Assessment Of Roles Of AGF & States In Promotion Of Rule Of Law/Justice
By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
An assessment of the roles of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the states of the federation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the promotion of rule of law and justice in Nigeria
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution has established the Attorney-General of the Federation and Attorney-General for each State of the Federation who shall also be political office holders as Minister and Commissioner for Justice respectively i.e. for the Federation and for the State as applicable. This paper aims at assessing the roles of these Attorneys-General in their capacities as both lawyers (who are in many if not all cases are by virtue being the Attorneys-General conferred the highest distinction in the legal profession as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria) and as Ministers of or for Justice (in the temple of justice) in the promotion of rule of law and the administration of justice in Nigeria.
First and foremost, section 150 of the Constitution has established an Attorney-General of the Federation as the Chief Law Officer and a Minister of the Government of the Federation with certain qualifications. The said section provides thus ‘150.—(1) There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer and a Minister of the Government of the Federation. (2) 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 practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.’. In the same vein, section 195 of the Constitution has provided an Attorney-General for each State of the Federation thus ‘195.—(1) There shall be an Attorney-General for each State who shall be the Chief Law Officer and Commissioner for Justice of the Government of that State. (2) A person shall not be qualified to hold or perform the functions of the office of the Attorney-General of a State unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.’. Furthermore, the Attorney-General of the Federation has been conferred powers in public criminal prosecution in section 174 of the Constitution thus ‘174.–(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 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 shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.’. Also see section 211 of the Constitution in respect of State’s Attorney-General with similar provisions. It is observed that nothing in sections: 150 or 195 of the Constitution has made it mandatory that an Attorney-General and Minister or Commissioner for Justice shall be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), though, several Attorneys-General have always been a Senior Advocate of Nigeria prior to their appointment as Attorney-General, perhaps because of the legal knowledge required in running the said office which would be better performed by a legal practitioner of the highest distinction in the legal profession. Also, in my humble submission, their privileges as law officers to enjoy some privileges in the legal profession is as a result of the consideration by law and not just because they are Senior Advocate of Nigeria and were any lawyer be appointed as Attorney-General, such a person though not being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, would, in my humble view, still be entitled to enjoy the same privileges of that office.
Furthermore, despite the high esteem nature of these personalities, why does: our country seem more in disarray than being organized, our laws in many ways seem more in disorganization than in organization, the rule of law seems more displaced than being promoted, the administration of justice seems more perverted than being promoted. Innocent persons who are merely suspected of criminal allegations are being prosecuted despite all these esteemed and highly dignified legal personalities who are to guide the government in all legal matters as the Chief Law Officers. Their roles in my humble view, also go to guiding the citizens of the Federation and the citizens or residents of the State as the case might be. These Attorney-Generals have their roles to the people as the Constitution has already provided in section 14(2) of the Constitution that ‘It is hereby, accordingly, declared that – (a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;’. Therefore, the Attorneys-General hold the people the responsibility of legal advice. The average Nigerian citizen does not understand many things about laws, about justice and about their rights as citizens as well as their duties and about so many things about law. It is not enough, with due respect, for the Attorneys-General to expect Nigerian citizens or their residents as the case might be, to always walk down to their office or the secretariat to know all these that they do not know. The Attorneys-General should rather create enabling platforms for reaching out to people that wherever these people are, the information or the legal advice would still reach them- social media is one, the televisions stations is another, the radio station is another, the newspapers is another among other means of communication, though, the office departments in the Ministry of Justice are also good ideas. These are some of the responsibilities of the Attorney-Generals to the people of their country or their State.
Also, with due respect, it is not enough for these Attorneys-General to only sit in the office and watch all the law enforcement agencies of government whether those in operation or in any capacity to desecrate the rule of law and justice, without advising them appropriately and to call them to order as in my humble view, all the governments of the Federation and the States are ‘clients’ to the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State respectively who are to guide their clients within the bounds of the law as mandated by Rule 15 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007 and its entire provisions.
Finally, it is my overall belief that the Attorneys-General and being the Chief Law Officers and the Minister or Commissioner for Justice (as the case might be), have great roles to play within their years of appointment in office in the promotion of rule of law and the administration of justice in Nigeria, much more so that the office is a continuous office than the occupier of the office. It will also depend on the way that they take their professional roles and duties as lawyers in the government for their effects to be felt all across the board positively. I believe that they would henceforth take up their tasks and roles and face the challenges in leading the Federation to a manifest justice.