF can be disciplined, though he was not categorical about whether LPPC or LPDC should do it.
Calls to Umar Gwandu, spokesperson to Malami, were not immediately replied and returned, but he had been quoted as saying his boss had nothing to fear.