By Abdulwahab Abdulah
A former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Kano branch, Ibrahim Mukhtar, is the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Kano State. In this interview, he bares his mind on the challenges of justice administration in the country, Child Rights Act, corruption in the judiciary and efforts by the state government at improving justice administration.
Corruption in the judiciary has been a major concern to Nigerians as it affects hierarchy of Courts. How do you address this in your state or is corruption not part of the problem in Kano State Judiciary?
There is no state in Nigeria that you will not find corruption, corruption is everywhere but the challenge is that you can easily hear information from the radio in form of allegations but the name of the person committing the offence may not be mentioned and even when the name is mentioned, nobody is ready to come and give you any evidence against that particular person, even the lawyers. They are not willing to come out themselves and give evidence. So, without evidence, there is no way you can sanction any judicial officer. It will just remain hearsay evidence and that one will not hold water, that is the major challenge but if you are sure of what you are saying and you know that that person has committed an offence, come out and say it. Because if you take any step without considering whether it is a good case or not, and you fail, you will pay dearly for it because you have made an unsubstantiated allegation against a judicial officer without any evidence; it will definitely backfire. If you don’t fight corruption, it will fight you. So we are fighting corruption and we are encouraging members, especially the professionals, to come out and give evidence. Even the victims should come out and give evidence, you are suffering from the menace and you don’t want to give evidence! You don’t want to report to the Police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission ( ICPC) and others, then nothing will happen. So we are encouraging people to come out and give evidence so that it will not be a mere rumour.
Has your experience as former Chairman of NBA Kano branch assisted you in your new call as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Kano State?
My experience as former Chairman of NBA Kano is actually helping me in my present calling as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state. You know very well the challenges of leading lawyers as a branch chairman. These are people who know the law, they practise it everyday and go to court on a daily basis facing serious challenges in their trade. These are the same people fighting for the rule of law, fighting for justice for everybody – both the low and mighty – in the society. They are the same people applying various disciplinary measures against their erring colleagues but the man is now having the mandate as the Attorney-General. It is a much bigger responsibility now because you are dealing with not only a professional association, but with the whole state as a chief law officer.
How do you apply the experience in your present assignment?
I am using that experience actually in fighting corruption, in trying to improve the judiciary in the state, trying to put things in order in the justice sector, so that the society will be better. That same experience is leading me to expose corrupt judges, magistrates, Sharia court judges if any. That is what I did to instil fears in the minds of crooked lawyers who had no respect for the rule of law, who were cheating their clients, eroding the very foundation of the legal profession when I was the branch chairman of Kano NBA and I succeeded in instilling fear in them.
How did you do this?
Well, it depends on the circumstances of each case. In some cases, I reported them to appropriate authorities and in some other cases, I lifted cases from our disciplinary committee at the branch to the national level. Though a number of cases are still there pending, I believe that I am one of the chairmen who lifted the highest number of cases to the disciplinary committee at the national level. This was to protect our profession and build public confidence in the people, so they will have respect for lawyers. The situation was not encouraging because you would see people rushing to various Police stations for debt recovery and thereafter, pay a percentage of the recovered debts to other people instead of going to lawyers to use judicial processes to recover their debts.
How are the people supporting you in this fight?
I am enjoying the full supportof my branch and the State Governor. The Governor wants to make the state better for everybody. For instance, Kano is the only state in Nigeria that has a Public Complaints and Anti- corruption Agency. The Governor is enlarging the agency to have offices in all the 44 local government areas. Now they have completed the construction of offices in 23 local government areas across the state, the remaining ones will be covered in the 2018 budget. Each local government will have an office and he has employed many lawyers for the Commission so that they will start work immediately. People now have a place to lodge their complaints, it is a means of fighting corruption and amounts to taking solution closer to the people not only in Kano metropolis, but also to the local government areas.
What is your greatest challenge as the A-G of Kano State?
My greatest challenge in the Ministry of Justice is the issue of punctuality to work. If you don’t have punctual staff in office, in courts and elsewhere, you will never succeed. I have been able to change that situation. Now my staff are coming into the office as early as 8 am, and they don’t close before the official closing time. As a result, we are receiving commendation from the Acting Chief Judge of the state, some judges also commend us that they have seen a lot of changes. We have received approval from the Governor to train more state counsel; we have secured approval to employ 25 more counsel. That will give us about 130 lawyers in the state’s Ministry of Justice. We are also trying to do more in the area of training and recruitment.
What is the position of Kano State in the call by the NBA under the leadership of Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud (SAN) in canvassing for the adoption of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act ( ACJA) 2015 as the Administration of Criminal Justice Law by all the states of the Federation?
We didn’t have any criminal justice law in the state but when I came in, with the approval of the Governor, I set up a 16-member committee which I chaired. The purpose of this committee was to look at the existing Criminal Procedure Code in the state and the new ACJA provisions with the hope that we will have a better criminal procedure law combining both the old and new innovations to have the best law in the country. We have concluded our work and we now have a draft law in our hands.
What is the next step?
After the validation, it will be taken to the State House of Assembly and I believe that our law will stand the test of time. It will be unique, in fact other states in the North have started requesting for a copy because our law will be applicable, not only in the High Courts, but also in Sharia and Magistrate’s courts.
What efforts are you making on the adoption of Child Rights Act in Kano State?
When I came in, the Child’s Rights Law was not a pending issue in the state,but I know that a long time ago, the issue was raised by the state government and it attracted criticisms and public outcry because of the background and culture of the people. Traditionally, we Africans are so used to controlling our children the way we want, so such provisions that allows a child to sue his father or his mother will create serious problems. That is the challenge actually but there are good provisions in that law. We have to protect our children, like the issue in the North where people release their own children to go to the streets in the name of Almajiri, that is not in line with Islamic teaching at all. On the contrary, it is totally done out of ignorance.
Why is this practice high in the state?
You know that most of the Almajiris in Kano are not from Kano State. They are migrants from other states, Niger Republic and other African countries.
What is the position of Kano State in strengthening Alternative Disputes Resolution mechanism to complement the courts in resolving commercial disputes?
Kano State is one of the first states to establish a Multi-Door Courthouse. The purpose is to enhance and ensure alternative disputes resolution. Under our own rules, there is a provision giving right to each and every judge when dealing with any case, to refer a case filed before him to that multi-door courthouse for settlement. He has the right to give that order and that house can attempt to settle the parties. If they succeed, they will just send their settlement terms to the court and the court will adopt same as a consent judgment instead of the long and tortuous way of litigation. So Kano is one of the first states to embrace ADR. After Lagos State, it was Kano on ADR and apart from that Multi-Door court house, we also have a department which we call Citizens Rights Department under the Kano State Ministry of Justice whereby ADR is being applied and people are coming in daily to resolve their disputes.
Why do you want to take over the prosecution of cases at the lower courts?
This is to improve the quality of the prosecution. You cannot compare a lawyer who is trained in the law with a police officer who was trained in investigation and security issues; these are professionals, police are equally professionals in their own way but not in courts, they should just come and give the outcome of their investigation as witnesses in courts while professional lawyers should prosecute so that people will benefit from that quality; not only the rich who can afford to employ a private lawyer to do it for him, but the poor should also enjoy the services from the state. That is what we are doing with the support of the State Governor. We plan to involve NYSC members in the training so that they will enjoy their service here with experience. They will have a senior lawyer with experience appearing with them so that they will be learning and at the end of their service year, they will have the basic skills in prosecuting cases.
Funding has been the major challenge in running government ministries, departments and agencies in the country. How are you grappling with this or do you have all the resources you need to run your ministry?
No, you cannot say that you have all the resources you need to run a government agency, but what we used to receive earlier, in the last administration as grants, has been doubled by this administration. I mean 100 per cent increase from what we used to receive during the last administration. Now, 100 per cent increase is very encouraging and it is helping us to do more. Apart from that, we made a case for additional offices and the Governor has just directed the Commissioner for Works and Housing to build additional block of flats for us in the Ministry of Justice. What we have now as a structure is just a two-storey building and with the additional recruitment which we are making, we need additional office structures. He has approved it so the government is building additional block for us and also modernising our library to give us a computerised library in the ministry. Apart from this, all law practice books both hard copy and virtual books, will be there.