Mohammed Adoke Writes Back, By Reuben Abati
Adoke remarkably is the first attorney general and minister of justice in Nigeria to give this kind of account, to the best of my knowledge. And it is a refreshing contribution, an even-handed, authoritative, compelling, and well-written account of his stewardship and experience.
The Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration in Nigeria (2010 – 2015) has generated quite a number of post-tenure publications, which, significantly, in varying degrees of articulation, veracity and delivery, shed light on key developments during that momentous phase in Nigerian politics. The books under reference offer accounts of individual experiences or outsider perspectives, but altogether, they stand out as remarkable contributions to the growth of the bibliography on governance, politics, democracy and sociology in Nigeria. They include, in this particular regard, Reno Omokri’s Facts vs. Fiction: The Story of the Jonathan Years, Chibok, 2015 and the Conspiracies (2017); Olusegun Adeniyi’s Against the Run of Play: How an incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria (2017); Bolaji Abdullahi’s On A Platter of Gold (2017); Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story behind the Headlines (2018) and Goodluck Jonathan’s My Transition Hours (2018).
There is in addition, a number of pamphlets, scores of hack writing (which I do not consider worthy of mention) and essays in academic journals around the world, which subject the Jonathan years to scrutiny. The review of a president’s tenure, or the telling of stories by both insiders and outsiders in a government, ultimately provide hitherto unavailable information, beam searchlights on history and provide platforms for engaging specific questions of governance and accountability. That this tradition, taken for granted in advanced democracies, is beginning to gain ground in Nigeria, is a welcome development. The outpouring of books on the Jonathan administration in Nigeria, from both participants and observers alike, should be understandable given the historic and controversial circumstances of that administration and its exit.
The latest contribution in this regard is the publication of Mohammed Bello Adoke’s Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General (London/New York: Clink Street, 2019), 270 pp. The book is due for official release on September 16/24, but copies are already in circulation through Amazon.com internationally, and locally through Roving Heights Books in Lagos. It is a semi-autobiographical book, a reflection by Adoke on his role as attorney-general and minister of Justice (2010 – 2015) during the Jonathan administration, his take on his own legacies in that role and his ideas about the reform of the administration the justice system, as well as governance in Nigeria. In this book, Mohammed Adoke also practically writes back, and I use that term advisedly, in relation to the major issue that seems to have hovered around his service to Nigeria, namely his role in the controversial OPL 245 dealings, ordinarily known as the Malabu Scandal. In Burden of Service, Adoke tells his own side of the story in a far more comprehensive and detailed manner than he has done hitherto. He pleads his innocence, and accentuates his undiluted commitment to Nigeria’s national interest, contrary to the yet unproven allegations against him.
When the Buhari administration assumed office in 2015, it reminded Nigerians that the new government was determined to take measures to strengthen the Nigerian economy, fight corruption and address the menace of insecurity in the country. Exactly as promised, the government reinvigorated the war against corruption as it launched an onslaught on persons who had served in the Jonathan administration. It was in this context that Mohammed Adoke’s name was mentioned in connection with the probe into the management of the dispute over Oil Prospecting License 245 (OPL 245), one of Nigeria’s most fertile and enormously endowed oil fields, which had been in dispute from the Obasanjo administration to that of Jonathan. The state’s allegation was that national interest had been subverted on the altar of personal gains. Adoke went to court in Nigeria to argue against charges that he had betrayed his country and to insist that the state was out to witch-hunt him, whereas he had done no wrong.
…Mohammed Adoke lays bare the manner and details of his travails. He talks about his role in the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement, and the role played by a certain Mohammed Sani Abacha and his collaborators, or rather the Abacha family, the Obasanjo government, arbitral proceedings leading to a Settlement Agreement, the role of the Dutch and the Italians…
In 2018, the Federal High Court, Abuja, presided over by Honourable Justice Binta Nyako, ruled that insofar as Adoke was carrying out the lawful directives/approvals of the president, acting in accordance with his executive powers under Section 5 of the Constitution, he could not be held personally liable for his role in the implementation of the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement of 2011 and therefore had no case to answer. Adoke kept explaining his own side of the story in newspaper interviews and comments. But he remains in exile ostensibly out of fear for his life. After he left office, he proceeded to the Netherlands to study for a degree leading to the award of an Advanced LLM in Public International Law at the prestigious University of Leiden. While he was on that programme, a group of international investigators, under a Mutual Legal Assistance framework, working with the Nigerian authorities, kept him under watch as a result of all the allegations made against him by the authorities in Nigeria. He felt haunted.
He tells us in the Introduction to this book that as Christmas 2016 approached, he thought of ending it all. “Being hunted for what I did not do felt like a death sentence on its own. It is time to force my exit from this world, I told myself …Death, rather than life, seemed very attractive to me now…. (But) then I came to my senses” (p. 1). In other words, he eventually changed his mind and refused to commit suicide. He decided that rather than help his traducers to get away with negative stories about him, he would live to tell his own story by himself. This is the motivation for this book. Adoke submits that public service comes with a burden – one that he understands and is willing to carry, no matter the odds. “I did my best for my country”, he declares. This book, Burden of Service is the product of that resolve, a kind of cathartic, ameliorative therapy; that is: His conviction that whereas public service may come as a burden, and there may be persecution designed by traducers, telling the truth heals all wounds and the truth invariably outdistances and exposes falsehood.
For readers who may be in a hurry to read Adoke’s side of this story with regard to OPL 245, see Part II of the book, devoted fully to “The OPL 245 Conundrum” in Chapter Six, appropriately titled: “The Facts of the Matter” (pp. 53 – 67); Chapter Seven: “The Witch-Hunt” (pp .68-78); Chapter Eight: “The Witch-Hunters” (pp. 79-87), and Chapter Nine: “The Mischief” (pp. 88-102). In these chapters, Mohammed Adoke lays bare the manner and details of his travails. He talks about his role in the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement, and the role played by a certain Mohammed Sani Abacha and his collaborators, or rather the Abacha family, the Obasanjo government, arbitral proceedings leading to a Settlement Agreement, the role of the Dutch and the Italians, his harassment by the Nigerian authorities – raids on his houses and the home of his brother, the destruction of his practice, and the hostility towards him by security operatives and others. In Chapter Eight, he identifies those he calls the “witch-hunters”. This is a chapter that should be read by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as an organisation, Senator Ali Ndume, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Abachas and someone Adoke refers to as a “diminutive lawyer… who is a darling of the Nigerian media.” In Chapter Nine, Adoke says he seeks to “ask pertinent questions and set the records straight.” This Chapter is essentially a response to all the charges levelled against him by Nigeria’s EFCC. In Chapter Ten, Adoke writes about “My Vindication”. He says: “I have won my case against the Federal Government in court…not a dime has been traced to me” (p.113). Thus, Adoke’s book is in these parts, lawyerly; it reads in part like a summary of evidence and a brief of argument.
But this is not a book entirely about self-advocacy, OPL 245 and allegations of fraud and bribery. Adoke uses the book to give an account of his stewardship as Nigeria’s chief law officer – beyond the controversies. But before he does so, he takes us, very early in the book, on a journey to see how he emerged as attorney-general and minister of justice, through a call of destiny – what he calls “a missed opportunity” at first and then in Chapter Two, “The Appointment”. And in Chapter Three, “The Baptism”. In Chapters Four and Five, in a strictly autobiographical tone, he offers us a glimpse into the journey of his life, from humble beginnings to the ascending heights of a senior advocate and public life. Adoke calls himself “The Boy From Nagazi (p. 39)”. Nagazi is an Okene village in Kogi State in Nigeria’s North-Central region. Ethnically, the author is of the Ebirra ethnic stock, one of Nigeria’s many ethnic minorities. Adoke tells quite a bit of his personal and family story in a humble tone and with details that many young persons will find motivational.
In Part V, titled “The Footprints”, Adoke embarks on a bit of “advertisements for myself” to borrow Norman Mailer’s phrase or as Africans would put it, “a lizard-like act of self-congratulation” – if nobody will praise me, I will praise myself! And so he outlines how as attorney-general and minister of justice, he functioned strictly as a constitutional purist…
Students of recent Nigerian history would perhaps be more interested in Part III of the book, which deals with major highlights of the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration, specifically the internal controversies within the government and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the politics of Jonathan’s interest in a second term in office, the 2015 presidential election and Jonathan’s transition out of power. Chapter Twelve is titled “The Buhari Test”, dealing with the same familiar questions that are still in the public domain in Nigeria: “Did Gen. Buhari really obtain a secondary school certificate? Should he be disqualified from participating in the presidential race?” (p. 125). Adoke reports tellingly: “In the fullness of time, though, President Buhari would come to realise and accept the whole truth: that God used me, and two other high-profile Nigerians whom I will not name for confidential reasons, to make sure he was not disqualified by the courts from running in 2015. The two individuals have, like me, also suffered indignity in the hands of Buhari and his men. It must be emphasised here though that I did not oppose the disqualification because I wanted to help Buhari. Rather, I was being faithful to the Constitution” (p. 126). Subsequently, hawks within the Jonathan presidency insisted that Buhari should be given the “Pinochet treatment” and be put on trial for his past “misdeeds” in order to stop him from contesting the 2015 presidential election. President Jonathan rejected that suggestion outright and opposed the idea of playing “bad politics”.
In other post-Jonathan publications, many accounts have been given of how and why President Goodluck Jonathan conceded victory to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. In Chapter Thirteen: “The Historic Concession”, Muhammad Adoke offers what I, as a participant in all of that drama myself, consider the most truthful and authoritative account that has yet been written so far on the matter. Part IV of the book: “The Challenges, The Controversies” is devoted mainly to Adoke’s interventions as attorney-general and minister of justice. The issues covered include: “The Impeachment Menace” (Chapter 15) dealing with whether or not the federal government should support the plan by the PDP-dominated House of Assembly in Nassarawa State to impeach Tanko Al-Makura (APC) as governor of Nassarawa State; (2) whether or not the president, after declaring a state of emergency in some local governments in the Northern Eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States in May 2013, should have gone ahead to remove the local government chairmen and governors in the affected States (Chapter 16); (3) the judgment debt scam that the author observed as an established tradition in the Ministry of Justice and how he addressed it (Chapter 17); (4) the Halliburton and Siemens bribery scandals (Chapter 18); (5) the Bakassi Handover (Chapter 19) and a number of other controversies – “Pardon for Alamiyeseigha”; “the Justice Salami Saga”; “The Gulf War Windfall”; “the Azura Power Project”; and “The Oyinlola and Aregbesola Saga”.
In Part V, titled “The Footprints”, Adoke embarks on a bit of “advertisements for myself” to borrow Norman Mailer’s phrase or as Africans would put it, “a lizard-like act of self-congratulation” – if nobody will praise me, I will praise myself! And so he outlines how as attorney-general and minister of justice, he functioned strictly as a constitutional purist and defended both the rule of law and the national interest. The specific episodes on which he reflects include the recovery of the Abacha loot, the Ajaokuta Steel Settlement; reforming the justice system, the Evidence Act 2011, the Freedom of information Act 2011; The Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011; the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and other reform laws (2011- 2015). Adoke brings this book to a close in the remaining two chapters by drawing attention, as he looks back and forward, to specific steps that may still need to be taken to strengthen the justice administration and delivery process, and the constitutional framework for Nigeria’s system of government.
Were it possible to insist that every senior public officer must write a book after office, I would insist that this should be a compulsory pre-condition for appointment to office. Adoke remarkably is the first attorney general and minister of justice in Nigeria to give this kind of account, to the best of my knowledge. And it is a refreshing contribution, an even-handed, authoritative, compelling, and well-written account of his stewardship and experience. The controversies and the responses in kind that this book may generate can only further enrich our understanding of what transpired in Nigeria’s recent politics. Burden of Service is packaged like a supermarket, with something in it for every reader. The compelling take-aways for me, are the issues of service, leadership, friendship and loyalty, governance, the rule of law and Nigeria’s peculiar politics, and I am reminded, reading it thematically, of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership (2017). Whereas Comey, former US FBI director, had difficulties working with President Donald Trump, Adoke as Nigeria’s attorney-general seems to have had an excellent working relationship with a President Goodluck Jonathan who believed in the rule of law.
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.