By Innocent Anaba
Benue State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Micheal Gusa in this interview, discusses the challenges of the office of the Attorney-General, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, the Anti Open-Grazing Law of the sate and other national issues.
As the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Benue State, what has you experience been like?
It has always been quite challenging but I thank God because He has always been there for me. The Lord has always been my strength and so having a boss who is very supportive, who is very caring and who is always encouraging his subordinate as my Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, we are doing it successfully and we are not feeling the distress.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act has expedites criminal justice administration in the country. Many states of the federation have also adopted it at the state level. What is the situation in Benue State?
We are working on that too. We have forwarded the bill to Benue State House of Assembly and given the speed with which the Benue State House of Assembly is handling most of the bills, I believe and am very sure that very soon, we will domesticate the Administration of Criminal Justice Law in Benue State.
Law and economic development have always worked together, how have our laws impacted our economic growth?
Bye and large, just like you rightly said, law and economic development go together because if you want to develop, you need to create a relationship between yourself and the next man, no man is an Island to himself, no man is self sufficient, you need to relate with others in the process of development. You need to have a relationship between yourself and the next person, between one State and another, between one country and another, so, you need the law to guide these relationships that have been brought about by the desire to move forward, the desire to grow and this desire to develop. Law has always been the pivot upon which the development of every economy revolves.
In the Nigerian case, this is not an exception and when you bring it back to our place here in Benue State, we have so many laws that relate to these issues of the moment. When you bring any policy, you certainly have to develop a legal frame work that will drive the policy which you have made. And so, it has been a tremendous tool for our economic development.
There is public outcry against the Anti Open Grazing Law recently passed by the Benue State House of Assembly. What is the issue with this Law?
If there is any outcry against this Law, it is coming from our detractors, from the people who don’t mean well for Benue State. Just like I said before, we need peace in the state. When Governor Ortom came into office, he met the crises between the herders and crop farmers in Benue State here and in his wisdom, he decided to sponsor a Bill to Benue State House of Assembly and this bill was meant to create a harmonious working relationship between the crop farmers and the herders.
What does the Bill provides?
The bill says that if you must herd cows or rear animals in Benue State, you must ranch, because the greater number of Benue State indigenes are crop farmers and these two cannot go together. You cannot have a crop farm here and then you have cattle walking inside or destroying the crops. It does not make any sense at all. So he sponsored this Bill to the Benue State House of Assembly which also conducted public hearing to get inputs from all major stakeholders in the state. During the Public Hearing, you heard the herders, the crop farmers, the intellectual class, religious groups, faith based organisations and so on. Everybody was there, so it was the consensus of the people of Benue State that looked at it, we cannot restrain anybody from doing any business he or she wants to engage in, but there should be a restriction for everybody because if you are a crop farmer, you cannot look at any land and start farming there, and also, if you have cattle, you must ranch this cattle and if you don’t have a land of your own, you apply for permit from the State Ministry.
Governor Ortom has maintained that Benue State Government owes it a duty to protect and preserve every Nigerians resident in Benue State irrespective of their states of origin or professional calling and religious affiliation. So the Law is designed to protect Nigerians, the farmers and herders in the state, thereby, providing a lasting peace for all.
The main provisions of this Law are to prevent the destruction of crop farms, community ponds, settlements and property by open rearing and grazing of livestock and also prevent clashes between nomadic livestock herders and crop farmers. It also seeks protect the environment from degradation and pollution caused by open rearing and over grazing of livestock and optimise the use of land resources in the face of overstretched land and increasing population.
The Law further seeks to prevent, control and manage the spread of diseases as well as ease the implementation of policies that enhance the production of high quality and healthy livestock for local and international markets and create a conducive environment for large scale crop production.
The Livestock Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources is vested with the powers to administer, regulate enforce this Law.
Governor Ortom offered amnesty to criminals in Benue State in what he described as the carrot and stick approach. What is the effect of that offer to the security of lives and property in the state?
I want to state that the governor came into office with the desire to move the sate forward and at the time he came in, he discovered that the youths in Benue State were heavily armed by politicians who wanted to use them to achieve their own goals, so when he discovered that these youths were armed vis-à-vis his desire to attract development and investment , he noted that the needed peace, security, so he initiated the amnesty programme and as you rightly pointed out, it was the stick and carrot approach, the amnesty programme was to enable the youths repent, drop their arms and get state pardon, and a lot of youths came forward to surrender their arms and these arms were collected by the state and destroyed. For those of them who refuse to surrender their arms and embrace this opportunity, they are the ones now that the stick is being used against because you cannot live in Benue State as an outlaw, the Governor keeps saying that he cannot surrender the state to criminals having known very well that we have a lot of potential in the state. The programme has the support of everybody in Benue State
Without the efforts the governor made, you wouldn’t be here in Benue State. You can always seek your permit from the Ministry of Agriculture, which is saddled with the responsibility of enforcing this law. You can apply for a permit and you will be issued a permit, you will now restrain your cattle or whatever livestock you have, you restrain it and continue to do your business as nobody is sending anybody out of Benue State, that is the misconception that so many people have, they say that we have made a law to send many people out of Benue State, that is not true. We are saying that we need everybody in the state to move forward, that is the issue but in as much as we need everybody, everybody will need to live in peace and there should be a norm that to protect life and property in the state. If you want to own your livestock, go ahead, own your livestock but these are the guiding rules, if you want to be a crop farmer, go ahead and do your crop farming activities, by the way, Benue State is the food basket of the nation and if we continue to fight and kill ourselves this way, we cannot continue to maintain that status. So, it was these ideas that made the governor to sponsor a bill to the State House of Assembly, which conducted a public hearing and then gathered the opinion of all the people of Benue State before they made the law and I assure you that whatever you see in that law is the collective opinion and views of all the people of Benue State.
What has been your achievements in office as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Benue State
One of the first things the governor did on assumption of office was to reactivate the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy because he discovered that a lot of Benue indigenes who were convicted, some sentenced to death, some sentenced to life imprisonment and we had so many of them languishing in various prison yards across the country. So, he reactivated the Council and they visited several prisons in Nigeria, we came back with a lot of recommendations which he agreed with us. We recommended to him and I want to say that most of the criminals who were condemned to death were converted in prisons, some became preachers, some became pastors and so on and he freed them . Most of their families have been coming to thank the governor for what he did for them.
Apart from that we have been working tirelessly with prison officials to see how we decongest the prisons. During the last Democracy Day, the governor freed about 43 inmates of Makurdi, Gboko and Oturkpo prisons based on recommendations from prison authorities. Sometime, you have prisoners who were freed but not released because they could not pay their option of fines and in these cases, the governor paid for them because we have the conviction that they have turned away from their bad ways and have become good given the fact that the prison is not just to punish, but to reform the prisoners.
What about expeditious dispensation of Justice in the State?
In the Ministry of Justice, I have constituted a Task Force to decongest the cases that we met on ground. We have been filing Director of Public Prosecution, DPP’s advice expeditiously. We don’t allow the files to stay in the Ministry because as soon as the files are brought by the Police, the DPP will prepare the legal advice and we issue them and arraign the suspects at the State High Courts promptly.
We cannot do all these things without the support and approval of the governor , who himself has this passion for the citizens of the state without exception. When you inform him that this is what your citizens are going through, he will always listen to you.
He has purchased vehicles for Judges in the state and he is trying his best to improve their working conditions so that they will do their best for the state. He has facilitated the appointment of more Judges for the State Judiciary since we came into office. We have a smooth working relationship with the State Judiciary and we are always there for them. Because of the recession, we cannot attend to all the problems at the same time, but we are doing our best and that is what the governor is doing so far.
He is the first governor to renovate facilities at the headquarters of the State Ministry of Justice in the state capital which has been there since 1976. It is a major achievements and most my predecessors in office have been sending congratulatory messages to me because of this. He is also renovating the High Court building in Oturkpo. We are happy at all these, nevertheless, there is always room for further improvement and developments and I am sure that when the economy of the state improves, the governor will do more.