Dr Muiz Banire is a doctorate degree holder in law. A practicing lawyer and a university law lecturer,he is also the national legal adviser of the All Progressive Congress APC. A three-time commissioner in Lagos state,Banire whose name featured prominently as a likely governorship aspirants prior to APC’s primaries in Lagos state spoke on the constitution amendments,consequences of further polls shift,threats by APC to form a parallel government,the judiciary and other related issues.Excerpts.
By Dayo Benson
One of the major highlights of the latest constitution amendments is the separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation from the office of the Minister of Justice. How do you react?
Answer: There have been agitations over the years for the separation of the office of the Attorney-General from the office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice at both Federal and State levels respectively. I believe it is proper for the two offices to be separated in order to guarantee a great measure of independence in the prosecutorial assignment of the Attorney-General. We must realize that the current regime as provided for under Section 150 of the Constitution for the appointment of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice and Section 174 of the Constitution for the appointment of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice for the State is an anomaly which does not guarantee independence when it comes to public prosecution in which case the incumbent President or Governor appoints the Attorney-General and determines the loyalty of such person.
What effect do you think this will have on the independence of the Attorney-General at the Federal and State levels since the president and governors are still the appointors?
Answer: The independence of the office of the Attorney-General is as important as the independence of the judiciary. A situation where public prosecution is determined by party affiliation or parochial or personal interest of the president or governor is very destructive to the justice system. In fact, in many civilized countries, the two offices are clearly separated in order to guarantee the independence of public prosecution and the confidence of the populace in the justice system. Further, in order to make the office of the Attorney-General genuinely independent, I believe Attorneys-General should rather be elected and not appointed by the president or governor as he who pays the piper dictates the tune. While the Minister for Justice may be appointed to run the Ministry for Justice, the Attorney-General should enjoy freedom from political influence and manipulation as the office bears greater responsibility when it comes to public confidence in the judicial system.
Another major feature in the amendments is the provision for independent candidates for elections. To what extent do you think this will impact on the polity?
Answer:The present regime whereof it is the party that contests elections as held in Amaechi v. INEC is not too healthy for our democracy. While party politics has its own merits, I believe a system in which a person cannot effectively participate in the government of his country except he belongs to a political party does not effectively operate in full implementation of Articles 13(1) and 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The members of the electorate have more robust opportunities to determine who governs them based on pedigree and integrity of personalities when right of individual candidature is allowed rather than when the rights of the public are quarantined within the straitjacket of party supremacy which may not necessarily produce the best candidate on one hand and good governance as a concomitant corollary.
Still on the constitution amendments, most state assemblies opposed autonomy for local governments. Who is afraid of LGAs’ autonomy and is such fear founded?
Answer: I don’t think the fear or Local Government autonomy is in any way justified. It is more desirable to have autonomy for the Local Governments than to have them tied to the apron strings of the State Governments or State Houses of Assembly. The Local Government has its own legislature at which level bye-laws are made. Why must they be subjected to the whims and caprices of another legislature at another level. The consequence we have seen is a situation whereby the constitutional duties and functions of Local Governments are brazenly usurped to the detriment of governmental closeness to the grassroots for which the Local Government system was originally introduced.
The only caveat is that Local Government executives and officials too must be up and doing in their constitutional and statutory responsibilities. It will be completely irresponsible where allocations meant for the development of their respective areas suddenly vanish only to make noveau richeof the Chairmen and their conniving officials. Anyway, at the level of autonomy, the council legislature can deal with that inclusive of the community they are meant to serve.
Without playing devil’s advocate, INEC Chairman, Prof. Jega said when he appeared before the Senate that further polls shift would be unconstitutional. Does this pronouncement not contradict the provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act that allow the Commission to conduct elections not later than 30 days to May 29?
Answer: If what you mean is that Professor Jega said that further shift of the polls shall be unconstitutional, I perfectly agree with him as the election must be held at least and not later than 30 days to the end of the present tenures of the office holders. Any further shift beyond this constitutional stipulation shall be gross violation of the Constitution which must be resisted by all. There is no conflict in such statement with the Constitution but it rather affirms the position of the Constitution.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Mahmud Mohammed has warned election petition tribunal judges against being used by politicians to truncate the nations democracy. What is your take on this?
Answer: The warning of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is coming at the right and most auspicious time. We have read and experienced in the past several allegations and cases of compromise of judicial officers during hearing of election petitions. While many of these allegations might be unfounded as an average Nigerian hardly accepts defeat in good faith, we must realize that on a few occasions, such allegations have exposed the judiciary to some unhealthy doubts. Our judges should avoid all circumstances and scenarios that might smear the hallowed chambers with mud of indecency. The status is too elevated and highly coveted as our judges are the last hope, if not the only hope, left for the common man in this country where corruption and official brigandage have pervaded the spheres of governance.
Governor RotimiAmaechi recently said APC would form a parallel government if the coming elections are not free and fair. Is a parallel government constitutional when redress can be sought in the law courts and election tribunals.
Answer: It is true that formation of a parallel government is not constitutional. You, however, would also agree with me that rigging of election is also completely unconstitutional. The formation of parallel government becomes inevitable as a political tool to protect the right of Nigerians to elect their leaders and determine their socio-economic and political future where election is flawed.
What is your assessment of the nation’s judiciary especially against the backdrop of allegation of corruption in the system?
Answer: In all honesty, the judiciary has done fairly well in the past few years. Considering the volume of work, the environment in which our judges work, the paucity in the resources and constraints imposed on them, I must honestly give the judiciary a pass mark. While it is indisputable that among every twelve disciples there must be at least one Judas, the situation cannot be less so in the judiciary if one takes the pulse of the nation with the suffocating practices that obtain in many circumstances. The presence of such few Judases cannot make one to condemn the judiciary in its entirety as in my few years of practice as a lawyer, I have appeared before many upright judges who do not only know the law, but are also committed to their revered and most honoured office in the temple of justice.
Do you agree with the assertion that there cannot be corrupt judges without corrupt lawyers?
Answer: Well, it takes two to tango but in many cases you would agree that many of our judges have dispensed their responsibilities fairly well. I do not think that corruption is as pervasive in the judiciary as it is loudly proclaimed. An average Nigerian blames his loss on the next fellow and the judge is the whipping boy once the outcome of a case turns against him even when his case from the beginning suffers from factual and legal kwashiorkor. Anyway, that saying is not true as it is even possible for someone that wants to compromise the process to bye -pass the Counsel.
As a law teacher, are you satisfied with the standard of legal education in the country?
Answer: I strongly contend that there is much to be done in respect of the need to improve the standard of legal education in this country. The syllabuses of both the university and the Law School require much to be desired and we need to improve on the contents of what we teach the new lawyers. As a legal practitioner with quite a number of younger colleagues many of whom are fresh colleagues and based on my experience while interacting with law students on attachment from the Law School, I know that we need to make legal education more practice-oriented and dynamic to prepare young lawyers for the challenges of the profession.
In many cases we have come across lawyers and their processes that one would be compelled to query whether and how such fellows actually graduated from the university and the Law School. I believe we need to work more on how lawyers are produced.