Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said if Nigerians want justice delivery to be strengthened in the country, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, should be separated from that of the Minister of Justice.
Also, Femi Falana, SAN, had said that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice has not worked in public interest and should therefore be separated
Senator Ekweremadu, who noted that the separation of the two offices was feasible, disclosed that the proposal to separate them sailed through during the last amendment exercise, but could not see the light of the day since the Fourth Alteration Bill was not assented to by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
According to him, he personally believes in the idea, just as he said that it was a decision for the majority of Nigerians and lawmakers to make.
Speaking with journalists at the weekend during a tour of the construction site of the national headquarters of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, in Abuja, Ekweremadu commended the Bar’s leadership under Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN, for continuing with the project, started by his predecessor.
The deputy Senate president explained that the separation of the two offices would make whoever
is appointed the AGF to work for the people and not necessarily the government in power as a cabinet minister and that it would ensure access to justice by citizens, devoid of any external influence.
“I believe in the separation of the two offices. I go for it any time, any day, this is because it will guarantee financial independence, security of tenure and make the holder of the office of the attorney-general at the state and federal levels to be autonomous in thinking and approach to the idea of justice. It will ensure that citizens have access to justice, since the officer will not be dictated to by any external interest or influence.
“During the last constitution amendment exercise, we (members of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution in the seventh National Assembly) recommend it to our colleagues, based on inputs from Nigerians, and they graciously adopted it. Unfortunately, the last president did not sign it. Although, we will be looking at all the issues again, the decision on the separation or any other issue for that matter will depend on what other colleagues and Nigerians think. But as a person, I strongly believe in it.“
On the ongoing construction of the NBA national secretariat, which is already nearing completion, Senator Ekweremadu said: “We want to thank the NBA president, as well as his team for what he has done, because when people come into power, whether in private or government, they meet projects and abandon it, but he met the project and has almost completed it.
“I feel proud today as a lawyer, lawmaker and an ordinary Nigerian, that we will have a good and befitting secretariat at the heart of Abuja. It is also an indication that the Bar has come of age and is repositioning itself for greater role in the dispensation of justice,” he added.
Falana had said that the office of the AGF and Minister of Justice had not worked in public interest and should therefore, be separated.
Falana, who on his part, noted that there was no constitutional provision for a minister of justice to also serve as the attorney general. “One of the reasons is constitutional. By virtue of Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution, while the president has the power to appoint an attorney-general, it is not required by law that the AGF shall be the minister of justice.
“Section 174 does not say that the Attorney-General shall be the Minister of Justice, but by convention over the years, the president has always asked the Attorney-General to be the Minister of Justice.
“But in line with common trend and based on our experience as a people, the two offices have not worked in the public interest. Wehad an attorney general in the recent past who, upon the completion of his term, was suspended as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria because he grossly abused the office and became the defence counsel to accused persons being tried by the government of which he was the chief law officer.”
He said many attorneys-general at federal and state levels terminated ‘serious corruption cases’ by filing that government was not willing to prosecute “whereas the public was demanding for justice”.
According to Falana, some also terminated cases for which they were the defence counsel before they were appointed attorneys-general.
He added that “because the minister of justice is a member of the government and the president or governor wants a case discontinued, it is always a very difficult decision to take. We also want to relieve our colleagues of the burden of having to fight with their conscience because the president or governor has insisted that a case be discontinued.”
Falana recalled that it was the British colonial regime that fused the two positions, but pointed out that in the United Kingdom, the two offices had since been separated, just as he said that in ECOWAS, out of the 15 member states, 10 had seen the wisdom in separating the office of the minister of justice from that of the attorney-general. “In francophone countries, the attorney-general is called “de procure generale”; he is the defender of the public interest.
“Whether the president or governor is interested in acase or not, the attorney-general as the defender of public interest will prosecute any indictable offence and that is what we are calling for in our country.”
Earlier, the NBA president told the deputy Senate president that the project had reached 75 percent completion and that the secretariat, which would house a Virtual Library, an E- library and a pro-bono centre, among others would be ready for commissioning and use by August.
Alegeh, who was also accompanied by the General Secretary of the Bar, Mazi Afam Osigwe, noted
that all sections and fora of the NBA including the Legislative Forum would have their centres at the secretariat, adding that the Legislative Forum of the NBA, for instance, would collaborate and work with the National Assembly, for a better justice system in the country.

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