Mohammed 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 and his plan to return home after four years in exile.
In this first part of the interview, Mr Adoke speaks about how his government took the decision to prosecute APC leader, Bola Tinubu, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, how he and his colleagues persuaded former President Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat in 2015, how he was abused and called a useless attorney general by Mrs Jonathan, among other issues.
PREMIUM TIMES: After handing over in 2015 you suddenly left the country on self-exile. What really happened?
Adoke: Thank you very much for finding time to interview me, and for trying to find out what really happened. The claim that I disappeared immediately after the transition in 2015 is not exactly true. Before the elections in 2015, I had a plan that at the expiration of my tenure as the attorney general of the federation, I was going back to school.
My initial plan was to go back to Georgetown University to read Public Policy. I was working towards that when we were working towards the election to ensure the victory of the party and the president. Unfortunately, we lost the election. Unfortunately, the president did not win. I had to now accelerate my decision on what to do. I was making the preparations to go to Georgetown University but my colleagues; my senior advisers I was working with had a different opinion that why should I go and study public policy when we had done quite a lot in the areas of international criminal law, as a member of the assembly of state party at the International Criminal Court. Africa was at the time a focal point considering the trial of Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, and the issue of Omar el-Bashir. These were burning issues and Africa was seen as being persecuted by the International Criminal Court at that time.
So it was at that point that I changed my mind about going to Washington. I had to hurriedly look for admission and when I searched for the best university that had the best programme on international criminal law, I was referred to the University of Leiden. Particularly, there was a professor of international criminal law who I have heard so much about — Professor Carsten Stahn who I have had the opportunity of meeting. After a discussion with him, I was offered admission for advanced study of Public International Law with specialisation in international criminal law. So immediately after we handed over I left the country for my studies.
PT: If your party had won the election you probably wouldn’t have gone to the school…
Adoke: Not necessarily so. Except if the president had insisted that he wants me to stay. My intention was that having served the country for over five years as Attorney General, I thought that I had done the best I could for my country and I thought it was time for someone else to come and take over. So, I was not particularly looking forward to reappointment. Don’t forget that I was appointed twice as Attorney General. I was there between 2010 and 2011. I was reappointed in 2011, till 2015. I also had the singular opportunity of being the longest-serving Attorney General in a civilian administration. To me, it was really a time for someone else to come in. I really wanted to leave in pursuit of knowledge and at the same time I have lined up other things that I wanted to do. My ultimate ambition was that if I came back from school I would try and find a university to lecture and share my experience with the upcoming generation.
PT: But you graduated long ago, why are you still not back home?
Adoke: Yes, I graduated in August 2016. At that point, my initial intention was to go back to Nigeria. But like you know, I have some problems with the Nigerian government. There have been a lot of accusations rightly or wrongly against my person. I worked on some very credible intelligence at that time from people from within and outside the government. I was advised not to come back at that time.
So, I had the option to go on for my PhD; I had even submitted my proposal for the PhD. At the same time, allegations were being made against me, which I needed to clear. In the end, I opted for writing about my experience. I thank people like my very senior colleague, Mr Awomolo, SAN who right from the time I was in office had always told me that I needed to document my experience in office; I needed to put down my story before other people would write my story. I am pleased to inform you that I have just finished my work and I have signed off the manuscript for my publishers. I look forward to releasing the book, latest in July.
PT: What is the title of the book?
Adoke: Burden of Service. Because it is really a burden to serve Nigeria as a country that is ungrateful to those who have served it.
PT: Was it the allegations against you that dissuaded you from returning home?
Adoke: It was not the allegations that dissuaded me. It is the fact that I needed to look at the security situation, the fact that I have some intelligence. It is also the fact that I would not put myself before a moving train. Because of the fact that I needed to be heard because the modus operandi of those investigating was working to an answer, not investigative. I am ready to submit myself to prosecution. I am not ready to submit myself to persecution.
PT: We will come back to that matter of the allegation against you …
Adoke: (Cuts in) You asked me. That is why I am telling you to clarify that I was not running away. I am not refusing to come. It is very important because I like to be very clear about that.
I also had some health challenges, very critical health challenges, and I needed to address them as well. I have to be healthy and alive to be able to face a trial.
PT: So how have you been surviving in exile?
Adoke: It has been very hard. But I have a lot of goodwill. I thank God for that. But survival has been very difficult. There are three people that have been helping me. Unfortunately, I would not be able to mention their names because some of them are still very much involved with governance in Nigeria. They have done tremendously well. Like another man I call Global Chairman, he was very tremendous until some people threatened him that they knew he was the one supporting me which enabled me to put in a bit of fight.
I can tell you something that happened recently. I was flying into one of the African countries and I met the chairman of one of the frontline banks in Nigeria. The way he received me at the airport, the people travelling with him were surprised that who is this man that he was giving such reverence. He looked at them and said, ‘This man is a great guy. He was the minister of justice in Nigeria. He assisted me a lot, and many other people and he never for once asked for anything. When he was leaving he embraced me again and said ‘please if there is anything you ever want me to do for you, don’t hesitate to call me’. I was very proud of myself that day. Tears of joy came down my eyes.
There is a particular ambassador, who had served in Nigeria, who I just met by chance. He is someone God has used to really…I don’t know how to put it. He is being of tremendous assistance.
PT: Are you saying you didn’t leave Nigeria with a lot of money? You serve in government and people think those who served in government accumulate so much wealth. What happened in your case?
Adoke: Where will I get the money from? That is number one. Number two, what was the nature of my job? So what I have are the little things I had before coming to office.
Yes, I was given a plot of land which I sold to meet my lifestyle at the time. There was never land that Bala (former FCT minister Bala Mohammed) gave me, that I applied for, that was not in my name. None is in the name of a proxy, associate or anyone. Whenever I had a problem, I would sell the land. Don’t forget that I was in practice. Don’t forget also that I had one or two savings before I came into office. I was not a poor man, a wretched man like the picture they try to paint. I was successful in my own right, based on my own contentment and satisfaction.
When I was in office I didn’t use government cars. I used my own cars. First, I believed that was the regulation at the time, there was monetization policy. The cars have been monetised into our monthly emoluments. So, to me, as the chief law officer of the country, I needed to abide by the law. I never had an official car. I was using my personal cars. And let me tell you, I had several cars before I came to office. When I got to office, I looked at my salary, I looked at the fact that I could no longer engage in any business that could get me money other than my salary, and my salary was about N990,000. I gave out most of my cars to my friends and my relations because I needed to cut my coat according to my size.
PT: But your ministry was awarding contracts, were you not taking kickbacks…
Adoke: (Cuts in) My ministry awarded contracts? I am not aware of those contracts.
PT: But you were hiring lawyers to handle cases for governments.
Adoke: I challenge any Nigerian lawyer that has ever given me money or any kickback to come out and say it. I challenge any Nigerian lawyer. It is unholy. It is irresponsible to even look at your colleagues and collect money from your colleagues. I give you an example; there is a senior lawyer, a diminutive frontline human rights lawyer who once sent a lawyer to me that the lawyer had a judgment debt claim in my office. Luckily, we had just gotten some money. I called the judgment debt committee and asked them to look into the case of this lawyer, and the lawyer was paid. So, this senior lawyer came to me to say the lawyer went to him to tell him that this was the first time that he was paid and nobody was asking him for money. I said yes, we have a new attitude now. He was shocked. He spoke in Yoruba to say are you doing that of lagbaja or do you want your money to be paid now. I told him we don’t do that. It’s not in our style.
I also remember an incident. Unfortunately the incident I want to tell you now the lawyer involved is dead. He came to look for a favour for a case through the late Oronto Douglas. We gave him the case, and he was paid. The next thing he was sending an emissary to me that he had something to give me out of his emolument. I said I consider it very irresponsible and dirty for you to say that. In the first place, you were sent to me by Oronto Douglas and in the second place you are a professional colleague, and then I will give you a brief and take money from you? So, I can say, with all sense of responsibility and great honour that no Nigerian lawyer ever gave me money as attorney general.
PT: What of contractors?
Adoke: I don’t have contractors. I have never met with any contractor. The Ministry of Justice does not award contracts as such. Don’t forget that we have separation of power. The courts are built and maintained by the Judicial arm of government, not us. The heads of the various courts have the monies and they take care of their own courts. So, we have nothing to do with big contractors at the ministry of justice.
PT: Your name is mentioned repeatedly among those who prevailed on President Goodluck Jonathan to concede electoral defeat in 2015. Can you recollect what really happened that day in March 2015?
Adoke: These issues have been addressed so much including by your media organisation, PREMIUM TIMES, which I think was very eloquent and factually captured the role everybody played at that time.
The fact is that some tried to claim more credit than the others. I would say it was a collective effort. And, at the end of the day, we have to give credit to President Jonathan who decided not to go with the hawks and decided to go with those of us that were the doves. Anybody can claim credit but what was most important was, as at that time those of us who took the decision that the president should call Buhari to concede defeat to him so as to douse tensions took into consideration the overall interest of the country. I would tell you this, people who talk just talk because they want to claim the credit. Claiming credit is cheap but they don’t know what goes into the working of any situation that arises.
The president conceded defeat, I think on the 31st of March if I am not mistaken. On that day in the morning, the PDP national chairman, Ahmed Mu’azu, had come to see me in the office. He treats me like his younger brother and he is someone that has been very nice to me, and I have a very excellent relationship with him, and he has been very helpful to me in exile. When he came to see me he said ‘my brother, look, this is the situation on the ground. I am looking at the likely consequences of the president not conceding defeat or not doing this. In the interest of the nation, if by 5 pm this evening the president does not concede defeat, I as the national chairman of the PDP will concede defeat on behalf of the party’. As the attorney general, a member of the national security council and as a frontline member, or if you permit me to say, part of the kitchen cabinet of Mr President, I knew the implications for the country and implications for the party. It will also further divide the gulf that existed in the country at that time. Don’t forget that Ahmed Muazu was already being viewed with a lot of suspicions, that he was not committed to Jonathan’s second term election. His coming out, irrespective of the motive; which could have been a very good motive from what he explained to me, would further confirm what those campaigning against him were saying.
It would have escalated the Christian/Muslim dichotomy, the North/South dichotomy, the majority/minority dichotomy, and so many other dichotomies that were underpinnings at that time. So, what do I do? I knew the president was in an anguished position. Needed not to compound his problem. I needed to look at how to solve his problems. So, I went straight to the National Security Adviser and informed him that we had a situation at hand. This is what we are faced with, how do we approach the president? How do we get the president to do the right thing because the figures we were waiting for, even if it goes in favour of the president is not enough to alter the result in favour of the president? So, this is what we did.
It was while I was with the National Security Adviser strategizing on how we should approach the president that Osita Chidoka, the then minister of aviation called me. He asked about my location. I told him I was with the National Security Adviser. He said ‘You need to come down to the Villa immediately’. While I was trying to round off with the NSA, his call came in again. He said you need to come. So I went to the Villa. He met me by the Red Carpet and said there are too many hawks here. We need to move fast, to save the country. That is one man that is not given due credit, nobody recognises the role he has played. I could have cheaply told you that I was responsible but it is not true. A lot of people played a lot of roles that led to the concession by Mr President.
Let me take you back a little. Mr President himself had said that we wanted to be a guinea pig of having a free and fair election. He wanted to be remembered for reforming the electoral process. He wanted to be seen as a champion of free and fair elections, and I think to a large extent he achieved that. And then the Hawks were not looking at the larger interest. They were not even looking at the interest of the man. So, at the end of the day, when myself and Osita had compared notes, we went in. We met the president sitting down between Ngozi (Okonjo-Iweala) on his right-hand side and the vice president on his left-hand side. We had my good friend, Godswill Akpabio, the then chairman of the PDP Governors Forum and governor of Akwa Ibom state. There was Kennedy Okpara who was Executive Secretary of the Christian Pilgrims Board and about two other people.
Yes, the president was visibly agitated like any other person would be; no president wants to be defeated because that is a referendum on his tenure. Of course, Ngozi was there trying to talk to him; there was a collation of voices, everyone proffering advice. Yes, the president was right to say that he held on to his thoughts because there were so many people offering one advice or the other. Some were saying, ‘No, don’t call him’ and so on.
It was at that point that I approached the governor of Akwa Ibom and said ‘Sir, you are the chairman of PDP governors forum, I think we should tell the president at this point he should call President Buhari to concede defeat’. Probably for reasons best known to him at the time he said ‘I think we should wait for a while’. In fairness to him, he didn’t say ‘no’, he didn’t say don’t do it; he said we wait for a while. I think he was looking at the tensed situation.
Then I approached the Vice President and spoke to him in Hausa and said, ranka dade I think we should tell the president to concede. He said “No, no, no. Let them announce the result!”
I knew what they didn’t know. I knew the conspiracy and cocktail of events that could destroy the country. So, I was racing against time. I knew the ultimatum. I knew the game plan. I knew some people were talking to several people within the system, some people were talking to security agents. I knew that that morning, Ita Ekpenyong had come to see the president to tell him that the result was not looking good. I knew that Ita Ekpenyong, another fine gentleman, had advised the president to put a call to President Buhari. Nobody says all these. So, you can see in that government, like we say in the law of the house of jurisprudence, there are many mansions.
So, it was at that point, when the president was still agitated that a fine young man, the special assistant to the president on domestic matters, Dudafa shouted from the back and said ‘Daddy, we are leaving here on the 29th of May’. That gave us the impetus to now approach the president; myself, Osita and Dudafa. We stooped before him and started counselling him; we said Mr President what do you want to be remembered for? So, he stood up crisply, went to his study and placed the call to President Buhari to make the concession.
PT: How about all these talks about conspiracies, like the Orubebe drama. Was it not something that you guys planned?
Adoke: No, no, no. if there was any plan, I was not part of that plan. From what I have told you, you would know that I was not part of any such plan, and I do not want to harness a guess. But I believe as time goes more and more would be known about what really happened in the 2015 election, the fallout and those who did what or did not do what. What I know is that this was exactly how the president conceded. I was there at the final moment when Mr President made the concession call to Muhammadu Buhari. I was also there when he came out and said ‘Okay, I have made the call’ though people were sad because we just lost power. Then Osita asked him for permission to tweet about it and he said ‘Go ahead and tweet and notify the world that I have conceded to President Muhammadu Buhari.
PT: We were told that some people, like the president’s wife, were angry with you for pressuring Mr Jonathan to concede…
Adoke: Well, everybody has the right to be angry…
PT: That you were thoroughly abused by the president’s wife…
Adoke: Yes. It is true that I was abused by the president’s wife. This happened on the 30th, a day before the concession. I don’t blame the president’s wife. I respect her as a person and I appreciate the fact that she voiced out her frustration and anger at me. That was better than those who pretend to be friends but would go to the president to say “Your attorney general is not with you; your attorney general is an APC member; he has sympathy for President Buhari. He is a Buhari boy”. In any case, most of those who were talking were the same people who contributed money to Buhari’s campaign. I, Mohammed Bello Adoke, never contributed money to Buhari’s campaign. A serving member of the National Assembly, a presiding officer, had called me at the time to say people were contributing money to Buhari’s campaign. I told him that at the first instance I don’t have and if I had I would not give because that would amount to treachery and disloyalty. And if I do that kind of thing even Buhari himself would not respect me. So, I didn’t do it. Of course, I always draw a distinction. I was loyal to President Jonathan throughout. I was loyal to him to the extent that I would tell him the truth and I would guide him by the provisions of the constitution. I would tell him his limits. I would tell him his powers, what he could do and what he could not do. To that extent, I think I demonstrated unquestionable loyalty to the president. Within the limits of my knowledge, I gave him the best legal advice I could give him, and I have saved a lot of situations. I tried as a constitutional purist to remain within the confines of the constitution.
The job of the attorney general is a very difficult one. From my experience, if people can’t eat, it is the attorney general; if people don’t get appointments, it is the attorney general; if people didn’t get this, it is the attorney general. So, it is a very difficult job and people who have passed through that office would tell you that it is very difficult. But I was very lucky. I had a very understanding president. I had a president who allowed me to do my work. I had a president who has a listening ear. I had a president who understood the fact that he was a constitutional president and must work within the confines of the law. On issues of the law he deferred to me. If you tell the president something is illegal he would not go ahead and do it, no matter his prejudices or preferences, and I respect him for that.
Yes, Mrs Jonathan abused me. The abuse was because there were so many misrepresentations because they believed the attorney general has the power of life and death. They don’t understand that even the attorney general’s power itself is limited. For her to have abused me she acted on what people went and told her.
PT: We learnt that she said you were a useless attorney general?
Adoke: Yes, she said that.
PT: That you betrayed her husband.
Adoke: Yes, she said that but the most important thing is that it was not the president speaking because I have had opportunity afterwards to put that before the president. Immediately after she said that to me and left, when the president came down from his private quarters, I told the president what has happened and said ‘Mr President do you think I have betrayed you?’ He said no. He does not hold that view. I thanked him, and that very satisfying to me. I don’t want to make a mountain out of it. It’s nothing. Our wives at home abuse us when they are angry and frustrated. Don’t forget also this was the first lady of a country. They had just lost power for God’s sake. She should be allowed to cry. So, I think she was just voicing out her anger and I was just a mere victim.
PT: So, what is your relationship with her now?
Adoke: Well, I have not been in touch with her, but I can say I am reasonably in touch with my boss. I have a good relationship with him and by extension, I have a good relationship with her.
PT: But there are allegations of double-dealing by some of you, which led to Jonathan losing the election.
Adoke: I would not have done a double game. It is not in my character.
PT: Some of your colleagues, in some of the books written about the elections, alleged that some of your colleagues actually betrayed Jonathan.
Adoke: Well, if there are those who betrayed him I wouldn’t know. But that issue has been adequately addressed in my book and I would like that you will be patient to read my book. But the truth of the matter is that I do know that I was one of the persons who stood by President Jonathan from the beginning to the end because that was what was expected of me. And in standing with him I was not subservient, I was not sycophantic. I was a man that could say my mind. People knew I said my mind. People know I objected to issues and where I stand was never in doubt. I also tried to build bridges for President Jonathan. Whatever I did was in the national interest, and the interest of the nation supersedes the interest of any person. As a Muslim, I know that God asks us to stand by the truth, so whatever I do I stand by the truth. So, whatever price I am paying today, some of my colleagues think I am the one responsible. I was called a Buhari boy.
In fact, after the president’s concession, the National Planning minister came to tell me that one of the big men (whose name I have mentioned in my forthcoming book) was going about saying ‘Do you know that Adoke is a Buhari boy, they are the ones that came and forced the president to go and make concession’. He was not even saying we convinced the president. And now when our people are being persecuted or they are facing one hurdle or the other they say ‘it is what dem Adeoke have caused’. So, it is a catch 22 situation for me. My colleagues, my natural forte, are against me today because they say I am a Buhari boy. The Buhari group see us as Jonathan boys and have marked us for destruction. This takes us back to what I say about the burden of service. This is part of the burden of service.
PT: But are you truly a Buhari boy?
Adoke: How can I be a Buhari’s boy? I told you that Buhari as an ex-President of Nigeria is somebody I respect, he is somebody I will not disrespect. He is somebody I will extend the same courtesy I extended to every other heads of state. So, if extending respect and courtesy to him makes me a Buhari boy, so be it.
PT: In the build-up to that election and when oppositions were coming together, there were stories of attempts by your government to nail some of the bigwigs in the opposition camp, notably Bola Tinubu who was prosecuted by the CCB and there were suggestions that Buhari at some point was also about to be prosecuted.
Adoke: Let me clarify this issue very well. Bola Tinubu’s trial took place, it was his case with Code of Conduct Tribunal. It was a very unfortunate thing. But what most people don’t know is that a lot of people who claimed to be close to Bola Tinubu, a particular human rights lawyer, was the one that engineered that trial.
PT: Who is the lawyer?
Adoke: You will read it in my book (Laughter). It is there in my book, a particular human rights lawyer was the one going around the political authorities at that time saying “is this how you people are going to allow Tinubu? He has stolen Lagos blind. Is this how you are going allow him to take over Nigeria? You people should move against him”. At the end of the day, the Code of Conduct Bureau people, on the instigation of this lawyer…, and I am happy that Mike Oghiadomhe is alive. I am happy persons like Ita Ekpenyong is alive and I wish that the late Azazi is alive because they would have been able to corroborate this story. How Bola Tinubu’s trial came about was unnecessary. Again, the same lawyer was one of those who went to tell Tinubu that “ohh… It is Adoke that is against you”. That was why at that time Bola Tinubu, I think in 2012 or thereabout, came out to say that “the Attorney General is against me” until he spoke to me through Lai Mohammed who, incidentally, was a great friend of mine before he became a minister and who has 24/7 access to me when I was minister.
PT: So you are saying, this lawyer that you have refused to name came to you and…
Adoke: Not me, not me. He went to the political authorities.
PT: He went to the president?
Adoke: No, political authorities. I didn’t mention the president. There were so many authorities within the political structure.
PT: The institution of that case perhaps wouldn’t have happened without you…
Adoke: No, no, no… You are right. Let me tell you something, what was happening was that, I told you in government there are many mansions, there are many interest groups, and there is so much sense of blackmail. I was fighting on so many fronts. Some of these anti-corruption agencies will go and say “we are trying to fight corruption, it is the Attorney General that is not allowing us” and you know how they use the issue of corruption as a base. It is so easy. So when they continued, I advised that it was unnecessary. They didn’t listen. The CCB people came. We said “well, we don’t believe in this prosecution” but they said they have a private lawyer who will prosecute for them under the fiat; we gave them the fiat.
After given them the fiat, when the case collapsed in court and they wanted to go and appeal, I stood my ground and overruled them. I didn’t do that because it was Bola Tinubu, I did it because that was the right thing to do. That was why I refused to go on that appeal. But it would interest you to note that a year or thereabout after the CCT case, one of the members of the tribunal came to us that we should reopen that case that they made a mistake, they can still convict Bola Tinubu. We told him that we don’t use our office for settling scores. I never said this to anybody. I mentioned it to the president that ‘look at what this idiot has come to tell me. I and the president laughed it off.
PT: Our readers are definitely interested in knowing the name of this senior lawyer who persuaded the authorities to institute the case.
Adoke: You will read it in my book.
TO BE CONTINUED…