In the just concluded week, the Bill seeking to separate the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from that of the Minister of Justice sailed through second reading in the House of Representatives yesterday, December 13, 2019.
With the current stance of Section 150 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), appointed Minister of Justice also doubles as a chief law officer of Nigeria which the Lower House Legislators, especially the Chief Whip of the House of Representative, Mohammed Tahir Monguno (sponsor of the Bill), believe aggravate political interference in the operations of the AGF.
According to the ex-AGF, Mr. Muhammed Bello Adoke, who also called for split of the two offices, when acting as Attorney-General, one is answerable to no one but his conscience and the interest of justice, but while in capacity as minister, one must take directives from the President and do the President’s bidding.
Hence, the primary responsibility of the AGF, to be the guardian of the constitution as he advises government to ensure that the rule of law is maintained, conflicts with his responsibility to assist the President in the discharge of his executive functions as the actions of government sometimes conflict with the interest of citizens.
Meanwhile, the AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami reportedly took over the prosecution of all the charges against detained pro-democracy activist and convener of “RevolutionNow” Protest, Omoyele Sowore from the Department of State Security (DSS), in line with provisions of sections of 150(1) and 174(1) (a-c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
According to the Minister of Justice, the Federal Government was committed to respecting the sanctity of the rule of law, protecting the virtues of human rights and ensuring speedy dispensation of justice in the matter.
We feel it is time Nigeria towed the line of countries with advanced democracies such as, United Kingdom, and split the merged offices of the chief law officer and Justice Minister, in order to ensure effective administration of the rule of law.
With AGF occupying an independent office, it would be insulated from partisanship, guarantee financial independence, provide security of tenure and make the holder of the office to be autonomous in thinking and approach to the idea of justice.
Hence, we see the case of Omoyele Sowore which was recently taken over by the AGF and Minister of Justice as a litmus test to the effectiveness of the AGF’s office to work in public interest.