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Law reform will bring our law in tandem with current realities — Kefas Magaji

By Innocent Anaba

Mr.  Kefas Magaji is the chairman of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, NLRC. It will be recalled that the Federal Government recently restored the mandate of the commission, including its power to revise the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. By this development, the commission is ready and has secured the needed approvals to revise the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, LFN, 2004.

Magaji in this interview spoke on the task and other national issues. Excerpts:

Magaji

You have been Acting Chairman of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission for almost three years. What have been your experiences and challenges in the office?

I was appointed acting Chairman of the Commission in May 2015 and served in that capacity until December 2016, when I was confirmed as the substantive Chairman of the Commission. For the period I served both as the acting and the substantive chairman, we experienced and are still experiencing challenges, but have also recorded some achievements.

The most serious challenges relate to lack of adequate funding for research and poor remuneration for the staff. The Act establishing and regulating the Commission was enacted in 1979 by the Military Government which is not perfectly in tune with the presidential system of government we are operating.

What was the state of the Commission that time?

At the time I took over, the Commission was receiving about N4.5 million monthly as overhead or running cost. The Commission had about 205 staff on its roll. This amount was required to provide stationeries for use of the Commission, pay electricity bill, provide security and cleaning services for the office environment, pay for local travels which staff may undertake in the course of the month for either conferences, trainings, seminars or other official engagements. As it is the practice in the justice sector, lawyers are paid dressing allowance and I was required to use this amount to pay up same. It was truly a tough experience.

What was your staff welfare like then?

Staff are poorly remunerated. Lack of good remuneration has over the years made it impossible to retain the best brains. The law reformer is essentially a researcher and once the pay is not commensurate with the work, then it becomes difficult to retain such a researcher.

The Act setting up the Commission mandates it to submit the report of a reform undertaken to the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, who would in turn submit same to the Federal Executive Council, FEC. It is upon approval by the FEC that the reform proposal will go to the National Assembly as an Executive Bill for enactment. This process is long and cumbersome.

Suffice it to state that how the Commission operates in Nigeria is worrisome and does not encourage speedy reform process. In Britain, the Attorney-General is a member of parliament and once the report of a reform proposal is submitted to him, it is as good as submitting it to parliament. Whereas, under the Presidential system which we operate here, the Attorney-General is not a member of parliament and does not have the power and authority to present an executive Bill to the National Assembly on his own initiative. It is the Commission’s view, which is supported by the relevant stakeholders that the Act should be amended so that when the Commission submits a reform proposal to the Attorney-General, the Commission can after some time, submit same to the National Assembly.

You have just embarked on the revision of the Laws of the Federation. How do you feel about this?

Law revision exercise is part of the mandate of the Commission as articulated in the Commission’s establishment Act. Successive Attorneys-General have over the years appropriated the Law Revision Exercise by constituting Law Revision Committee to undertake law revision. Law Revision Committee was constituted to produce the Laws of the Federation 1990 and also the Laws of the Federation 2004.

By convention, Law Revision Exercise is undertaken after every 10 years and this is to allow for laws to be amended, repealed or a good number of new laws to be enacted.

The current Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, deemed it fit to restore to the Commission the mandate of Law revision. The Commission is ready to undertake this task and it has the capacity to deliver.

What do you consider to be the challenges in accomplishing this task?

The greatest challenge would be the issue of funding, but there is the willingness and determination on the part of the staff and legal experts in Nigeria to participate in the exercise and ensure that accurate laws as enacted by the National Assembly, are produced.

It is also important to state that record-keeping culture in this country leaves a lot to be desired, as most institutions that should have copies of laws passed by the National Assembly and subsidiary legislation made in the past 10 years do not have them. Also, serious research is being undertaken by consultants to identify Laws or provisions of laws that have been struck down by courts within the periods under review, are identified and deleted from the text of the law.

What is the scope of this work?

The law revision exercise covers all Federal laws in Nigeria. It includes laws enacted after 2002 to date, Laws inadvertently omitted in 2004 Laws of the Federation, Laws repealed by later laws, Laws repealed by courts of competent jurisdiction and the 663 Laws contained in Laws of the Federation 2004.

What innovations do you think you will incorporate in the revised laws of the Federation?

There have been several suggestions as to new features to introduce into the Laws of the Federation, 2018. But the Commission is not in a hurry on the innovations but is looking forward to a stakeholders’ meeting which will comprise  legal experts, jurists, academia, private practitioners etc. to discuss and agree as to whether or not to make proposed innovations part of the Laws of the Federation.

What do you expect from the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies, organisations and institutions that will collaborate with your Commission in prosecuting this project?

As discussed earlier, we require the various MDAs to cooperate with the commission by availing to us copies of their principal legislation, amendments made (if any), subsidiary legislation that has been made between 2002 to date and where there are provisions of their laws that have been successfully challenged in Court, such Court decision should be made available to the Commission.

What are the defects in the Laws of the Federation 2004 that the Laws of the Federation 2018 will cure?

As said earlier, law revision exercise is different from Law Reform. Law Reform seeks to update the law in order to bring the law in tandem with current realities, which may involve alteration in the provisions of the law. Law revision, however, does not permit alteration of any kind in any law, but the consolidation of the different amendments that have been made, and deleting spent and repealed portions of a law from the body of the laws. We count on the support of the general public to enable us succeed in this task.

What cooperation do you expect from the Media and Nigerian lawyers in accomplishing this huge task?

The Commission truly desires the cooperation of the media, the Nigerian lawyers and other stakeholders.  On the part of the media, it is important that stakeholders understand what law revision exercise is. Law revision exercise is not law reform but it is the process of updating existing laws. It is necessary therefore that stakeholders whose laws are not incorporated in our body of laws bring such laws to the attention of the Commission or where amendments have been effected on their laws, should bring such amendments to the attention of the Commission so as to consolidate the laws into a single law, or where certain provisions of laws or any other law have been struck down by the Courts, they should bring such Court Orders to the attention of the Commission, or where any law has been repealed by the National Assembly, the Courts or a later law, such repeal should be brought to the attention of the Commission. Again, where any MDA or Institution has made subsidiary legislation between 2002 till date, they should bring such legislation to the attention of the Commission.

 


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