Friday, October 15, 2010

The Rule of Law He Upended Catches Up with Aondoakaa

Hank Eso

Friday 8 October 2010

Aondoakaa’s fate is salutary and must serve as a warning to future political appointees to the high and honored office of attorney general of the federation and minister of justice and, indeed, to any high public office appointee in Nigeria.

Those who ride the tiger must dismount and, often, not without dire consequences. And that has been the fate of Michael Aondoakaa, Nigeria’s erstwhile and much despised attorney-general of the federation (AGF) and minister of justice. It will be recalled Aondoakaa, was ignominiously removed from his office by President Goodluck Jonathan for various acts unbecoming of a chief law officer who, above all else, must be impartial, non-partisan, and transparent in the conduct of his official duties.

Many Nigerians hold that of all the chief law officers who have held the esteemed post of the AGF, Aondoakaa proved to be the most ineffective and the one who seemed to understand his remit and the role least. The job, as far as he was concerned, was all about bluster, bellicosity, meddling, and no policy or substance. He simply politicised his office without any qualms or apology. Some of his actions, especially those relating to the orderly transfer of power, bordered on near treason since they clearly sought to undermine the nation’s Constitution.

Aondoakaa’s disposition would have mattered little, except for the fact that it undermined the effective implementation of extant statues, the rule of law and the pursuit of justice in all its ramifications. His singular indifference to the unbiased and unfettered pursuit of justice, meant that many scofflaws were either uninvestigated or unapprehended, and those charged, unprosecuted. In effect, as the chief law officer, he sanctioned the rise of impunity, even if vicariously. Nothing could be more damaging to law and order. Moreover, his actions unquestionably brought the legal profession of which he was a ranking member and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) into disrepute.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, that after numerous complaints against Aondoakaa by many Nigerians and Nigerian organizations, that action was finally taken to strip him of his privileges of using the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) pending the conclusion of a formal investigation of his actions while in office.

The sanction of Aondoakaa by his peers within privileges committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, speaks power to the truth, as to the high integrity threshold expected of anyone so privileged to be appointed the AGF. Aondoakaa’s fate is salutary and must serve as a warning to future political appointees to the high and honoured office of attorney general of the federation and minister of justice and indeed, to any high public office appointee in Nigeria.

Just as many well placed but ill-suited Nigerians in high offices, Mr. Aondoakaa, might have walked away free without censure. That has been our national pattern. While his being called to account for his deeds while in office may seem a bit abnormal, it is indicative that Nigerians can uphold the law when they wish and regardless of who is in the dock. Personal accountability is an integral part of the good governance culture we seek.

Credit must however go to those public watchdogs and NGOs, which continued to press for such sanctions, well after Aondoakaa left office, mindful of the enormity and the irreparable nature of the damage he had wrought on the office. In the present instance, the petition written by Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) was particularly revelatory: CDHR inter alia, charged Aondoakaa in broad terms, with the dereliction of his duties and subjugation and impeding of the law. More specially, CDHR alleged that as AGF, Aondoakaa engaged in actions that amounted to, “lying and deception”, “deliberate mis-interpretation, and mis-application” of the law, “incompetence”, “an inadequate knowledge of the law,” and wilfully using his position as AGF to “emasculate the anti-corruption institutions.” In sum, he is charged with complicity in the obstruction of justice, an accusation that also earned him a travel ban from the authorities in the United States.

Unbeknown to many, Aondoakaa, albeit within his rights, had also engaged in a crass show of disrespect for the Office of the President, when on re-assignment to the special duties ministry within the Presidency, he refused to serve. The import was that the AGF portfolio and nothing else, was his preference, a point that overlooked the fact that all political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president. His action, indubitably, raises questions of his commitment to national service and patriotism, but those are altogether matters for another day.

When Aondoakaa took office, his docket was full with many highbrow and sensitive issues including unsolved political assassinations, corruption in high places and scandals such as Halliburton and Siemens, which involved some high-placed Nigerians. Many former governors had been indicted and awaiting trials. The case of his assassinated predecessor, Chief Bola Ige, remained unsolved. He paid attention to none of these but instead, elected to engage in shadowboxing with the EFFCC, which had its clear mandate and remit outside his jurisdiction.

Here is my take: Aondoakaa’s predicament offers a veritable lesson in political appointments. What all these says, is that even with due respect to federal character and rewarding party loyalists, absolute care and judgement must be exercised in filling certain sensitive offices, the position of the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice, being one such post.

While the allegations against Aondoakaa are not baseless, he enjoys the constitutional right of being innocent until proven guilty as charged. We fully accord him that right and privilege. Nonetheless, he has to answer exhaustively to the charges and the onus is on him to cooperate fully with those investigating the charges preferred against him. He should also learn from them and indeed, from his own travails, how to effectively pursue due process and take firm and hardheaded decisions in the public interest, regardless of the personalities involved.

With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.


Hank Eso is a columnist for His observations on Nigerian, African and global politics and related issues, has appeared in various print media, journals and internet-based sites

© Hank Eso, 8 October 2010.



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