Some Nigerian lawyers, as well as law enforcement officials, are expressing growing resentment and distrust of the country’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami. Highly placed sources who spoke to SaharaReporters disclosed that much of the concern has to do with Mr. Malami’s questionable decisions and acts of poor judgment as he carries out President Muhammadu Buhari’s mandate to reclaim stolen assets.
According to one source, Mr. Malami’s decision to hire a known convict, George Uboh, “is of particular concern to many people.” In 2007, SaharaReporters had disclosed that Mr. Uboh was found guilty in the United States for committing credit card and banking fraud and sentenced to nine years in prison. Following his release, Mr. Uboh was likely deported back to Nigeria. Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission allege that once back in Nigeria, Mr. Uboh continued his fraudulent activities.
The EFCC arrested Mr. Uboh for engaging in a fraud related to police equipment contract fraud. Just last week, the fraudster was given the option of serving four more years in jail or paying a fine of N4 million.
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Malami fell for Mr. Uboh’s claim that he knew ways to trace and locate hidden financial assets stashed away in “coded bank accounts.” These secret accounts are supposedly accounts owned by former and current public officials in various Nigerian banks, but not listed in banks’ formal records. These accounts enable public officials, among them elected officials and political appointees as well as their partners in the private sector, to store funds obtained in unexplainable or nefarious ways away from the gaze of law enforcement agencies and the Central Bank of Nigeria. A source disclosed that the AGF agreed to Mr. Uboh’s demand to be given 5% of any amount of assets he managed to recover from the secret accounts.
After being hired by the AGF, Mr. Uboh began writing letters to numerous financial institutions identifying himself as an official contractor for Mr. Malami and demanding information on financial transactions. SaharaReporters learned that several major banks immediately reached Mr. Malami to voice their concerns over Mr. Uboh’s activities. The Minister of Justice then responded to the banks’ pressure by terminating Mr. Uboh’s employment.
Shortly after Mr. Uboh’s termination, Uboh began telling the public that Mr. Malami was not committed to the cause of reclaiming stolen assets and stated that he managed to locate N340 billion in suspicious assets in these “coded bank accounts.”
Law enforcement sources told SaharaReporters that Mr. Malami, who is a member of a presidential committee, tasked with reclaiming stolen assets, never informed other committee members that he hired Mr. Uboh to perform any of the recovery services. “The Attorney General and Minister of Justice just acted unilaterally. And this was one of many examples where he has taken unilateral decisions,” one source said. He disclosed that Mr. Malami’s mode of operation has raised distrust among law enforcement agents who are concerned about his competence and integrity.
Mr. Malami has told the media that he decided to terminate Mr. Uboh’s contract because the man had not disclosed his criminal record in the US. However, several sources dismissed the AGF’s claim. One source told our correspondent that Mr. Uboh’s status was well known and documented in the case of dockets at the office of the AGF. “If it is true that Malami was just finding out about Uboh's shady past, it means that he is an incompetent law officer for the Nigerian federation,” one source stated.
The minister’s critics drew attention to Mr. Malami’s lackluster performance during his screening at the Senate. They also pointed to a statement by Dr. Junaid Mohammed in an interview with the SUN newspaper where he described Mr. Malami as an “incompetent charge and bail lawyer.”
One of the AGF’s critics disclosed that Mr. Malami mishandled the issue of the hefty fine the Federal Government imposed on MTN, one of Nigeria’s major phone companies. He wondered why the Minister of Justice left out Nigeria’s Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu also an experienced lawyer, from the negotiations which were led, on MTN’s side, by former US Attorney General, Eric Holder.
One source stated that, even though the Nigerian government finally agreed to reduce MTN’s fine to $3.1 billion, Mr. Malami was only able to get the multinational telecom giant to pay $50m with little hope that more will come. “We heard that MTN had set aside as much as $600 million to settle the issue. But they reportedly found in Malami a willing tool. So Nigeria may never see any further payments,” our source declared.
Mr. Malami has also been in the searchlight for his questionable handling of the recovery of the last batch of the late General Sani Abacha’s loot of $320 million. Our sources disclosed that the AGF gave a fiat to private lawyers to handle the transaction, adding that Swiss authorities had to tell Nigeria that there was no need to pay money to a private law firm. “The Swiss government wanted to finalize the deal via a government-to-government process, but Malami went and brought in private lawyers who were to receive huge payment,” one source familiar with the issue told SaharaReporters.
One political source accused Mr. Malami of acting with deliberate mischief in the matter, pointing out that the Attorney General is a close friend of Abacha's son, Mohammed, who has not abandoned plans to corner his father’s loot for the late general’s family.
There are also efforts in the US to recover funds from one of the late Abacha’s former lieutenants, Atiku Bagudu, who is now Governor of Kebbi State. US authorities have reportedly traced $150 million to Mr. Bagudu’s assets in the US. The funds represent a portion of more than $600 million laundered in the US by the late General Abacha and his family.
“Governor Bagudu is fighting tooth and nail to keep the loot, but Malami has not done anything to aid US officials who want the funds confiscated and returned to Nigerians,” one of our sources said.