Three groups, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, Corner House and RE: COMMON have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate an investigative board to probe alleged fraud, which a syndicate is supervising in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
According to the groups, the Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) should be investigated over his role in the Paris Club contract scam involving states and local governments in the country.
The groups advised that the head of the investigative committee should be higher in rank than Malami so as to not influence the investigation.
In a statement signed by the Chairman of HEDA, Olanrewaju Suraju, co-founder of Corner House, Nick Hildyard, and Programme Director of RE: COMMON, Antonio Tricarico, which was made available to SaharaReporters on Thursday, the groups accused the AGF of selling national assets and diverting the proceeds into his personal purse.
The statement partly read, “The Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), Corner House and RE: COMMON have written to President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking an independent investigative body to look into the alleged fraud syndicate within the Federal Ministry of Justice and condemning the role of Minister in the Paris Club contract scam against States and Local Governments.”
The statement also noted that in other to guarantee confidence in the outcome of the inquiry, “a thoroughgoing, independent investigation into the alleged fraud should be set up, hence it's unwise for one to investigate oneself”.
It further stated, “The internal Ministry of Justice investigation that has been announced is wholly inadequate and will do nothing to assuage the concerns of the national and international anti-corruption community.
“Regardless of the qualifications and history of the five-member review panel, few can have confidence in a process that effectively allows the Ministry of Justice ‘to mark its own homework.’”
The groups reminded Buhari of their earlier letter on the same issue, saying all the allegations of mismanagement, corruption and fraud that hang over the Federal Ministry of Justice and its Minister, must not be handled with kid gloves.
The statement continued, “We have previously written to express our concerns about alleged corruption within the Ministry of Justice and its mismanagement by Attorney General Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN.
“We are therefore unsurprised, though nonetheless shocked, to read press reports that aides to the Attorney General, including his deputy director, have allegedly been selling off forfeited and recovered assets belonging to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and pocketing the proceeds.
“The reports also alleged the involvement of former members of the now-defunct Ad Hoc Committee on the Sale of Non-essential FG Residential Houses in Abuja.”
According to the groups, Malami is either incompetent or complicit in the corruption going on under his ministry, if he claims he is not aware, based on his remarks earlier this year
“The Attorney General is said to have been unaware of the alleged criminality. If so, this brings his management of the Ministry further into question. It is mindboggling that hundreds of properties could have been sold without him knowing that the proceeds had gone missing,” the groups said.
They noted that “it’s either the AGF has turned a Nelsonian blind eye to the black hole that would have been apparent in the accounts, or he was incompetent, or he was complicit”.
They affirmed that the above concerns were reinforced by AGF's failure to act when the scandal first broke. They noted that it was over two months since elements of the alleged scam were exposed by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) yet it was not until the press reported the full extent of the alleged wrongdoing that Mr Malami responded.
“As the saying goes, ‘Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done’ and in this instance, both justice and good governance demands that an independent committee be set up under the aegis of an officer of the Federal Republic who is senior to the AGF.
“We note that when Ibrahim Magu, the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was investigated, he was suspended from his post pending the outcome of an investigation conducted by an independent panel set up under your auspices,” the statement said further.
The groups further urged that the committee to be set up must report to Buhari and his Vice President Yemi Osinbajo so that the findings would not be swept under the carpet.
“We see no reason why the same model should not be adopted to investigate the Ministry of Justice allegations, with the panel reporting either to you or His Excellency the Vice President. We are aware of further allegations that have recently emerged relating to planned payments of $418 million to consultants that would be deducted from funds owed to state governments as a result of refunds from the Paris Club.
“We would therefore urge that the investigation’s terms of reference encompass these allegations. We are aware that a number of allegations of corruption have been made against Mr Malami in a Petition, which is attached, addressed to your office dated 20th July 2020,” the statement added.