Lawyers divided over proposed Amendment to split office of AGF from Minister of Justice
The Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review has recommended the separation of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation from the Minister of Justice.
According o reports, the recommendation was considered to avoid the visible politicization of the two critical offices. The lawmakers envisage that the minister of justice will deal with policy and administrative issues, while the AGF will oversee dispensation of justice without fear or favour
However, the proposed constitutional amendment has thrown up a diverse opinion from the legal community. While some Senior legal practitioners (lawyers) in the country, who spoke with Daily Sun in separate interviews on Sunday, threw their weight behind the move, others who are opposed of it rather called for a review of the appointment process.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN), Ahmed Raji who drew his weight behind the proposer stated that “the occupant of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation should be a career person, while that of the minister of Justice should be a politician.
” The Minister will be appointed by the President like other ministers, while the AGF will be a career person like the Director of Public Prosecution(DPP) in those days.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Yunus Uztaz, said: “The office of the Attorney General must be totally separated from that of the Minister of Justice. An AGF is not supposed to have any political inclination or belong to any political party. That is the only way he can discharge his functions and be a fully reflective AGF.
“The moment an AGF has a political party or belongs to one, he cannot perform his functions independently. To ensure that that office is sanctified, the AGF should not be appointed or removed at the pleasure of the Executive. He should only be removed by two-thirds votes of both houses of the Legislature. The moment that is done, the AGF can be expected to perform his duties independently and justifiably.
Unless you separate them, you can never have an independently minded AGF. An AGF is not supposed to have any political sympathy. In fact, it should be such that the public should be able to ask the AGF questions when they are not satisfied with his performance. At least 15 SANS should be shortlisted and each of them made to pass through the rigours of screening by the National Assembly, at least 15 of them. Then the AGF should be open to questions from outsiders. The moment an AGF is loyal to a political party or his appointor, he can never act independently. When the AGF cannot act independently, then there is no justice”.
However, in his contributions to the debate, Chief Oba Maduabuchi (SAN), kicked against the proposed amendment saying its a mere duplication of duties and waste of resources to split the office of the AGF into two.
“I don’t think it is the right thing to do. How can you separate the office? The AGF is also the Minister of Justice. It is mere polemics. To bifurcate the office of the AGF and say this is what the AGF does and this is what the Minister does?
” Any other job or duty which the AGF can do outside the constitution is done by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary. There is no need separating the office. Will the AGF be the Minister? Are you expecting two Ministers in the Federal Ministry of Justice? It is unnecessary duplication of functions.
“We are saying the cost of running the government is very expensive and yet we want to create additional cost. All the Ministers are appointed by the President. How do you want the AGF to be appointed? Do you want him to be a civil servant?
” What we should be aiming at is to strengthen our institutions and make them work better. While are we focusing on individuals? We should make the office of the AGF more powerful such that the President cannot control him. What they should be saying is to make the selection and appointing process credible.
“The person a President want to appoint as AGF should be made known for public scrutiny so that the people can decide whether he is fit and proper person for the job. Unlike today, when you name about 10 lawyers in your ministerial list and then anyone you like will be made the AGF, and then, eventually, it turns out that he is not a proper and fit person for the job.
” So, what should concern us is the process of his appointment and then strengthen the office of the AGF to make it independent like in the United States of America.
“Look at the Attorney General of the USA. When he decided to probe former President Donald Trump on whether the US was colluding with Russia. There was nothing Trump did to stop the probe, but he couldn’t because the office of the AG is strong and independent. That is were we should be going and not trying to duplicate duties.”
Speaking against the proposed law, Abdul Ibrahim(SAN) said the separation will lead to another crisis as has to do with duties and functions of the holders of the offices.
“The question is what are the functions of the AGF and those of the Minister of Justice? But I think they are playing politics with it. It is not the occupant of the office of AGF that is the problem. What matter is allowing him to function very well without interference and political consideration.
” That is the main problem we have and not splitting. Its about strengthening the institutions to make them work effectively. If you strengthen the system and the occupant of the office knows that his loyalty first and foremost lies with the country and the institution and not the president or person that appointed him, then we can not have any reason to complain. “