May 16, (THEWILL) – For Port Harcourt-based private estate surveyors and valuers, Gerry Ikputu & Partners and M. E. Sheriff & Co, a law firm, the pain of losing out completely in a plum but questionable deal with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, is better imagined than felt.
The cookie crumbled for both firms after a recent court judgement nullified Malami’s order on the recovery and disposal of assets under the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations.
The judgement, passed on Monday, May 9, 2022 by Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa of the Federal High Court, Lagos, in suit FHC/L/CS/40/2021, established that the regulations conflicted with the roles of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administrative Act, 2015, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act, 2004 and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act (ICPC), 2000, among others, on the matter of disposal of final forfeited assets.
It would be recalled that in 2020, Malami inaugurated an inter-mnisterial committee on the disposal of assets forfeited to the Federal Government, which was headed by his ministry. The minister had claimed that it was in accordance with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive issued in October 2018, following the recommendations of the Presidential Audit Committee on Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets and a need for efficient management of the assets.
However, it turned out that the Ministry of Justice under Malami wasn’t transparent in performing the role it usurped from the three agencies. This lack of transparency allegedly began when in October 2021, Malami secretly awarded a multi-billion-naira assets recovery contract to Gerry Ikputu & Partners who further engaged M. E. Sheriff & Co, as its agent.
Malami had charged the firms to recover identified large expanses of land and buildings said to belong to the Federal Government in 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Not only will the firms be entitled to three per cent of the worth of every successful recovery, Malami’s letter awarding them the contract allegedly had a secrecy clause that bars them from making the details of the work public. The contractors would only be paid their share of the proceeds after the disposal of the recovered assets. The firm was given six months to get the job done.
According to the terms of engagement, the law firm was expected to hand over the recovered assets to the AGF for further action and directives. The law firm was also charged by the AGF to work as a Project Team in collaboration with the Asset Recovery and Management Unit of the ministry of justice, headed by Ladidi Bara’atu Mohammed, in carrying out their duty.
While the law firm and the estate valuer were already counting their chickens before they were hatched, not a few people felt that Malami’s move was nothing but sheer abuse of power. They expressed grave concern about the assets recovery contracts being shrouded in secrecy, devoid of competitive bidding and not in line with established procurement processes.
Like Justice Lewis-Allagoa’s judgement, these critics argued that the EFCC, the ICPC and the NDLEA were the only agencies empowered to recover stolen public assets and not the AGF’s office. They decried a situation where the AGF prefers giving jobs meant for government agencies to his friends and cronies, making public transactions to be shrouded in secrecy. They maintained that the AGF has no business hiring a third party to do the job.
Malami carried on till early this year when a petition written to the EFCC forced it to launch an investigation into an alleged case of diversion of public funds in the ministry of justice. THEWILL had exclusively reported that Mohammed alongside Ojuekaiye Solomon, Grace Tizhe Ibrahim, Mohammed Ibrahim, Okon Eyo-Okon, Kingsley Iheanacho, Monek and Smart Taire, all staff of the ministry of justice – were grilled for their alleged connivance with Malami.
While EFCC was hard at work and ended up unable to establish a case of fraud against the staff, HEDA Resource Centre decided to drag Malami to court challenging the AGF’s power to set up the committee. HEDA sought nine reliefs, including the nullification of all disposals of assets by the AGF’s Committee. In its judgment, the court dismissed the AGF’s preliminary objection and granted all of HEDA’s reliefs as prayed on the motion paper. Now that the winds beneath the wings of the real estate and law firms have been cut off, perhaps, if and when Malami’s ambition to rule Kebbi State comes to pass, he just might be in a position to reward them for their efforts in the short period they carried out his bidding.