Lawyers set agenda for Malami, new AGF
The AGFis the Chief Law Officer of the country, and also doubles as the Minister of Justice. Section 150(1) of the Constitutionstipulates that there shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation, while Section 150(2) mandates that a person shall not be qualified to hold or perform the functions of the office of the Attorney-General unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria, and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.
By the combined provisions of Section 150(1) and (2), the position of the AGF is made distinct and has been separated from that of any other Minister created by Section 147(1) of the same Constitution. It is a must that the President at the Federal level, and the Governor at the State level should have an Attorney-Generalwho is a legal practitioner.
In fulfillment of this vivid constitutional requirement, President Muhammadu Buhari, last week appointed and sworn in Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN) as the new AGF.
Consequently, some senior lawyers whose opinion were sought by The Guardian have few words of advice for him.
“At common law, the Attorney-General’s office is a corporation sole, and is as old, almost as the common law itself. He represents the conscience of the State, and he is expected to seamlessly serve two masters without compromising the integrity of his office, and also without getting himself enslaved to either of them.
“Ideally, it is not just any person or legal practitioner who is over ten yearsat the Barthat should be made an Attorney-General. The conduct, character, carriage, discipline, background, maturity, comportment, learning, integrity, amongst others, of the person appointed asAttorney-General should be considered. He does not need to be a politician or a card carrying member of a political party”, said the former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who pointed out that the first indigenous Attorney-General of Nigeria Dr. Taslim Olawale Elias, (GCON) was a scholar of International acclaim, with high moral standing.
According to Olanipekun, Malami is humble and of very good carriage. “His integrity is also not in doubt. Be that as it may, he has to appreciate the magnitude of the expectations of the people from his high office. He cannot afford to, and, he should not politicize this high and ancient office. He also should not use the office as a means of amassing wealth. In other words, he should not compromise justice.
“He should always bear in mind the common saying that ‘walls have ears’. He should not, on assumption of office, become swollen headed or see himself as the ‘lord of all’. He should maximise the duties, functions, and powers of the office to reinvigorate and re-energise the Nigerian economy, politics, security and stability”, he counseled, urging him to always interface with the Nigerian Bar Association ( NBA) and leaders of the legal profession in initiating Executive Bills which are aimed at revamping the economy, as well as the administration of justice.
He said: “Never should he, directly or indirectly, cautiously or otherwise, encourage the executive or the party in power to subvert the course of justice or submerge the judiciary. He should be bold enough to proclaim it at the rooftops that the independence of the judiciary must be preserved, and that there lies the sustenance of our infant democracy. “Whenever occasion demands, he should pick up his wig and gown to appear in court and defend some of the actions and/or inactions of government, and where the need arises, he should submit to judgment. He should advise the government to settle all outstanding judgment debts, and also respect all judgments and orders given by our courts.
“One of the factors crippling the Nigerian economy for now, and/or which has sent the economy into a comatose is the huge volume of debts owed by the government to local contractors. The Attorney-General should advise the Government to settle these local debts.”
Olanipekun further advised the AGF to do a comparative analysis of legislations in some countries which are geared towards a quick dispensation of causes in courts; and, thereafter, submit an Executive Bill to the Federal Executive Council, detailing the reasonable periods, within which some causes, whether criminal or civil, should be concluded at trial.
Another consummate lawyer and past Bar leader, DrOlisa Agbakoba (SAN) shared similar view with Olanipekun.He stated that the situation in the country needs law and order that will enhance economic development, harping on the need for the new AGF to do something new and unusual to ensure that the legal framework in the country is totally overhauled and strengthened such that it will begin to work effectively.
Agbakoba also pointed out the need to ensure the effective functioning of the court system, by eliminating all forms of delay in judgments and conclusion of cases.
He challenged the new AGF, on the need to facilitate laws that will enable an ordinary Nigerian to have access to loans in the bank and also laws that will bring about investment in the country.
“People don’t have access to loan and other bank facilities because there are no financial laws backing them. And this is also affecting investment in the country”, he declared.
Legal scholar, Dr Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) believes the AGF should make an attempt to implement holistic reform of the legal and judicial architecture. “There are many areas in which reform is required, including but not limited to the unlimited right of appeal to the Supreme Court which makes the litigation process excruciatingly slow. The overlapping and nebulous areas of conflict between the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court and the State High Courts, which leads to needless litigation about “where to litigate” also needs to be addressed.
“These reforms will require legislative action and a constitutional amendment, but they have to be addressed. However, even if these bottlenecks were removed today, absent retrospective application, I still see the need for the implementation of a Marshall Plan of sorts in the judiciary to clear the backlog that already exists in the system”, he said
According to him suchwill necessitate active engagement between the Executive and the Judiciary with regard to how it will be resourced and implemented and the AGF in collaboration with the Vice-President are best placed to spear head the effort.
His words: “It is not possible to overhaul our legal and judicial architecture without putting more resources into the sector.It is impossible to overestimate the positive effect that an overhaul of our judicial machinery and the legal environment in general would have on our economy and on society as a whole.”
For Mr. Olu Daramola (SAN), Principal Partner in Afe Babalola Chambers, the AGF needs to build the prosecutorial capacity of the DPP’s Office while the civil litigation department must be strengthened.
According to him, the current situation where most cases involving government are given out to external solicitors does not portray government in good light, because it is wasteful and unjustifiable, considering the resources, human and material, available to the government in the Ministry of Justice.
“Apart from this, the unwholesome practice constitutes a big drain on government resources because the external lawyers have to be paid. One of the ways to cut cost of governance is to allow lawyers in the Ministry of Justice to handle government briefs.
“In the past, state counsel and not external solicitors handled most of, if not all government briefs. It is more cost effective for the government to recruit good lawyers into the Ministry of Justice who can handle its briefs than to farm out the cases to external solicitors”, he advised.
Moyosere Onigbanjo (SAN) charged the AGF to ensure that merit is promoted in the judiciary. According to him, the AGF must ensure that justice delivery system works without any hitches.
“He must ensure that litigants and those who go to the temple of justice leave the place, feeling that justice has been done, whether they loose or not.
“He needs to initiate legislations, look critically at the mode of appointing judges and promoting judges. I think we need to look more at merit rather than which section of the country a judge comes from. I think that our justice system should be driven by merit and merit alone”, he stated.
Former chairman of the NBA, Ikeja branch, Mr. Monday Ubani charged the AGF to strive to end impunity in Nigeria through insisting on the rule and supremacy of law.
He urged him to ensure that judgments of courts must be obeyed by all government agencies especially security agencies.