The recent appointment of a substantive Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice has been greeted with grumbles among civil servants, DAILY NIGERIAN gathered.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on March 25 approved the appointment of Beatrice Agba as Solicitor-General of the Federation, nine months after the exit of Adedayo Akpata who retired in June 2021.
Mrs Agba, formally director Legal at the Ministry of Interior, is the wife of the Minister of State for Power, Goddy Agba.
Insiders said the president was misled into approving her appointment against the established precedent and practice of appointment into the office.
Based on precedence and practice, DAILY NIGERIAN gathered, the Attorney-General of the Federation is responsible for recommending a qualified public servant to the president for appointment as the solicitor-general.
Investigations show that the last four substantive solicitor-generals – Professor Ignatius Ayua, Abdullahi Yola, Taiwo Abidogun and Adedayo Akpata – were all appointed on the direct recommendations of a sitting Attorney-General and minister of Justice.
“These four recent solicitor-generals were all appointed on direct recommendations of the Attorney Generals of their time,” a top bureaucrat told this newspaper.
Expectedly, on October 12, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, wrote to the president, recommending a qualified director in the justice ministry to Mr Buhari for appointment as the substantive solicitor-general.
But five months after the recommendation, the process was reportedly hijacked by some vested interests.
“They have usurped the powers of the Attorney General,” another source told this reporter.
Mr Malami’s letter, with reference number HAGF/SH/2021/Vol.I/37, reads in parts: “Your Excellency, the need to make such recommendation and for you to consider and exercise the discretion to approve such appointment are consistent with your powers as enshrined in Section 171 (2) (D) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
It was gathered that immediately after Mr Malami’s letter recommending the appointment of a director in the Ministry of Justice as the new solicitor-general was sent to the president, some powerful elements swung into action.
According to insiders, some powerful elements caused the memo written to the president recommending a new solicitor-general to be sent to the Head of Service, Folashade Yemi-Esan, for advice.
Findings by this newspaper further revealed that this is the first time that a vacancy in the solicitor-general’s office was advertised.
Insiders told this newspaper that 14 candidates sat for the examinations.
“However, in a very unprecedentedly fraudulent manner, many of the candidates were eliminated at the screening level.
“Others were booted out at the written and IT exams levels, leaving only Beatrice,” a top Presidency official privy to the matter told this reporter.
“Against the age-long established tradition of presenting three names to the president for selection, only Beatrice’s name was submitted to the president for approval as the solicitor general.
“This act is undermining the powers of the President to select.
“As it stands now, the President has been arm-twisted and completely misled without him knowing. It is very sad. A former minister and his allies facing graft cases are bent on hijacking the ministry.
“It is their hope that very soon, the current minister will leave to contest election and the solicitor-general would be in charge for some months.
“They want to use that opportunity to frustrate some cases. That is the grand plot. That is why they are bent on bringing Beatrice,” the source said.
Head of Service, minister react
In his response, the Deputy Director of Communications at the Office of the Head of Service, Mohammed Sabo-Ahmed, described the allegations as baseless, saying that the process through which the solicitor-general was appointed was rigorous and multi-faceted.
According to him, the process of appointing a solicitor-general includes document screening, written examination, ICT proficiency test and finally interactive session where a candidate would be subjected to verbal screening.
Mr Ahmed added that in the whole of these processes, stakeholders like the State Security Service, SSS, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Independent Corrupt and other related Practices Commission, ICPC, and retired Heads of Service are duly represented.
He said: “As far as I know, these allegations are baseless and even ridiculous. A minister cannot decide who becomes a Permanent Secretary – it is not a one-man decision and has never been.”
“In fact, the last exam was conducted in the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA. So, how can an individual influence the decision of all of these agencies for his self-interest?”
When contacted for comment on Mr Malami’s memo to the president and why his nominee was rejected, the minister’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, said he was not not briefed about the existence or otherwise of the correspondence.