Should the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation be separated from the office of Minister of Justice

Should the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation be separated from the office of the Minister of Justice?

Written By

Jibril Hafsat[1] and Abdulazeez Abiodun[2]

Abstract

Over recent years, there has been agitation on whether the office of the AGF should be separated from the office of the Minister of Justice. It is a known fact that the provisions of the constitution provide for both offices under one Umbrella, which means both offices shall/will be headed by one person who shall carry out both functions concurrently. Section 150 (1)[3] provides that “There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a minister of the Government of the Federation”. This simply means that both offices should not be separated from the other as was expressly stated in the constitution. The exception to this is that the same constitution must also make provisions for both offices if they are to be separated and that might be a long process to the Amendment of the Constitution. Section 9 of the constitution states that “The National Assembly may subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provision of the constitution”. Sub (2)[4] of this same section also explains that for the alteration to be made possible, certain requirements must be met such as a two-thirds majority of the house. This is one of the major factors that could hinder the separation of the office. Subsequently, this article would entail other determining factors, that could as well hinder the bifurcation of both offices.

Keywords: Separation, AGF/ Minister of Justice, Constitution

INTRODUCTION

AGF/Minister of justice is a person that is appointed by the president, who serves as the chief law officer of the Federation and legal Adviser to the Government, and who also advises the Government on the constitutional and legal issues which arise before or at Government meetings. Recently, there has been renewed agitation from diverse sectors of Nigerian society for the bifurcation of the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. The call for separation is premised on the perceived influence that the executive arm of government bears on the Attorney General/Minister of Justice. This calls for the alteration of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In other for the separation of both offices to be successful, the requirements of section 9 of the constitution[5] are necessities that must be met before any other proceedings must take place. It is a well-known fact that Nigeria operates a rigid system, what this means is that the procedure for the amendment of any part of the constitution would be ambiguous and, in most cases, impossible. Also, it is not enough that a proposal was made for the office of the attorney general, a valid reason must be given. Many have the opinion that the AGF does a few Executive functions and for the AGF to perform the function greatly, it must be an independent body separated from the office of the Minister of Justice. The writers of many articles supporting this motion also have the opinion that the separation of these offices will go a long way in the government of Nigeria. Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, in his article argues that since the current fusion of the offices has failed to bring about the desired results, it will be proper to separate the two. This might look right, but the fact remains that, both offices should not be separated due to other factors that may arise in the event of separating such offices.

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THE FUNCTIONS OF AGF/MINISTER OF JUSTICE.

First and foremost, one of his major functions is to advise the government on legal matters and represent it in ligation, this was expressly provided for in S150(1)[6]. Also, the attorney general is duty-bound to protect the citizens of Nigeria against arbitrary executive acts. This is by his unique position. In other words, he acts as a link between the common man and the other organs of the state.

Furthermore, under S.174(3)[7], in the exercise of his powers in criminal matters, the attorney general “shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal proceedings. He also ensures that the public good has been judicially enunciated by ensuring justice in the state.

REASONS WHY THE OFFICES SHOULD NOT BE SEPARATED

  1. JUSTICE

True justice can only be achieved if both offices are combined. Strictly speaking, the argument for bifurcation is without merit. While there is no doubt that the Ministry of Justice, being one of the ministries of the government does the bidding of the government, the role of the prospective Attorney General after the amendment has yet to be determined. Since the primary function of the AGF/Minister of Justice is the administration of justice[8]. Justice cannot be done if the offices are separated, each office will not be able to carry out its work justifiably. It will also be difficult to keep track of the affairs of both offices, thereby rendering the justice system weaker than it already is.  Separating the office is a needless exercise and an adventure that may not necessarily strengthen the national justice system as envisaged. Strengthening the justice system requires certain organic reconstruction which is not driven by the separation of the office of the AGF and the Minister of Justice.

  1. SIMILAR FUNCTIONS

It is obvious that the functions of the AGF are similar to Minister of justice which make the two offices be headed by one person, so it is pointless to separate the offices. Since both offices are aimed towards administering justice in the state, which can be done by one person, sharing this can be conflicting among the two offices if separated. The power given to the AGF under the constitution as provided for in Section 174[9], there might be problems that may arise due to its separation such as the execution of its function. Former NBA President Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN said, it does not make any difference whether you separate the office of AGF from that of the minister of justice, what the country need is to create and nurture institutions.

  • COST

Separating both offices means that the cost of running both offices would be unnecessarily expensive due to the creation of an entirely new office with a new payroll, infrastructure, and all other accompanying expenses. There is no doubt that the cost of running the office of the attorney general would be higher than that of the mister of justice, the reason being that more responsibilities would be assigned to the office of the AGF than that of the ministry of justice. Hence, in other to cut down unnecessary costs, the need for the separation of both offices would be irrelevant.

  1. CLASH OF DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITY

The AGF has the power to continue and discontinue any criminal proceedings in the court before judgment is given. This means that if the AGF feels like for justice to be done the case should be discontinued, in situations where the minister of justice takes on a case, the AGF can choose to discontinue such a case, if he wants to, thereby degrading the powers of the minister of justice if the offices are separated. The Nigerian Senate in 2017 voted in support of altering sections 150, 174, 195, 211, 318, and the third schedule of the Constitution to separate the offices.

Section 150(1)[10] provides that: There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation. Section 174 provides the AGF powers over criminal prosecutions and is perhaps one of the most publicly scrutinized aspects of his responsibility. The Senate said the amendment will create an independent office of the Attorney-General by insulating it from partisanship. The office of the commissioner for Justice will also be separated from that of an Attorney-General in the states. This move by the Senate was backed by the House of Representatives which also voted in its favor. It, however, failed as it did not get the support of two-thirds (24) of the state Houses of Assembly as required by sections 9 (2) and (3) of the Constitution.

Also, in terms of providing legal services to the government, they would be confusion on whom such responsibility lies, thereby hindering the justice system. One of the duties of the attorney is to keep the local police departments accountable for their actions, by so doing, justice would attain and there would be no need for separation of both offices which would lead to a clash of duties and responsibilities. reference

CONCLUSION

Separation of the AGF from the Minister of Justice’s office should not be an issue now but we should focus on another aspect of government that need attention. The recommendations of Yadudu’s committee have since remained in the archive giving room for the status quo ante to remain as far as the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation was concerned. Penultimate week, Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, said that the proposal to separate the two offices sailed through during the last amendment exercise, but could not see the light of the day since the Forth Alteration Bill was not assented to by former President Goodluck Jonathan[11]. It is in our best interest to face other issues that bother us related to the country and have it at the back of our mind that separation of the office of AGF from the minister of Justice will not make any impact on the government. Issues like unemployment, insecurity, lack of infrastructure, radicalism, educational system, information technology development, and good governance, should be the focus points. Also, the major aim of the movement for the separation of both offices is to improve the admissibility of the justice system, in other words, to separate the justice system from politics. This can be done with or without the separation of both offices, which are currently headed by one person. It is advisable that before the position of the AGF is given, a critical examination and earnest screening should be done, as such a position requires focus, discipline, determination, impartiality, hard work and so many other essential attributes which is linked to the office, bearing in mind the office of that AGF is an office of prestige and should not settle for less when it comes to its selection for its holder.

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RECOMMENDATION

The provisions of the Constitution leave no doubt as to whether the two offices should be separated. Since 1999, the constitution has been followed when it comes to the appointment of AGF/Minister of Justice, for us to now wake up one day and think that the best thing is to separate the office of AGF from Minister of justice when we have other issues to attend to. The issue of separation of the offices is a minor issue that does not call for attention at the moment.

Furthermore, the separation of both offices is not needed, for obvious reasons such as similar functions which they both share, clash of responsibilities and duties if separated, and the cost of running both offices. The government should channel its energy into pressing issues affecting the country and not the office of the AGF. Lastly, it would be easier and more efficient to administer justice if it is headed by one person, because one person would be accountable for any misconduct done, thereby making him more cautious of his action, and also he would be able to oversee the activities of his subordinates, to make sure that nobody abuses their office.

[1] Law student Afe Babalola university Ado Ekiti, 300level, hafsatjibril98@gmail.com

[2] Law student Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti, Judge of the High Court of LSS, ABUAD 2021/2022, abdazeez.abiodun@gmail.com

[3] Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)

[4] CFRN 1999 (as amended)

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Oluwaseun Ajaja ‘Why the Attorney General/ Justice Minister office shouldn’t be separated (2017) https://punchng.com/why-attorney-generaljustice-minister-office-shouldnt-be-separated/?amp accessed 19th February 2022

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Joseph Oyekwere, Godwin Dunia, and Yetunde Ayobami Ojo ‘Attorney General and Minister of Justice: Better together or not?’ 2016  https://guardian.ng /features/office-attorney-general-and-minister-of-justice-better-together-or-not/ . https://dailytrust.com/amp/should-nigeria-separat-office-of-attorney-general-from-minister-of-justice accessed 18th February 2022.

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