MR. Lawal Pedro, a senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, who is Lagos State Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice is our guest this week. Today he turns 50 and 25 years at the Bar. To mark the occasion, the Lagos State ministry of justice has organised a symposium in his honour on federalism and development. On his part, he is presenting a book titled Jurisdiction of Courts in Nigeria.
In this interview, he called for adequate participation of members of the Bar in the affairs of the nation’s judiciary and also set agenda for the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher. Speaking on true federalism, Pedro recommended a state police as well as allowing power to devolve to confederating units. He also spoke on other national and state issues.
The judiciary, especially at the highest level is at present on its knees, in what areas do you think the new CJN should focus on to restore the declining glory of the judiciary?
As pointed out by the NBA, there must be good relationship between the Bar and the Bench. Either we like it or not, we belong to the same profession. You are a lawyer before you become a Judge. Both the Bar and the Bench owe the profession a duty to ensure that there is sanity, decorum and unity in the profession.
Also, people have been clamoring for the review of the appointment to the Bench, especially in the area of appointment to the Bench of the Supreme Court. They have been calling for the appointment of lawyers who are interested and capable to be appointed straight to the Bench of the Supreme Court.
Salaries and emoluments
In the olden days, Justice Elias made his mark at the Bench from the Bar and host of few ones. For somebody to be appointed as a senior advocate, you must have won some cases at the appellate courts and same time at the lower court.
I do not see why some of the lawyers who are willing to go to the Supreme Court should not be allowed. So, that is one area I want the government to look into. In addition, salary and emoluments of Judges should be looked into at least to attract good hands to the higher Bench.
The Bar should also be allowed to participate fully at the NJC. They should be allowed to nominate and chose who they wish to represent them in such higher body. If the law says, it is the NBA that is to nominate members into any institutional body; the Bar should be allowed to do this without interference.
The Bar for example should be allowed to recommend at least 10 persons who they feel qualify for such appointments to the NJC or the CJN from whom the council or the CJN will pick the number of people needed to fill their slots.
The Bar must be given free hands to participate in the affairs of the judiciary, this apart from creating good rapport between the two stakeholders. It will indeed promote understanding in our justice system.
In the past, states ministry of justice have been having running battles with the police in the prosecution of criminal cases and smooth administration of justice system, especially in Lagos state. How do you think this can be improved?
Like I have said previously, the country is yet to abide or practice true federalism. There is no doubt that a state government cannot have control over a federal police and the prison authority. This has adversely affected the criminal justice delivery system in the country, most importantly in Lagos State.
You can imagine the difficulty that a prosecutor will face in bringing a policeman who is an investigating officer and is being controlled by another authority entirely to come and give evidence in court. Also, you can view what it will take to bring an Investigative Police Officer, IPO, who has been transferred out of the jurisdiction of the court to come and give evidence in an on going criminal case.
We have been able to achieve a degree of success through our amiable governor who approved allowances for police officers who serve as prosecution witness.
Witnesses in court
In most cases, we pay for flight ticket, hotel accommodation and other minor expenses of a police officer that had been transferred out of the state to be our witness in court. Also, there are difficulties in keeping those on awaiting trial in custody and even those convicted by the court.
So, you can imagine a situation where the court handling criminal matters is being controlled by the state, the police who investigates the case is being controlled by the federal government, the prosecutor is under the state, while the prison that takes custody of the accused is run by the federal government.
To me, all these are misnomer. There must be state police for us to have smooth and effective criminal justice system in the country.
The issue of statutory payment of N18,000 as minimum wage for workers has become another domestic crisis facing some of the state governments who have vowed not to pay because they have argued they were not properly involved in the deal. What will be your reaction?
That is another misnomer in our federalism. I can say it is not proper for the federal government to legislate on what a state government will pay to its workers. Why I say this is that the same federal government knows very well that these states do not earn or generate same income.
So, for the same government to legislate a uniform wage for workers across the country as expected will definitely generate some crisis. This to some extent may also prevent some state governments who may want to pay more than the N18,000 minimum wage from doing so.
However, I do not expect any state not to pay the N18,000 minimum wage, it is only that this will make some states reduce their capital projects or shift from providing some basic infrastructure in order to fulfill the statutory obligation of paying the minimum wage.
Implementation of new tenancy law
The implementation of the new tenancy law has almost become a challenge for tenants and landlord in Lagos state. How do you think the law will work? The law will work. The challenge is that majority have failed to read the law itself.
Though, there are some changes in the new law, but the most challenging parts of the law were the ones relating to rent payments. How do you expect somebody who just got a job to pay two or three years rent? That is part of the system that encourages corruption.
What is being asked for in the new law is that if you are a yearly tenant you don’t have to pay more than one year-rent. Nobody says you should not take more than one year rent but you allow a year to lapse before collecting another one.
It is even better for the landlords because property appreciate over time. Some say they took money from bank to build their houses; you will definitely pay back, even with that.
There are some preferences provided in the new law which makes it applicable differently to some parts of the state. Why this?
Yes, that is part of the law. The governor was empowered to include other areas as he wishes in due course. The areas include Apapa, Ikoyi, Victoria Island and hosts of others. The rational behind this in mine own opinion is that no low and middle income earners will contemplate renting an apartment on Victoria Island.
Those who stay in these corridors are bourgeois who can afford to pay for ten years. Those that the government of Lagos state is more particular and intent to protect on rent issues are the low income earners. However, contrary to the believe that the law has outlawed payment of agency fee is not true. Those people who collect agency fees are professionals.
A Federal High Court recently restrained the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) from collecting fines from traffic offenders. What is your view on this?
Yes, we are still studying the judgment. We are yet to get the certified true copy of the judgment. What we have read from newspapers is that the court declared some of the laws unconstitutional. We have the file before us, we are studying it.
Notwithstanding, the matter before the court is the issue of fundamental rights. I do not see where the claimant seeks the order of the court to declare as unconstitutional the provisions of LASTMA’s law. Be that as it may, from the look of things, we are challenging the judgment of the court.
To us, the judgment says we have the power to arrest, but we do not have power to impose fine. In every civilized society, that is what is applicable. That is why I pray that this country should develop. In every civilized countries, when you are caught for traffic offences and fine is imposed on you, it is either you pay or contest the fine imposed on you in court.
It is not for the agency to take you to court. My prayer is that we will reach a level where we do not need to tow a
vehicle before a fine is paid. In advance society where you have data of all vehicles and particulars of drivers, if you are arrested for a traffic offence, you will be given ticket and you go and pay.
They do not need to chase you around or impound your vehicle, because the system will automatically bring you to book. We are expecting when we will have true federalism, where each state will have data of all the citizens residing in a state, all these problems will be tackled then.
What led you to study law and how are you able to attain this level as the Solicitor General of Lagos State?
I give glory to the Almighty Allah for me to have reached this level. It is not that I am the best but God made me to be one of the best. I came from an area called Popo Aguda on Lagos Island near Igbosere road where we used to have the old Supreme Court.
When we were growing up, we used to see lawyers and you see the nobility in them. So, seeing them with their wigs and gowns was fascinating.
I used to have an uncle, late Muibi Kotun, who was a lawyer and later a Magistrate before he rose to become a judge of the Lagos High Court. Since he was a Magistrate, I always look up to him because of his roles in the family and apart from that he had so much love for me like one of his biological children.
There was nothing I asked from him that he would not give me because of my interest in education. So,as soon as I finished my secondary school, I filled law as my first choice and mass communication, as the second choice in my JAMB form.
However, when I finished my A’ Level, I had seven points, and then you must have ten or eleven points to read law. Fate wanted to play fast game on me, when I saw some of my colleagues who chose other courses being offered admission with less points.
So, I was so dejected and I had to approach my uncle’s friend, Professor Nurudeen Alao, who later became the Vice Chancellor of UNILAG, that I was not given admission in spite of my grade. He therefore advised me to apply for change of course to read sociology.
Registering for the course
Luckily for me, I was offered admission. However, I didn’t go home to tell my father or my uncle that I had secured admission to read sociology. I quietly went to my mother who was happy and offered to pay my school fees.
I was in the process of registering for the course when my uncle met Prof Alao who informed my uncle that I got admission to read sociology. My Uncle came home and rebuked me for choosing the course. He therefore directed me to go and repeat my HSC to qualify to study law, with a stern warning that I should jettison football which was my hobby then when I was in Anwar Ul- Islam, Agege.
At the time I took the second examination entry form, I was already reading seriously. That is why I am surprised now when I see some law graduates who cannot write or speak good English. If I have my way, I will advice that they should cancel this preliminary examination for law students and allow them to do GCE advanced level where you will study History, Government and literature at A’level and all that.
If somebody passes through this, he must have become thorough and have good command of english. So, by the time I finished my exam, I had 12 points. Before that time I was advised by one of my uncles to select Ahmadu Bello University for my law programme. His argument was that the atmosphere there would be more conducive for learning.
After my studies, I did my NYSC in the legal department of the First bank in Ibadan, where there was a process to retain me under one Mr. Ijalaye and Mrs Fadayomi. With due respect, working there was not challenging, because what we were doing there were routine.
Later, I moved to the chambers of Dele Akinusi in same Ibadan, where I became his junior counsel in chambers. We had to open an office in Obafemi Awolowo way, Ikeja latter, and I was there. I joined the ministry of justice in 1987 where I was earning less than what I earned as a private counsel.
Taking the appointment was a tough decision; I was persuaded to take the appointment as a gesture to serve my state. I had wonderful experiences in the ministry where I met wonderful people like late Justice Kessington, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivor and Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey and others.