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Just Before Buhari Names His Attorney General

Posted: Sep 17, 2015 at 12:15 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

As President Buhari sets to release the list of his cabinet officials in few days to come, many Nigerians are more concerned in who fits the bill to serve as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. ADAM ADEDIMEJI in this piece looks into the conditions the would-be AGF is expected to meet and the task ahead

In view of current realities in the Nigerian polity at the moment, it is most likely that Nigerians and other stakeholders are already curious about becomes the next occupant of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. The public interest in who becomes the AGF is understood from the letters and spirit of the Constitution and preoccupation of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The AGF is the only ministerial position specifically mentioned by the 1999 Constitution, as amended. In view of this, it is one office that cannot be done away with just as its name cannot be changed, except through constitutional amendment.

The constitutional backbone given to the AGF is contained in Section 150 which states inter alia: “There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation.” Section 195 of the constitution specifies same for the states.

Following Buhari’s antecedent, campaign promises and public statements since assumption of office on May 29, it is most certain that war against corruption will be fought beyond the realm of rhetoric. In doing so, Buhari needs instrument different from what he used in his time as Head of State in the military era between December 1983 and August 1985.

While military fiat might have worked wonders for him about 30 years ago, his current political will in stemming the monstrous tide of corruption ravaging almost every aspect of the Nigerian life must be operated within the armpit of the law in order to conform with ethos of democratic society that Nigeria and Nigerians have been enjoying since May 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule.

The Constitution makes steps from Section 150 to 174 to state certain cardinal duties required of the AGF. The Section stipulate as follows: “(1) The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power –

“(a) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly;

“(b) To take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and

“(c) To discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.

“(2) The powers conferred upon the Attorney-General of the Federation under subsection (1) of this section may be exercised by him in person or through officers of his department.

“(3) In exercising his powers under this section, the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.”

Section 211 mentions similar duties within jurisdiction of the states for the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of respective states of the Federation.

The AGF office could therefore be said to be indispensable in not only fighting corruption but in promoting the principle of the rule law. In that wise, beyond the constitutional requirements, the next AGF must, like the president, be seen to have personal quest on matters regarding nipping corruption in the bud. The president and the AGF must also, as a matter of necessity, strike common accord in modus operandi and all that are required in mitigating the menace of corruption.

In fact in recent time, there have been call in certain quarters of the country that the Attorney-General office should be separated from that of the Minister of Justice so as to neutralize political influence that may naturally tend to mar the workings of the AGF.

Underscoring the essence of the Attorney-General, Chief Anselem Eyo, Akwa Ibom based lawyer, who recently sued the president at the Federal High Court, Uyo Division, had stated among other things that the absence of the Attorney General of the Federation since May 29, 2015 “has created a conspicuous vacuum in the justice sector as the constitutional duties that are exercisable only by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation is not there to regulate the enforcement of laws particularly the very relevant Administration of Justice Act which seeks to speed-up trial of innocent citizens languishing in custody across the nation”.

Eyo, in the suit filed about two months ago was seeking the relief of the court for order of mandamus compelling the President to carry out the responsibility imposed on him by Section 147 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

By its nature and constitutional provisions, the Attorney-General has been looked upon as one officer that should be blind to partisan politics and pay no regard to party loyalty. It has even been mentioned that the AGF can prosecute an incumbent president.

In fact, Buhari’s much anticipated war against public looters is said to be awaiting the appointment and subsequent assumption of duty of whoever he is going to appoint. Given the briefs of the AGF and Buhari’s core concern in tackling corruption, who fits the bill to serve as AGF?

For Buhari to be reckoned with as a leader that can walk his talks he is expected to have an AGF that has what it takes in sustaining and invigorating trial of suspected public treasury looters, ensuring speedy justice delivery system, and of course, adhering to the rule of law, particularly as regards human rights of concern individual and the larger interest of the Nigerian federation.

So far, some of the appointments made by the president have been greeted by public outcry in certain sections of the country. Buhari is accused of pandering in favour of the Northern part of the country in few appointment made so far. In the appointment of the AGF alongside other ministerial portfolios it is expected that the president would be guided by the pulse of the nation so as not to fuel further suspicion of any kind. On top of that, Buhari’s AGF is estimated to be a person that has pedigree of enjoying public goodwill.

As Buhari is set to release the list of his cabinet officials in few days to come, some legal luminaries are being speculated. They include human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) from Ekiti State; former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) from Ondo State; and a former Legal Adviser of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) who was also in Buhari’s legal team in all his presidential election petitions against successive presidents, Abubakar Malami (SAN) from Kebbi State.

Beyond every other thing, the new attorney general is expected to work in collaboration with anti graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) in loot recovery process and prosecuting of suspected treasury looters.

Besides that, the president must adhere strictly to sub-section (2) of section 150 of the constitution which states that “A person shall not be qualified to hold or perform the functions of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.”