By Dayo Benson
Kano State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Umar Malik Kuliya, has been in the saddle in the last one and half years. A former State Counsel in the State Ministry of Justice who began his career 25 years ago is a product of Bayero University. Kuliya who left for the banking sector two years after, later returned to the State Justice Ministry as Commissioner 23 years after.
In this interview, he spoke on the nation’s Criminal Justice System, particularly the inherent peculiarities in both Penal and Criminal Codes, Corruption and Constitution amendments.
Kuliya also spoke on his challenges as well as achievements as Kano State number one law officer which include training and employment of several lawyers and the state government face-off with Outdoor Advertisers Association of Nigeria which has now been resolved.
The 1999 Constitution is currently being amended by the National Assembly and this has engendered a lot of criticisms. Some have argued that the problem is not about our Constitution but implementation. However, others are of the opinion that the nation needs a brand new constitution and not amendment. What is the Kano State Government’s stand?
Our constitution is okay, we don’t need to do any amendment. Kano State position has always being that nothing needs to be amended. The constitutional amendment ab initio was used for other interest being pursued. Starting from the National Assembly for example who needs a new state now? Who needs new local governments now? Who needs even State police? We are saying that we are not ripe for that.
Most of the key things that are being proposed for amendment are simply outside our concern, what we need to improve in our society is good governance, transparency and accountability and war against corruption but all these additional structures are unnecessary burdens on the treasury. So we should concentrate on strengthening the institutions.
Why do you think it has been difficult to fight corruption to a stand still in the country?
That is because people are not punished for corruption. Look at the high profile cases all over our Courts; tell me a single governor who has been convicted out of those that are being investigated, not a single one. For everybody it is business as usual and people steal so much money. From the inception of the EFCC to date what have they done? Most of the people that are being punished, if you look closely you will find some political undertone. It’s a shame, people steal in Nigeria they are not punished but they are arrested abroad and punished. So how can we say that we are fighting corruption, we should sit up and punish corrupt leaders.
Would you support the move by the EFCC that lawyers should be made to disclose financial transaction by their client when the amount is above certain limits just as it is done in the banking sector?
I will not support this because in our profession there is absolute privilege between a client and his lawyer, and just as you cannot tell a doctor to come and disclose the illness of his patient. How can you tell a lawyer to come and disclose what he has discussed with his client? Certainly no lawyer will do that and it is not done anywhere so it cannot happen in Nigeria. Whatever communications you received from your client is privileged, not even a court can force you to disclose such, so EFCC should concentrate on their investigation of financial crimes and leave lawyers alone.
In view of the recent conviction of John Yakubu Yusuf of the Police Pension Board, would you support harmonization of the Penal and Criminal Code in Nigeria?
In crimes you cannot harmonize the laws. There are some crimes that are peculiar to some states. Take the Criminal code for example; you have Bigamy, which says that you cannot marry more than one wife. If you have such law here in the North, almost everyone will be liable. That is the beauty of a federal set up; you are free to look at your peculiar circumstances to tackle peculiar problems. If you are in a place where there is so much armed robbery for example what you do is to take care of that.
From the inception of the EFCC to date, what have they done? Look at the high profile cases all over our Courts; tell me a single former governor who has been convicted out of those that are being investigated, not a single one. For everybody it is business as usual and people steal so much money.
What was the physical situation of the Courts in Kano State when you assumed office a year and half ago?
Our courts structures were so woeful and they were built many decades ago, so we had to make it fit for judicial functions. Many of our courts particularly the area courts, one was operating from a garage – very small and unsuitable for courts. So when we came we decided to put a stop to that. We have constructed 27 new magistrate Courts across the state and 28 other Courts. So under one and a half years we have 53 new Courts, fully furnished and quite conducive to be used as a court. We have renovated other courts across the state. Up till June 2011 when we came into office, some of our courts were still using manual typewriters. so we have put a stop to that and we now use computers, each fitted with printers. Also the welfare of judicial officers is being catered for.
What would you say are the challenges you have faced so far as the state number law officer?
The most important challenge is to change the way people work. Civil service is about service but people take civil service as a place where you go and just sit down and gossip without doing any work. People should do service the way it should be, they should come regularly and perform their functions efficiently particularly when what you do will impact the life of the people, so that suspects don’t languish in prison.
Recently the state government was engaged in a face-off with the Outdoor Adverting Association of Nigeria (OAAN). Would you say the issue involved have been resolved?
We are in the process of resolving the crisis and we are happy that parties are now planning out of court settlement. What brought all this is perhaps our desire to force sanity on the environment because when we came in we found billboards all over the place.
Second is the revenue drive and third is the quality of the bill boards, some are ramshackle billboards, which turned into an eyesore because they are unfriendly to the eyes. Billboards should improve the beauty of the place. You would have noticed that we are expanding major Kano roads, so some of the billboards will have to go.