I read with disbelief, the defence put forward by the Attorney General of the Federation and Nigeria’s Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, where he informed President Muhammadu Buhari, that he was rich and owned lucrative businesses before becoming a minister of the federation.
In the letter of defence against the accusation of self enrichment, Malami listed 27 properties in his asset declaration form submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau, amongst which are, Rayhaan Hotels and Rayhaan Food & Drinks, all of them in Kano.
The defence was triggered by the combined publication of Sahara Reporters and the petition of a group, Kebbi Concerned Citizens, KCC, to President Muhammadu Buhari, calling on him to suspend the AGF from office with immediate effect.
While Sahara Reporters is alleging that since his appointment into the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, minister Malami had embarked on a relentless purchase and construction of property through the use of public funds, the KCC is imploring the President to swiftly act the same way he did when Malami brought up issues against the suspended EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
Amongst the allegations are, the issues of Malami building a multi-billion naira private school in Kebbi, a luxury hotel in Kano, and a luxury home in Abuja. He is said to have built three houses in Abuja, including one he bought this year for N90m in the Gwarimpa area of the city, which he pulled down and remodelled into a mansion worth around N300m. Another mansion valued above N500m, located on Ahmadu Bello way, Nasarawa GRA, Kano, is allegedly bought by Malami while in office as minister.
However, in his defence, Malami said he had long been a rich man, maintaining that he had been in business before his coming to power, and the businessess are successfully flourishing all these years.
The implication of Malami’s statement is that, going by the wealth he had, which pre-dates the victory of President Buhari in 2015, and the trajectory of the returns he his getting from these flourishing businesses, it would be astonishing if by 2020, he is not the bilionaire he is.
If Malami had really been this rich all these years, he must have been living a deceitful life with the people of Kano, because his lifestyle in the years before he became minister, was at complete variance with what obtains after he was made a minister. The business succeses and affluence only came to be seen these few years.
Although Malami had mentioned food and drinks amongst his busuness interests, he seems to have highlighted more, or laid more emphasis on the Rayhaan Hotels, which also featured prominently in the many allegations against him. What baffles the rational mind, particularly those that live in Kano or know the location of the hotel, is how such a hotel, in a poor neighborhood, that is virtually unknown, could be such a money spinner at a time of economic doom.
Like many parts of the north, Kano has been suffering from serious economic hardship since the beginning of the insurgency, and the hospitality industry is the most affected due to poor patronage, occassioned by the fall in travels and tourism. How Rayhan hotels is making profit, when the top ten hotels in Kano are operating at a loss, is not only questionable, but clearly in conflict with economic logic.
Rayhaan hotel, located at Sallari, near y’an tsaki chicks, can at best be described as a hotel in a location for those engaged in short time, who cannot afford the high price of hotels in good areas. For such an off- licence to be churning out the kind of profits that could transform the owner into an overnight billionaire, at a time of insurgency and economic doom, really makes mockery of all economic and business laws.
I don’t know the market share occupied by Rayhaan Food & Drinks, because I have never seen their products in the market, but I know they are not as popular as Coca-Cola, whose parent company in Nigeria said its business in Africa’s largest economy witnessed decline for the full year 2018. Operating via its wholly-owned subsidiary, Nigerian Bottling Company, NBC, with brands such as Coke, Fanta and Sprite, the company said Nigerian volumes declined for the year 2018 as a result of competitive pressures. So, how Malami’s Rayaan drinks are making profit remains the guess of every economist.
Another defence put by Malami, which happens to be the common defence of public officers accused of corruption is the word estacode. Everytime public officers are accused of amassing sudden wealth, the answer is estacode. If trully the Government is dishing out money in the magnitude that turns officials into billionaires overnight, in the name of travelling allowance, then the time has arrived for a total travel ban, or a drastic review of estacode.
I am sure Malami himself knows that, he is not the most travelled minister, nor the most successful businessman before joining the Government of PMB. Also, apart from his own businesses, no business has recorded any serious success in the north in the last five years, including the businesses of Dangote and BUA, the most successful businessmen of the region.
So how he is recording boom at a time of doom, is the issue the economic team of the President needs to look at, before the matter goes for the attention of Mr. President, if the war against corruption is meant to be taken seriously.