‘We need to use information technology in training of lawyers’

Simon Lalong, the governor of Plateau State

Simon Lalong, the governor of Plateau State

IN the African Regional forum , most of the issues canvassed were for African leaders to up their ante so that they can compete and face the challenges of globalization. How do you think we can actualize this?

It can be done through discipline and upgrading our training in the profession. Not only that, we can achieve that through outreaches as well. From the contributions so far, in Nigeria we have a long way to go and we need to upgrade our legal system and our level of practice. We now see ourselves in a global community and we need to use information technology in the training of lawyers and in actual practice. It is quite sad that in Nigeria, when people are talking of high technology in practice for judges, we are still taking proceedings in long hand. Not only the lawyers but the judges need this mileage to be able to compete in the global community.

Which of the sessions in the conference was most interesting to you and why?

The session on terrorism! There was another one for judicial corruption as well as that of the African session, the one on globalization. Those are the ones that interest me most. You know at the conference, you cannot attend all at the same time because they all come up simultaneously.

In terms of organization, what do you think Nigerians can take home?

Nigerians should copy the procedure. We saw an excellent arrangement here – the security, transportation, organization and then feeding. They are very excellent. I think we should copy some of these things. Many lawyers are here. If we are having the NBA annual general meeting, it should be that way. In the next NEC meeting in Jos, I will want to replicate what we saw here in terms of arrangement and the manner they welcome people. Generally, the global community should learn how to assist Nigeria. The outcry here now is about corruption, but Mr President is doing his best and he cannot do it alone. He requires the cooperation of everybody. I know that what is destroying the country is corruption. If we deal with corruption, all other things will fall in shape. The discipline is not there to implement these things. I want to also implore the global community to understand and for our people to also be patient with the level of pace with which this present government is moving.

What are you doing to improve the justice sector in your state?

When I was contesting, I knew I was going to get a lot of challenges. There are lots of challenges in the state. The issue of insecurity and inability to pay salaries! I saw them as issues I was going to focus on. I inherited a judiciary that was on strike for over one year. And what was the problem? Lack of payment of salaries to the judiciary and the JUSUN problem that emanated from a court judgment. We inherited a dilapidated structures in the judiciary. What I have done, I initiated it when I was the speaker of the House of Assembly. I wanted a complete law reform within the system. We were going to pass a bill to the executive to review all our laws within the state when shortly after, we were booted out of office. As it is now, it is part of my programme. I have told them that I am going to embark on a very serious reform within the judiciary. Not only in the judiciary, but in other sectors. Already, a committee has been set up to that effect. I am waiting for the report of the committee. Once I get it, I will take off from there. In the main time, I am also in talk with JUSUN to see how we can take care of some of their issues. For the judiciary, we are already renovating the courts. Some of the courts that were not even good, in the first 100 days, we are renovating them. We are also working on mobility for the judiciary. In fact, I will not be the one to talk about these things. If you meet lawyers and judges in my state, they would be the one to talk.

Part of the reason for the JUSUN strike is the issue of financial autonomy for the judiciary. What is your position on this?
I have heard cause to discuss that issue with some of the governors and we have problem with that situation. But however, on different levels, some governors are already implementing it. I am implementing some part of it but some of the decisions of the court goes contrary to the spirit and letters of the constitution. The judgment said everything should be taken back to the judiciary. Who will be checking the judiciary? What would be the role of the executive? Is it not execution? Are you saying that for contract implementation, you take it to the judiciary? Why is there an executive then? You are saying there should be separation of powers without interference, that is not the concept of separation of powers.

You set up a committee to handle the bail out funds when you received it. Why did you have to do that?

I set it up to maintain transparency. In everything that we do in my state, I will ensure that there is transparency. Before the bail out funds, I told my people that I would not wait for bail out funds, that we are going to do everything possible to solve the problem. Out of eight months that were owed them, we paid six. Some of them were asking me how I did it in a very short time with minimum funds. And I said its discipline and we did it with the leadership of the labour force. So when the bail out fund came, I didn’t pick anything from the bail out funds. I called them for a meeting. Before then, people were saying it was the bail out funds that I were using, but they knew when the bail out funds were released. I told them I needed to set up a committee immediately. And so, I set up a committee made up of labour and civil servants. Everything that is done is without me. They are the ones deciding. Yesterday, I was informed that they have exhausted the first part of the bail out. They have paid all the salaries and everybody is happy. The next bail out is coming because we applied for N10billion but ours was given in two bits. The first N5billion came, which they have exhausted and we are waiting for the balance. So the bail out is strictly within the committee for transparency. The governor is not involved at all.

So how do you monitor implementation?

The role of the committee does not end in paying salary arrears. I told them that they should tell us what next after bail out in order to sustain the civil service that we have. They have the mandate to work out how to raise revenue because the bail out will not be coming regularly. They are the ones to decide whether we would downsize or not. The bail out is a warning that something was wrong and not a luxury. We don’t want to continue with what was wrong. Before then, I also shared my view with them on what I think might be done to raise revenue to sustain the civil service and make them very comfortable. Not only the civil servants, I told them that there are so many people on the street who are looking for job. What are they going to do so as to create employment for them? Don’t think that the entire revenue of the state is going to be for the payment of salaries. We must also improve on the infrastructure on the state, we must provide health facilities, we must provide for education, which is very important. My head of service is of course the chairman of that committee, the accountant general is there too. They are working hard, not only on the payment of salaries, but also trying to ascertain the workforce that we have. There are so many ghost workers. When we put up a transitional committee, we realized that salaries that were N1.7billion, went down and we saved about N400million. It means that somebody somewhere was taking N400million out of the state from salaries for eight years. They set up a committee to do verification and for eight years, that committee did not bring any report. But I gave them one month, insisting that that committee must conclude both in the states and the local governments within one month and they turn in their report in one month. Now I know where those loopholes are. So if we are able to block those loopholes, definitely there will be room for employment. It has to do with discipline and monitoring of what we have as our funds.

We hear so much about ghost workers and loopholes, yet no one gets to be prosecuted for such crimes, what’s the reason for that?

For me, I have a different approach for it. In the past what we used to do is that for every little criminal aspect, we send it to EFCC. Now, I know that EFCC has a lot do, even at the federal level. They are very busy. From the report of the transition committee, I sent in some serious allegations to the EFCC against the past government, but up till now, I have not seen one arrest. That kind of delay is telling. If they are too busy, let them tell us. I also know as a lawyer that it is not only the EFCC that can prosecute. There are some we can prosecute at the level of the state, using the office of the attorney general. So that is what I am waiting for. When I form my cabinet, some of those cases, we would prosecute within the state.

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