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A SAD SONG FOR AONDOAKAA

By NBF News
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You remember him, don't you? Surely, many Nigerians would remember the swashbuckling former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar-Adua? He is the man with the long name, Mike Kaase Aondoakaa, ex-Minister, ex-SAN. In his glorious days, Aondoakaa walked with a swagger, spoke with magisterial authority and bestrode the corridors of power with the assuredness of a man who had the king's ears.

Indeed, Nigerians knew that Aondoakaa had the ears and heart of Yar'Adua. He was easily one of the most powerful ministers in that cabinet and he made sure his colleagues and other Nigerians knew and accorded him that honour as the chief custodian of the law. Truly, Mike rode on the might of his powerful position. He was the law. He did so many things with the law. He saw it as an ass and kicked it in the arse as much as he wanted: interpreting, reinterpreting and many times misinterpreting it.

But that was yesterday.
Today, a sad song plays in the heart of the former Attorney-General. It's a song that surely would bring tears to his eyes and grieve his soul. Last Thursday, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, withdrew his Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN) title. SAN, as many Nigerians know, is the highest honour bestowed on lawyers in Nigeria. To be addressed as a SAN means you have distinguished yourself in the profession and you are expected to exhibit exemplary ethical standards in your personal and public life. You are expected to be a role model to younger practitioners and others.

Despite complaints by practitioners and the larger society that 'SANship' has become politicised, it is still regarded as the apogee of legal practice, an icing on the cake, the ultimate crown for legal practitioners in our clime. So, when announcement of the stripping of the former AG hit the news highway, it came as both a shock and no shock to many people. The ethics committee of the LPPC had while pronouncing the suspension from the club of SAN on Aondoakaa, said it was doing so because of the response of the ex-AG to the litany of grave allegations made against him by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR. The simple interpretation of that comment by the committee which examined the case against Aondoakaa is that the man still had many questions to answer; that he had fallen short of the conduct expected of a man who wears the SAN epaulette. It also means that he had not convincingly defended or exonerated himself in the case brought against him by the CDHR.

To underscore the grievousness of whatever offence Aondoakaa was alleged to have committed, it is worth noting that this would be the first time since 1975(when the award began) that an awardee would be stripped. And publicly too! However, not many Nigerians would be shocked by the news of the ex-AG's current travails. He is a man for whom the word 'controversy' seems to have been coined. All through his tenure, he had swam from one controversy to the other. He even seemed to court and love it. The more controversy he got enmeshed, the more he thought he was popular. He seemed to confuse infamy for fame. But right now, he must know that he's got into a deep mess, except he's eventually cleared which would be a miracle. I hear the allegations are pretty stiff.

Aondoakaa's cycle of ill-luck began when a new 'Pharoah' who did not know 'Joseph' came to the throne. He was first shoved into the obscure Special Duties Ministry by the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, before he was altogether dropped from the cabinet like hot coal or an ill-bred relative no one wished to call brother.

Even though he defended every of his action as loyalty and all in the line of dedication to duty, he is unlikely to have sympathetic hearing from discerning Nigerians who believe he went beyond the call of duty and abused his office. He was severally accused of perverting the law rather than protecting, promoting or projecting the rule of law. His colleagues at the bar, including radical human right s lawyers, often referred to him as the 'lawless law officer'. He also shot back, calling his critics 'mischievous noise makers.' Aondoakaa didn't believe in the doctrine which enjoined believers to turn the other cheek. He was an old testament adherent who believed in an eye-for-an-eye and a punch-for-a-punch.

Mr. Controversy had a bagful of controversies from the beginning of his appointment on July 26, 2007, barely a month and a half after Yar'Adua assumed the reign of power. Shortly after his appointment, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice wrote a memo to the President/Commander-in-chief, Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua, requesting that all agencies with prosecutorial powers, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, be stripped of such powers which should now be exercised by the Office of the AGF.

That curious request, which was initially approved by Yar'Adua, generated a lot of fireworks in the polity by public affairs analysts and constitutional lawyers which saw the move as one meant to emasculate the anti-graft agencies. The late president was compelled to withdraw his initial approval for Aondoakaa's proposition when his attention was drawn to the fact that the position was at variance with a Supreme Court decision. So much for a nation's chief law officer misdirecting the president on settled issue of law! There was also his infamous running battle with the former anti-graft Czar, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, over the prosecution of some ex-governors. The fight would later contribute to the travails of the latter and his eventual exit from the agency. The ex-AGF would also file charges against Ribadu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged non-declaration of his assets in February 2009.

Only recently was the Ribadu matter politically resolved and disposed by the Jonathan administration. The Halliburton/Wilbros/Siemens contract scam saga was another controversial hot soup which didn't do the image and integrity of the embattled AGF much credit. If anything, it portrayed him as a law officer who seemed not to be in a hurry to nail government officials and their collaborators fingered in the fleecing of the nation. Aondoakaa had vowed that: 'The Federal Government will set up a Committee to gather information and once we gather such information, we will commence prosecution.' The man never meant to keep his promise.

Before he was shoved aside, he kept playing a yo-yo game with the prosecution. The alleged criminals haven't had their day with justice.

Nigerians surely haven't forgotten the chief law officer's hurried clearance to three ex-governors who were accused of diverting their states' funds into alleged shares purchase in V-mobile. Aondoakaa had called a press conference sometime in September 2009 where he claimed that there was nothing incriminating in what the ex-governors did, even whilst investigations were still ongoing. It took another press briefing by the EFCC helmsman, Farida Waziri, to debunk her minister's assertion. A man with a sense of shame would have flinched at his subordinate's rubbishing of his claims. Not Aondoakaa.

By far the most contentious controversy the former AGF got into was the heated debate over the vacuum created by the absence of the ailing President Yar'Adua.

While many Nigerians wanted the president to be declared incapacitated as a result of his long, inexplicable absence from his office or in the alternative hand over the administration to the then Vice-President Jonathan, Aondoakaa threw a bombshell: an absentee president could rule from anywhere. Hear him: 'There is no evidence that Mr. President is not exercising his powers as President. He has his Vice-President and his ministers whom he can delegate power and functions to. He does not have to be in the country before he can exercise his power. He can do that anywhere. The president can give instruction from anywhere, even from his sick bed.'

And for daring to ask the ailing president to resign or be impeached, former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, had the full length of the caustic tongue of Aondoakaa. He dismissed him for playing politics with the health of the president. Not contended with his position as chief law officer, he also assumed chief spokesman of government. After the Federal Executive Council meeting of January 2010, Aondaokaa declared: 'the President is not incapable of discharging the functions of his office, and the medical treatment outside the country, does not constitute incapacity to warrant or commence the process of the removal of the president from office, under section 144 and 146 of the 1999 constitution.'

That was his 'learned' reaction to the judgment of an Abuja Federal High Court, which handed a two- weeks ultimatum to the FEC to 'consider, pass and publicise a resolution accordance with the provisions of section 144 of the 1999 constitution declaring whether, having regard to the absence of the president from Nigeria on medical ground since the 23rd of November 2009, the President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.' The combative minister also had squabble with his then cabinet colleague, Professor Dora Akunyili. Her offence? Having the guts to write a memo to Council to take a position on the intractable Yar'Adua saga and seeking transfer of full executive power to then Vice-President Jonathan. He dismissed Akunyili as 'a rabble-rousing, publicity-seeking official.'

To add insult to injury, to quote the popular expression, she asked the minister to 'go and confront herself with what happened in NAFDAC under her leadership.'

Not known to shy from a fight, the information minister asked her colleague to apologise within 7 days or meet her in court to prove his innuendo that she may have done something untoward during her stint at the anti-fake drugs agency.

The fight was called off before it started. Aondoakaa swallowed his words and apologized to the enraged minister. From then on, his sun also began to set.

Deployed to an obscure ministry, he was later shown the exit door from government to resume life as an ex-minister. And now a disrobed SAN. Poor Mike.

For me, this piece is not meant to gloat over the rise and fall of Aondaokaa but a lesson to all those who find themselves in public office. Not to forget that there is always a day of reckoning. That old sins cast long shadows. And, of course, nothing lasts forever. Aondoakaa learnt his lessons too late. Now, he's paying for it.