PT: Why did you advise the President to sack Justice Ayo Salami?
Adoke: Very interesting! That is one place where Nigerians have been most unfair to me. It is most cruel, most unkind, very unforgiving, and unpardonable sin against my person and President Jonathan to say that I recommended or advised the president to sack Justice Salami. That was not what happened. The problem of the then President of the Court of Appeal Ayo Salami started with the judiciary, an independent arm of government, and ended within the judiciary. What happened was this, they had their own problem with the Chief Justice of Nigeria which resulted in exchanges and resulted, at the end of the day, in disciplinary committee been set up by the National Judicial Council. The NJC committee came up with a report that the allegations that Justice Ayo Salami had made against late Justice Katsina Alu were not factual and were incorrect, and he was admonished and asked to apologize to the Chief Justice of Nigeria but he remained adamant.
At the end of the day, he was suspended within the disciplinary powers of the NJC. Please, read the constitution very well, it was within their powers. They suspended him and only wrote to the president recommending his retirement from the judiciary, and requested the president, in line with Section 231 (4), to appoint the most senior justice of the Court of Appeal to act as the president of Court of Appeal pending when the processes were completed. The President had no say in all these things. While this was being done, the President appointed Justice Adamu as the acting president because he was the next most senior judge of the Court of Appeal at that time.
While that was being done, before the president would even transmit the request of the NJC to the Senate for two-third majority confirmation, in line with Section 292 of the constitution, Justice Ayo Salami went to court. And as a responsible Attorney General, I said, “Mr President, desist from taking any further steps pending the outcome of the termination of the court matter”. So, if this amounts to advising the president to terminate Ayo Salami’s appointment is left to your judgement. But a lot of misinformation has been peddled around.
It was Justice Ayo Salami’s lawyer that went to court, not us. In fact, we were nominal parties. I was not even a party to the suit and at the end of the day, they were the ones dilly-dallying, asking for adjournments, before they started looking for a political solution to the matter. I remember a very respected senior advocate of Nigeria and one-time attorney general of the federation called me one time when late Justice Dahiru Musdapher came in to say that they were trying to resolve this matter. I said it would have been much easier if NJC only suspended him without recommending him for retirement. I said having taken those steps it was no longer within their power to recall him. If it were just suspension, they could have simply recalled him. But they had recommended to the president and the president had already accepted and was in the process of forwarding it to the National Assembly and a court case was instituted and I advised the president to stay action pending the outcome of this case and nothing was done to determine the case. So, at that point, NJC lacked the powers to say they would recall Salami.
If the court matter were concluded and determined in his favour and I did not recommend to the president for his compliance then you can say I advised the president to sack Salami. I had no reason to advise the president to sack Salami. I was not a member of the NJC, and I had no participation in the politics of the NJC. Justice Salami was the presiding judge of the Court of Appeal Kaduna division where I practised a lot so I had a lot of respect for him because he was a brilliant judge. I had no reason to go against him and I am happy President Jonathan is alive and this is exactly what happened.
PT: But there is a popular belief that government has its ways of masterminding or instigating all these things…
Adoke: No, no, no, we didn’t instigate anything. I get a bit worked up when you are working to a predetermined answer. I don’t want you to do that. I want you to please have an open mind. Whatever I tell you I tell you freely. I’m not forced into this interview. So I will tell you freely and I will be absolutely honest with you. If we had any role in it, I would have told you. Nobody wanted him out within the executive. Certainly, not me and certainly not the president because he was very distraught about it. The president is not the kind of person that would want to destroy others. The president is not petty. It is most unfortunate for anybody to say we instigated. I swear by the Holy Quran. I swear by everything I hold decent that that was not the case. What I told you was exactly what happened. If there was an undercurrent I was not in the position to know. I was just doing my job. If telling the president that there was a vacancy and you should appoint somebody in line with Section 231 of the constitution was an abuse, then I am guilty.
PT: I understand your point, but recall that government was possibly already irritated by the fact that he gave judgement in the case of Ekiti and Osun states.
Adoke: Let me tell you something because I happened to be in government and I know all these things. The governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, used to be my very good friend. We are not friends anymore. I don’t regret that we are not friends anymore and I leave him to his conscience. When the Ekiti state case judgement was given, if you noticed that day, the very day that judgement was given, we issued a statement recognising the judgement and implementing the judgement immediately and recognising Kayode Fayemi as the governor of Ekiti State. We didn’t disregard that judgement. In fact, the PDP people were not happy with the president because of the swiftness with which we recognised Kayode Fayemi and the way he was given all the privileges of the office of the governor of Ekiti state.
The case of Aregbesola is also very interesting. In the case of Aregbesola, he was in court (the Tribunal) with Oyinlola. Oyinlola was briefed through his Attorney General to go and prosecute Aregbesola for forgery of certain electoral documents and it was not a state offence, it was a federal offence. When they realised they were challenged in court, Oyinlola sent his Attorney General to request for me to give fiat to prosecute and I declined, and I said first “you have acted before coming to seek my consent for fiat and I don’t give my fiat anyhow. I was blackmailed and called all kinds of names. Oyinlola went to President Jonathan and said it was because Lai Mohammed was my friend and that I was an ACN man that is why I refused to give him the fiat. President Jonathan called me, in fairness to him, and said I should please give him fiat and I said that is not the requirement of the law. Fiats are not given as of right. Fiats are given on satisfaction of some requirements of the law. And the president said if you don’t feel so strongly, don’t give. Oyinlola and some of the PDP bigwigs at that time wanted me to be removed from office because they believe I was sympathetic to ACN.
When Aregbesola won the Tribunal case, we recognised him immediately and gave him the due recognition and respect of his office.
There was a particular incidence in Ekiti State when Kayode Fayemi dissolved his local government council wrongfully and illegally, the PDP people petitioned and said we should withhold the local government allocation fund to Ekiti state and the president called me and I said “Mr President, you can’t do no such thing because it would amount to self-help, tell them to go to court and challenge that” and the president told them to go to court. Then I was branded an ACN man.
On Salami’s case, if the government was after Salami, you knew what happened in respect of the MTN saga, when they said Bola Tinubu was in an unholy communication. There was a petition written and so on and forth, and Oyinlola wanted me to prosecute MTN for not releasing the call log. I said the evidence before me was not sufficient to prosecute and he said he knew but that he just wanted me to commence the prosecution so that they would come and negotiate with him. I said, “Sorry, we don’t use the office of the Attorney General to settle scores or to enable negotiation of personal interest”. If all these happened and we didn’t go after Salami when we had these corridors, would you say we want to remove him? Why would we want to remove him from office, of what benefit would that have been to President Jonathan? President Jonathan that I know, that time and now, is not a president that is vindictive. He was even trying to prevent them from fighting among themselves.
I can only tell you that what happened between the president of the Court of Appeal and the then CJN was classmate rivalry. They were classmates. They had their own differences, only God knows what happened, but it is not me, Mohammed Adoke nor the president that removed him from office. We had nothing to gain.
PT: I just want to ask you this issue because it is something we have been wanting clarity about. It t is about Pfizer drug trial in Kano. The federal government instituted a case against Pfizer and Kano state government also did but suddenly the federal government case disappeared. We don’t know what happened. There are claims that some lawyers were paid by Pfizer but Nigerians ended up getting nothing. What really happened?
Adoke: Nigeria got something, it is a bit difficult for me to discuss this issue because I was one of the defence counsels for Pfizer prior to my becoming the attorney general, and there is a duty of nondisclosure. To say that the federal government got nothing is absolutely incorrect. The federal government got $5 million dollars while Kano state got $60 million dollars. But the best person to help you with this matter is Michael Kaase Aondoaka. Be that as it may, I will tell you how the issue of Pfizer came up and how it put me on a collision course with the current vice president.
You must have heard about the Halliburton case, it came to my knowledge when I was with Onovo, the then Inspector General of Police in Switzerland for a meeting of a UN committee on the implementation of ICJ judgment on Bakassi. Onovo told me about this issue of Halliburton which he said was investigated under Mike Okiro by a fine officer CP Ali Ahmadu. He offered to send the officer to come and brief me with the file. The idea was to get to see how we can get restitution for Nigeria.
When we got back, Onovo sent CP Amadu Ali, and he took me through the report. I found out that the report was not a full one, it was an interim report and secondly we were mapping out the line of action.
In the course of doing this, Mrs Waziri, the EFCC chairperson, came to see me with a letter from some American lawyer, to solicit on behalf of those American lawyers to be allowed to file a civil case against Halliburton and its associate companies in the US, to get reparation for the reputational damage done to Nigeria. She said she wanted to bring the lawyer for a chat. I told them that my approach as Attorney General is to build Nigerian lawyers to a point where they can participate in multijurisdictional litigation and that I do not believe that we should not develop competencies. In developing competency, we must allow Nigeria lawyers to intersperse in cases of this nature. I said even if I am going to accede to your request, I am not going to give them the case without injecting some Nigerian lawyers so that they can have the benefit of building competencies.
When she (Mrs Waziri) now brought the lawyers, the lawyers said to me what they would do. First, they said they wanted 33% (1/3) of whatever they recovered as their fees. I had a problem with that. I felt that was too much for a developing economy like Nigeria. Secondly, that whatever they negotiate and agree with these companies is bidding on me, that I have no say. So I said so you are asking me to cede away my powers as the Chief Law Officer of Nigeria, to give you territorial control over my territory? That would amount to abdication of responsibility and I will not do it. That was the beginning of the crisis.
I told them that I will not pay 33% (1/3) of what you recover. I refused. It was as a result of this that I came up with the idea that we already have precedence in the case of Pfizer. The federal government and Kano state government initiated criminal actions against them in Nigeria. I thought of using the same approach of using Nigerian lawyers. That was how it started.
I jettisoned the proposal of these American lawyers and called the EFCC Chairperson to tell her that I was not prepared to use this civil option but I will initiate a criminal trial because it is very useful and result oriented when it was used during Pfizer’s case and therefore we are going to use it as a model. That started from the interim report. We identified the companies that were already indicted by the interim report, so, we went first against Julius Berger. Since I had decided to use Nigerian lawyers with some competence I asked EFCC to nominate a lawyer, Mrs Waziri nominated Godwin Obla. I nominated J. B. Daudu the president of NBA, and he was among the lawyers who participated in the Pfizer case. I nominated Damian Dodo. I nominated about eight senior advocates and they added some other juniors under them. After nominating them, I told EFCC chairperson to give me an in-house person that will coordinate the team. She nominated Emmanuel Akomaye who was the secretary of EFCC at that time.
When the case started it sent panic. The charges we filed against Julius Berger sent panic. Immediately the then National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Gusau called me to argue that the case has security implication and he spoke to the president. The president said we should have a second look at it. I then proposed a non-prosecutorial agreement with them to disgorge if they give an undertaking.
So, the president set up a committee chaired by the NSA because I as the attorney general was a party to the litigation. General Gusau now delegated Colonel Kayode Are, who was the deputy national security adviser to chair the meeting. At the meeting, they said the money involved was $5 million so we said you are going to disgorge this $5 million. But then there was the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, who had practised law in America, who was very knowledgeable about these issues. We co-opted him into the meeting to guide us. He said the way it was done in America is you disgorge the amount involved and pay three times the amount as fine. But we see that even if you take the whole thing it will be $20 million so we said we are not going to take anything less than five times the amount involved, in addition to the amount they disgorge. After some back and forth they agreed to pay $30 million.
We now said that the federal government of Nigeria would not be responsible for the legal fees because that was the model used in Pfizer’s case. After the settlement, it was Pfizer that paid the fees for the federal government and Kano state’s lawyers. We said the $30 million was exclusive of any charges. I was using my commercial judgment to make money for Nigeria, and also make sure lawyers don’t come and take money out of it. So, they negotiated. Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, SAN, a former attorney general, was the lead counsel for Julius Berger. They negotiated with the lawyers and their fees were paid directly to them. I also said Nigeria spent almost a million dollar in investigating the case, they must reimburse Nigeria. They agreed and the money was paid into an account as provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The entire $31 million was paid and Mr President was briefed about it and he was satisfied. Then the associate companies all came forward to negotiate. There was also the issue of Intels who were involved. They came forward. EFCC negotiated with them. They wrote to me and accepted the $3 million that was agreed. The lawyer that negotiated that of Intels was brought by the EFCC themselves. As the approving authority, I gave them the necessary approval. This is how the issue came up, and these people recovered over $200 million for the government of Nigeria.
EFCC was not happy that I didn’t deal with the American lawyers. All of a sudden, the American lawyers started writing letters to say that they brought the Halliburton issue, money was recovered and they were entitled to fees. I said how? Mrs Waziri came to me and said I should just agree to pay them $1 million and I said “I will not pay a dime because they’ve done no work for me. Their proposal was civil but my approach was criminal”. So the EFCC was not happy; that was one of their grudges against me.
The next thing, those lawyers found their ways to Gen. T. Y Danjuma to say they worked for Nigeria but Nigeria did not want to pay them. T. Y Danjuma did not investigate before going to the president to say that the Attorney General did not pay these American lawyers. The president then called me and I told him about everything. I said you gave approval for everything, you know what happened. They think you are not wise, they didn’t know when it comes to Nigeria’s money you are very careful. The president dismissed the issue. But these people were not happy. They have me at the back of their mind.
We recovered so much money. From Siemens €50 million was recovered. All the money went to the federal government account. Because I refused them to control this case, notwithstanding that they are the ones coordinating, they were not happy. After we left office they started saying why should I say Halliburton should pay the lawyers’ fees directly. I did that to avoid allegations that we dished put government money. So, when EFCC came up with it I granted an interview from the Hague and I said this was the same model that was used in Pfizer case and one of the lawyers in that case was the vice president himself. He was the lawyer to the federal government and this was how they were paid, so there was a precedence. The man went livid. He was angry that I mentioned his name as one of the lawyers. But I didn’t mention him in bad faith or to discredit him. I only mentioned him to cite precedence. He was attorney general of a state, I was thinking he would use his position to clarify things as established legal precedence.
PT: Was that the cause of your collision with him?
Adoke: Yes, that is one of the issues. Then there were some people working in his office who have had one or two clashes with me and they took it personal, like the case of Azura Power plant which I opposed during our time. It is the same thing they now repackaged and brought back and my fears are confirmed. It has now put the country in crisis.
It’s like the Abacha family which is only using the issue of OPL 245 to settle scores with me. The most significant of their anger is for what I, Adoke, did to them in recovering the billions of dollars from them, which hitherto they thought they had been able to hide. As attorney general I went after them and recovered the money. I have no regret I did that, I did it for the nation.
PT: What is your relationship now with the Vice-President?
Adoke: I used to see him as a friend and he is the vice-president of Nigeria, I respect him. I have nothing against him, but apparently, he has one or two things against me, as I have gathered. I don’t know why. I can only harness a guess as I told you. The case of his friends, like the diminutive human rights lawyer who wanted to become attorney general, going to feed him with lies. But what that lawyer would not tell him is the seeds of his grouse with me for refusing him the property of Law School which he had wanted for his client. It was also because he requested me to remove the NDLEA chairman for reasons that were not clear, something that would have put us on a collision course with our development partners, which I declined, and so many other things which he had asked from me and I refused to do because it was not right. But I have no regret because the ones I could do for him, I did. He is like a former Nigerian president who, if he asked for 10 things and you did nine, the next day he will go to the papers and abuse you thoroughly. That is how that lawyer is. All he wanted I did for him. The ones that are not in consonance with my conscience and the lawyer in me, I didn’t do. That is what put me on a collision course with him.
PT: Who is this diminutive lawyer you kept referring to?
Adoke: He is a very famous lawyer and a darling of the press. (laughter).
TO BE CONTINUED…
Mr Adoke was Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice between 2010 and 2015. At the end of his tenure, he went into exile and is yet to return to the country ever since. For almost two hours on May 5, Mr Adoke sat down with PREMIUM TIMES’ duo of Musikilu Mojeed and Abdulaziz Abdulaziz in Accra, Ghana, to discuss his life in exile, the roles he played in some controversial matters during his time in office, his involvement in the controversial Malabu Oil OPL 245 saga, his forthcoming book: Mohammed Bello Adoke: The Burden of Service, and his plan to return home after four years in exile.
Why Vice President Osinbajo, Abacha family are after me – Ex-Minister Adoke
PT: Why did you advise the President to sack Justice Ayo Salami?