The media set various agenda for public discourse on issues that often concern our national life and development. But irrespective of the issue at stake, there has always been the need to reckon with the sensibilities of the generality of the public.
This is borne out of the possible myriad of reactions ranging from getting deeply involved in the discussions to selectively perceiving the subjects; not to talk of outright suspension of beliefs and disbeliefs, depending on who and what are involved.
Recently, in contextualising the alleged inactions and perceived or obvious errors of Adoke, certain commentators have reeled out litanies of pitfalls and iniquities of his predecessors. In the process, some have even confirmed their earlier predictions of how such AGs had ended their tenures and are proffering a template for the current one.
In the case of the current Minister, the vexed issues include such allegations as taking over or withdrawal of some cases from the court, pardoning the Vaswani Brothers, the settlement (through payments) of corruption charges involving such multinational bodies as Julius Berger Plc, Halliburton and Siemens and non prosecution of top figures associated with them. Other allegations are the proposed merger of the two anti-graft agencies (EFCC and ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Enforcement) Regulations, 2010.
The vehemence of the expletives and vituperation on the person and office of the Minister of Justice arising from the issue of the EFCC regulations in particular presupposed that not a few persons at first even believed or knew that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is empowered under section 43 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 to make regulations with respect to the exercise of any of the duties.
However, the AG has made it clear on various occasions that rather than muzzle the EFCC by unduly bringing its operations within the control of his office, a dispassionate look at the regulation’s provision would reveal that the operational powers of the EFCC have been carefully preserved, while protection of public interest is ensured as it discharges it functions.
Curiously, the issue of merging the nation’s two anti-graft agencies for operational efficiency, and the question of the raison d’être of the two bodies, is something Nigerians had been discussing before Adoke became the Attorney General. But since the klieg lights are perpetually focused on top government functionaries, especially the AG, in order to pick the slightest move in error, a section of the media and some civil rights groups have decidedly become visceral in their analysis of every move and utterance of the Attorney General.
The role of watchdogs, whistle blowers and rights groups in the realization of a vibrant democracy and good governance can never be in doubt. Nonetheless, resort to the use of vituperative outbursts and unfounded allegations by such groups against the person and office of the Attorney General and, indeed, any other top functionary of government can detract from their lofty objectives.
Every top government official would appreciate the fact that his position is like that of a passenger on a bus who has moved to the position of the driver. His or her view of the same road can never remain the same.
It is this déjà vu and the responsibility of their oath of office that impose that heavy moral duty on members of the present cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan to discharge their duties with national and public interests as guiding principles.
In line with these principles, Adoke has decided not to waver but instead operate within the spirit and letter of the law. And this is where he draws the most flak. Examples. He had hardly assumed office as Minister of Justice in April 2010 when the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called for his head for not rushing to prosecute the past military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, alleging that the Okigbo Panel report had indicted him in respect of the $12 billion windfall which accrued to Nigeria from the sale of excess crude oil during his regime. The fine points of the Okigbo Panel report on the issue are still a subject in court today.
In a similar vein, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) recently told reporters that the two anti-graft agencies had confirmed that they were instituting a probe of the AG in connection with a $26.5 million corruption charges involving some multinational bodies- a move which Adoke has said he heartily welcomes.
Mohammed Adoke’s constant stand on issues that cannot be substantiated, like the one above, has been that he would rather quit as AG than pursue a crowd lead against any person no matter the status whose Fundamental Human Rights would be jeopardized in the process.
To anyone who knows the Attorney General well, the gimmick of attributing petty acts of corruption to him for the purpose of smearing his character is not likely to work. He had within a few months into his first tenure as AG submitted himself for investigation following an allegation of bribery leveled against him by a journalist working for one obscure magazine. But the young man on learning of the minister’s move begged profusely and confessed that he was influenced. It will not serve any useful purpose either to bet on the probe which the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) is touting in respect of the $26 million which they were alleging the AG to be connected with. And this is because the transparency of that bargain was too well ensured for such a venture to be worthwhile.
What is required at present, especially with the coming into being of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, would be the deliberate application of due diligence and due process to finding the facts about passionate issues. This will reduce the tendency to make speculative and inflammatory statements which are capable of causing disaffection and heating the polity.
With the Attorney General’s commitment to seeing that the Freedom of Information Bill works efficiently, the facility with which relevant information could be requested and given under its provisions should lead to the realization of a stable polity. One in which most of our energy should be channeled towards tackling the very challenging issues of the moment. In this regard, all Nigerians have a stake. So do the Civil Societies and Rights Groups in the country.
Ambrose Momoh is Chief Press Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja