‘Let us restructure the country through devolution of powers’
The call for restructuring is gaining momentum. But beyond the call is the argument about what the so-called restructuring would entail. At the same time, there are those who are of the view that the country is normal the way it is. Those are the ones who are against restructuring and hold the opinion that certain sections of the 1999 constitution only need amendment. Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, an Abuja-based lawyer and head, Nigerian Forum, African Bar Association (ABA) believes in restructuring. He told BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE in this interaction that restructuring has nothing to do with returning the country across regional lines as many believe. He also explained the power of the Attorney General to prosecute cases as well as the decline in the quality of legal education in the country.
Stating his view about the call for restructuring, he said: “To me, the Constitution has devolved some powers, not only to the three arms of government but also, the three tiers of government. Because of the long sojourn the country had with the military, some of these things were distorted in the sense that we developed a kind of a military system, whereby everything is centered at the centre. But if you look at some of these provisions, sufficiently the constitution has defined what role each tier of government should play and what their roles are. I am not saying that these things are sufficient because in the life of a nation just like an individual, there are needs for adjustments. There is always need to look inward and review the relationship in terms of how the system works. We can have a system that is dynamic. But if you insist on allowing the system to be static, there will be stagnation and there will be no growth. I don’t like this idea of people giving an impression of restructuring as very drastic to disfigure the nation into regions or whatever.
“I see restructuring as looking at how the federal system is being operated, to see if the federal government has taken powers that it cannot effectively discharge. I don’t see the rational of the federal government being involved in agriculture or education and to some extent, health care. Some of these social services, the federal government is in a better position to provide standardization in terms of policy, not implementation. When private individuals operate secondary schools and federal government also operates secondary schools, it doesn’t make sense. We are operating a fake system. If you look at the number of local governments we have in this country, every local government has the same set of departments. They all have agricultural departments, yet there are local governments in this country where there is no single farm.
“So, let more power go to the states. Let us look at it more of a devolution of power. Already, there is a fixation in the minds of so many people, the moment they hear restructuring, they think it is about having Northern Nigeria or Southern Nigeria or Niger Delta. It is not the political configuration but about what the FG does. If possible, let us restructure the country through devolution of powers.”
“On the implications of cold war between the office of the Minister of Justice and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the lawyer said those controversies are unnecessary. According to him, prosecution of criminal cases is a constitutional matter, meaning that Attorney General of the Federation, on all federal matters, has a constitutional duty, which is exclusive to him.
“He said: “The same constitution that gave the National Assembly powers to enact laws also, in many instances, gave powers to many institutions to carry out prosecutions but that is not to say it is in conflict with the general powers of the Attorney General to take over prosecution. I don’t think there is any doubt about the authority of the AGF. But unfortunately, where we have problem is that certain institutions are assuming certain powers, posture and stature. Because of how they came into being; they now think they are larger than life or larger than the AGF. EFCC is an organisation established to fight corruption in respect of punishable crimes.
“It is supposed to be a specialized institution that will fight corruption rather than addressing issues of financial crimes or money laundering. But if you look at what they do overtime so critically and how they started, it is more or less, not addressing the core issues of money laundering or financial crimes. They have even delved into state matters. That is why the magnitude of impact the EFCC would have had since its establishment is not as much as expected.
“There are instances where they even go down to the level of charging people to court, but in the name of the Attorney General of the state because some of these cases they get involved are state matters, which is only within the jurisdiction of the states Attorney General. In such cases, the AGF doesn’t have jurisdiction. So, they have to obtain the consent of the Attorney General of the state to sue.
“For me as a lawyer, there is no crime that is big or small. Crime is crime and that is how we should address it. But the degree only comes in terms of reprimand or punishment. If you commit homicide, you know the degree of the crime is higher than causing bodily injuries. So, this controversy of high profile cases is neither here nor there. What is important is that the AGF should be recognized and his powers should be acknowledged in respect of federal matters if it involves prosecution. The AGF is entitled to, and has power to know, and has the jurisdiction, because he has the discretion of what to do. I want to believe that, that was the thinking of the Constitution in giving such powers to the AGF with the belief that in exercising his powers, he will do it in the best interest of the public.”
About the Judiciary being among the highest corrupt institution in the country, he said: “What is the validity of those data and statistics? How authentic are they? It is only the Police that can give figures in terms of issues of corruption, unless you are working on assumptions, and if you are working on assumptions, then it means they are not scientific. That means they have to be subjected to so many tests to arrive at those alarming figures.
“It is the Police all over the world that can give correct statistics in terms of the performance of their duties after they have made a number of arrests. And those arrests include their officers, customs, immigration, judiciary and members of the general public. In that manner, if the Police say that among the matters they handle, corruption matters or bribery matters involve more of the Police than other institutions, then, you know that the data are from creditable source. It is a very difficult process to arrive at that kind of conclusion on who is the most corrupt. Corruption is endemic. There is no institution in this world that is corrupt-free. Relatively, some institutions are higher in terms of their exposure to corrupt practices, probably because of the system and the job they do. But generally speaking, I don’t think that the statistics is correct. The parameter has to be defined before you arrive at your conclusion.
“My position has been to situate the offences that were defined by law. For instance, as a lawyer, I have judges that were my classmates, my colleagues; maybe we practiced before they become judges. Then, you trace in their accounts at one point that I made contribution to them for a particular occasion and concluded that it was an act of corruption. So, I think we have to redefine our positions, how we interpret laws and how we conduct our investigations. Definitely, it will be an open-ended kind of situation.”
Many senior lawyers are worried about the gradual decline in the quality of legal education in the country. Expressing his view on the issue, Abdul-Kadir said it is a societal decline. “The problem is that you cannot detach yourself from your own society. These lawyers and those who aspire to be lawyers are all coming from the same community with others. The same teachers that teach prospective lawyers English also teach a prospective medical doctor English. The quality of your foundation determines how good or better a person will be as he moves up to a greater height in the pursuit of legal practices. So, quality education up to the high school prepares you well to train as a lawyer.
“Do not forget also that it is among these lawyers that are trained that some will go back to teach others. If they don’t have quality education and quality background, what are they going to impart to others? You come across many graduates, not just of law who cannot confidently write a good correspondence. That is how bad it is. But it that doesn’t mean we don’t have quality manpower in law or any other profession. Also, we imbibed the culture of not respecting merit overtime. People become what they are in terms of god-fatherism in some cases.
“So, I think we have to reverse all these things in order to address this situation. Some of these young men are not being mentored. Some of them want to rush to make it quick. A lawyer who is called to the bar today opens a law firm within one year. They don’t want to go through tutelage in the chambers. Now you see how people are getting high-class degrees. I have never seen it before. In a graduation ceremony, you see more than ten first class graduates. It is never done. We cannot vouch for the credibility of those results. I am not saying people should not get first class, but the issue is defending it. So, these are some of the issues and I want to believe that we can only address all these things if we respect quality and merit,” he declared.