By Gabriel Enogholase

Professor Lawrence Atsegbua, SAN, a former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Benin, in this interview, speaks on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari and its implication for the 2023 general elections.

He also speaks on the ongoing constitutional amendment by the National Assembly and other sundry issues.

Excerpts:

What is your take on the recent signing into law of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by President Buhari

The recent signing of the Electoral Act amendment bill into law has laid to rest the agitations in some quarters that the President was not disposed to signing the Electoral Act. The Electoral Act, 2022, will help champion the electoral process towards the 2023 general elections.

It is based on the Act that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has determined the dates and sequence of the 2023 general elections. It is, therefore, good that the President has finally signed the Electoral Act.

Do you think this will minimize electoral malpractices during elections?

By virtue of clause 50 of the bill now section 50 of the Electoral Act, 2022, INEC is empowered to electronically transmit election results. This will help reduce the incidence of electoral malpractice during the 2023 general elections.

What is your position on independent candidacy?

Independent candidacy is long overdue in Nigeria. Independent candidacy will help throw up credible candidates who could not get tickets through the platform of political parties. Thankfully, the National Assembly has made an innovative amendment to the 1999 constitution by allowing independent candidacy. I believe it is good for our democracy.

What is your take on zoning of political offices especially the Presidency?

By the tenor of section 153(1)(c), Part three to the Third schedule and section 14(3) of the 1999 constitution, the Government of the federation shall be composed in such a way and manner that would reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria.

Nigeria as a country is politically divided into six geo political zones. It is expected, therefore, that in the determination of political positions, they should be zoned in a manner that will reflect the six geopolitical zones. Therefore, zoning of political positions is ideal and in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 constitution.

Do you think this will bring unity to the country?

Yes. If you critically examined section 14(3) of the 1999 constitution, the major purpose of Federal Character, call it zoning, is to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there is no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the government. Therefore, zoning political positions will allay the fears of the minorities.

What are your views on the current constitutional amendment by the National Assembly?

Section 9 of the 1999 constitution empowers the National Assembly to alter the provisions of the constitution by way of amendment to bring it in tone with the demands of the people. The current amendment process being carried out by the National Assembly is in line with the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. My only worry is that there is undue delay in the amendment process.

With one year left in the life of the current administration, is the amendment to the constitution necessary?

Government is continuous. The amendment that is being carried out by the National Assembly is not because of the current administration. It is for future generations. History will record it for the current National Assembly.

The citizens have been clamouring for local government autonomy for instance, if this sail through, it will be a remarkable achievement by the current National Assembly and history will record their names boldly in gold. Therefore, the amendment is necessary irrespective of the fact that it is only one year left in this current administration.

How do you see the delay in the dispensation of justice by the courts? Will you advocate a review of the administration of criminal justice?

The delay in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, in most cases is not deliberate. It is occasioned by various factors. There is the process of investigation by the police which must be thoroughly carried out before charging a criminal suspect to court.

There is also the need to remand the suspect pending Directorate of Public Prosecution, DPP advise before the commencement of trial. The prosecution must also make available to the defence the proof of evidence.

All these process may occasion delay in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria. The Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, 2015 has brought a lot of innovations to the criminal justice system. I would advocate for the building or establishment of more courts and the engagement of more judicial officers to man the courts so established especially at the superior courts of records. This would help to reduce the number of cases in the dockets of each Judge. By so doing, there would be quick dispensation of Justice in Nigeria.

Legal Aid Council collaborates on welfare of Kuje prison inmates

The state of prisons all over the country has continued to be a source of worry to the Federal Government and the relevant stake holders, as Legal Aid Council, as part of its mandate,  reports her finding from visits to the various prisons to the Federal Government as a lead stake holder in the Justice Sector.

Based on this, Legal Aid Council being part of the reform Kuje Project, through its Decongestion Unit Head, Mr. Kenneth Mozea, led a team comprising of staff of LAC and staff of Network of University Legal Aid Institution, NULAI, to Kuje prison, after being cleared by the Comptroller of FCT Command.

The essence of the visit was to carry out a survey to ascertain their challenges by looking at the issues confronting the awaiting trials inmates and delay in their cases in court.

The report of the findings would also be forwarded to the American government, which is the sponsors of NULAI to see how best they can assist to remedy the situation.

Mozea  said at the visit: “Worthy of mentioning is the issue of overcrowding which I guess is the major challenge facing Kuje prison. For instance,  a cell with capacity for 120 inmates is stretched to accommodate 191 inmates.

“These cells are in custodies, custody 1-4 and all is battling with space. Another pathetic situation is where you have inmates sleeping on the floors with mats and blankets. To worsen it, the toilets are not enough for the inmates to answer call of nature particularly at nights.”

NULAI, a non-governmental organisation established in 2003 and registered with Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, is committed to promoting clinical legal education, reform and access to justice in Nigeria.

Mozea  added that: “Legal Aid Council remains the official voice for the voiceless in our country Nigeria. The council was established in the year 1976 to represent the down trodden in court, who are at conflicts with the law and has no money to approach private practitioner.

“ LAC handles both civil and criminal cases. It also through her OSCAR unit provides socour to accident victims provided they met the requirement. The survey carried out by the team of the two organisations covered the social amenities, conditions of the cell, office space, health, education and psychological support, personnel, transport/court duties and development and training means.”

The visit agreed that Kuje prison may have a total face lift if all goes well with NULAI sponsors.

Similarly, Keffi prisons would be visited by the two teams for administration of survey and upliftment.    LAC’s Director General is Mr. Aliyu Abubakar.

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