Mediocrity Rules In The Ministry Of Justice

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

Word of the Day:

Drumbeater – (Noun) One that supports a cause, especially vehemently

Synonyms: partisan, zealot.

Usage: The Attorney General and Minister for Justice was an unabashed drumbeater for the cause of corruption.

Chief Michael Aondoakaa, SAN, Attorney General and Minister for Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The mere title of this man conjures up a powerful vision and ideals of the type of country we all want our Nigeria to be. The title, that is. But the man conjures up an entirely different vision, a nightmare actually.

Not since that doyen of legal jurisdiction, Chief Richard Akinjide, holder of the same titles during the Shagari Administration has this position and the holder ever been this controversial. In fact, I can’t remember any such holder in the intervening years being as controversial and in the public news as Chief Aondoakaa, all for the wrong reasons. Even his predecessor, Chief Bayo Ojo was not this controversial.

The fact is, the man has started off really very badly. He has also cast serious and worrying doubts about Yar’Adua’s government’s position on fighting corruption and adhering to the rule of law. It seems that the Minister of Justice is never sincere about meting out justice to corrupt politicians and instead is using that phrase “rule of law” to try to pull wool over our eyes and therefore doing more harm to the anti-corruption stance of his government. It does not bode well for this administration, whose leader, the President, is widely regarded as a man with a zero tolerance for corruption.

His actions so far have brought to the fore, and exposed him as a charlatan and mediocre, despite his lofty title and the suffix of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, which is meant to be at par with the UK’s equivalent of Queen’s Counsel. How this country of great potentials and fine minds always manage to come up with mediocres, ignoring merit everytime, confounds me.

The Nigerian legal and judicial system has been known all over the world for its brilliance ever since the 60s. We have exported fine legal minds to other countries in Africa and recognised in Europe. We have legal luminaries who, while based in Nigeria, are often called to other countries in Europe to display their fine minds and knowledge. I remember that Nigerians have been Chief Justices, Attorney Generals and Ministers for Justice in countries such as Gambia, Uganda, Lesotho and Botswana and many others. The late Sir Taslim Elias, a former Nigerian Chief Justice was for many years, the President of the World Court at The Hague. Chief Richard Akinjide was also to be in the World Court, and many Nigerian legal officers have served and are still serving in various capacities all over the world, not because of world political considerations, but because of the reputation of the legal and judicial profession in Nigeria.

To be saddled and imposed with this man, Aondoakaa, seems to be an unjustified aberration, completely out of tune with our repute. In fact, when it seems that sanity and confidence in the Nigerian legal system is being restored after the atrocities of the Abacha years, and the uncertainties of the Obasanjo Administration, we are now regressing and all the gains achieved are about to be thrown out the window. All because of this charlatan and mediocre with a patent conflict of interest.

To be frank, I had never heard of Michael Aondoakaa until he became the Attorney General. Or rather, let me put it this way; I had only heard of him because he was representing some politicians who had been accused or indicted by the EFCC for corruptly enriching themselves while in office. We can all see that he had been fighting the corners of corrupt politicians and governors for some time – and making money from it, and that means he can never see the EFCC in a good light. In February 2007, Aondoakaa appeared as lead counsel in a suit that challenged the powers of the EFCC, INEC and the six-man administrative panel instituted by former President Obasanjo to recommend the disqualification of Atiku Abubakar from the Presidential race based on his indictment by the EFCC and the administrative panel of inquiry for alleged corrupt practices. In June 2007 Aondoakaa appeared again as lead counsel for the ANPP, the PDP’s principal opposition, at the Nasarawa gubernatorial election tribunal. The list of Aondoakaa’s clients includes George Akume (former Governor of Benue State) and Abubakar Audu (former Governor of Kogi state) – both of whom have been accused of the embezzlement of significant sums of money, and who have pending criminal cases instituted against them by the EFCC. Herein lies the problem and this is where the conflict of interest comes in. He can never be favourable to Nuhu Ribadu and the EFCC’s fight against corruption because they have crossed swords many times in court.

In his article, “Attorney General Aondoakaa: His Master’s Voice” ( Malcolm Fabiyi wrote, “The question is whether or not it is ethically appropriate that a lawyer that has taken the decision to defend such men, and who by that decision, is required to question the legitimacy of the agencies that had brought charges against his clients, should now be placed in a position of authority over the same agencies that he has battled for the last couple of years in the courts! While it might be true that in law, all men are entitled to a legal defence regardless of the enormity of the allegations levelled against them, I also believe that there is something telling and revealing about Aondoakaa’s character in his decision to take on these cases. Many lawyers of established character and moral fortitude had chosen to forego the allure of huge payouts guaranteed to anyone who represented these men, and elected not to offer their legal services in defence of the pack of vultures that systematically bled our nation dry over the last eight years. “

I have been following his actions since he became Attorney General barely three months ago. Please note that in Nigeria, we have a system where the Ministers are selected for the President by the ruling party and/or governor of each of the 36 states, so it is likely that the President had not even ever heard of the man until his state’s branch of the PDP or its Governor nominated his name for a ministerial position. His first gaffe was the debate about whether the EFCC should come under his office and that EFCC should seek his office’s approval before prosecuting any case. At first, he tried to flex some muscles and then conceded that he will give the EFCC a free hand. We are now seeing first hand how much free hand he’s giving the EFCC.

The second gaffe committed by Chief Aondoakaa was during the Naira Re-denomination debacle. I don’t know when the Attorney General becomes a spokes-person for the government, but the man decided to interpret the Constitution and the law enabling the autonomy of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to serve the purpose of the Government but not the people of Nigeria. Fabiyi again posited “The manner in which Aondoakaa announced the suspension of Professor Soludo’s currency re-denomination program was a great insult and disservice to that committed patriot. Not one issue was raised by Aondoakaa about the technical and economic merits, or the lack thereof, of the program. Instead our eminent legal luminary ranted and raved about how the CBN governor failed to follow the letter of the law in the process that led up to his announcement of the program”. He ended up with egg over his face, but true to type, he did not see the egg. He was wallowing in mediocrity and his ego and self-importance as the Chief Law Officer of the country. His mediocrity shone out like a beacon, but he himself did not realise it. (These people never see it or get it, do they?). That is our political leaders for you – they never see beyond their noses for obvious and self-interest reasons.

Then comes the mother of all gaffes. He is getting himself all in a twist by publicly attacking the EFCC, a government body supposedly under him. He sent his office’s representative to a case in court being handled by the EFCC without the EFCC’s knowledge and thereby caused a lot of confusion and embarrassment in the court. That is communication breakdown for you. The Attorney-General then issued a statement saying he wants to preserve a “prohibitive injunction” issued by Abia State high court, so as to avoid his own committal to prison as the attorney-general in breach. And so, EFCC must be pushed out of court, and stopped from prosecuting ex Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, who along with his mother, allegedly stole close to 20 billion Naira of Abia State funds.

Then he demanded an apology from the EFCC and later announced to the world that the EFCC had tendered an apology to his Office. The EFCC promptly denied this. This idiocy alone has made his position untenable, not to talk of his unprofessional way of doing things. He was neither doing the right thing nor doing things right, a trait of mediocres in government and other high places.

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