Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on Federal Government’s refusal to obey court order on Dasuki, state police, rule of law and sundry issues
Don’t you think the refusal of the Federal Government’s to obey court orders granting bail to a former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) has put the country in a mess?
Well, I don’t think we are in a mess. Although, I don’t have all the facts on all these cases, but what I know is that when a court granted bail to an accused person, the bail conditions must be respected. The challenge we then have is the inability of our judges to be courageous and the docility of our people. We are not helpless, it’s just that at times, we don’t do what can be done and we need to take steps to protect ourselves.
Do you think we have judges who will insist that court orders are obeyed on the Bench at the moment?
We have very courageous judges on the Bench. We have judges who are willing to do what the law requires them to do, but, have they been asked? That’s the first issue. The second issue, which is part of the lapses in our laws, is that for each bail you grant someone, the prosecuting authority can file a new charge. How many cases is Dasuki facing? I know he has been taking to different courts. I don’t have the facts, so I cannot speculate. But it is a trick that we play. For example, why will you charge one man, who served in one office for a period of, say, 10 years, (in different courts)? For me, if he committed an offence in the first year to the tenth year, you must charge all together because it is one tour of duty. If he held office, left, and came back, then you can charge him separately, but now they’ve bulkanized the case. They’ll charge you here for one, charge you there for another and the system seems to allow it. In other climes, if you’re charging him, you’ll charge him for everything. If you don’t charge him for everything, those you did not charge him for, you can’t charge him again later. So, you have to make a determination, which is how it is in other climes. If this man has been in office and there is an allegation that he stole N1 billion, N10 billion, government needs to look at which is the one we can catch him on.
How do you view the comment credited to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) that government will not obey the court’s order on Dasuki because he has misappropriated funds running into billions of naira which the military could have used to wage war against insurgents as a result of which over 100,000 people were killed?
My answer has been very clear. If you have bail, government must obey it. I have not read or listened to what you say the Attorney-General said but I will not want to believe that the chief law officer of the country will come out and say my government will not obey a court order. I don’t want to believe that. But let us assume that he has said that, are there no remedies against him? Have those remedies been applied? If a Chief Law Officer said I have asked my client to disobey a court order, there are sufficient areas of our practice or procedure that you can use against him. If such comment was not made in the presence of a judge, do you expect the judge to descend into the arena? The man has lawyers and we should not create an impression that we know the case better than the lawyers.
Do you think the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has sufficiently promoted the rule of law?
I will say that the president, to the best of my knowledge, has always spoken in favour and support of the rule of law. He has always said that the only way we can make progress as a country is when the rules of law are obeyed. But definitely, if we’re still discussing this Dasuki issue, it then shows that even though the president is saying one thing, there are challenges in the system and these challenges must be addressed by the government. We have sufficient bites in our system to address that.
Will you be in support of the separation of the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation and that of the Minister of Justice in order to ensure a better observance of the rule of law in the country?
Well, that argument has been canvassed a number of times. For some, it makes very good sense, but apart from President Goodluck Jonathan, I have not seen any other president that has had an electoral commission that did not return him. Look at all the states of the Federation, whenever they have elections, the independent electoral commission of the states returns all the candidates of the governor. What point am I making? Who is going to appoint the saint that is going to be able to challenge the president? How is this person going to be appointed? The Attorney General is a constitutional office. Now you appoint a Minister of Justice and an Attorney General of the Federation, who will appoint them? Whoever appoints them, where will he appoint them from? He can’t appoint them from the opposition party he must appoint them from his own party. So, it is not just the separation. We have to go deep down and look at the law. Assuming we created an office of the Director of Civil Litigation and we make that office statutory. Anybody who holds that office will serve for five years and for him to be removed, you have to go to the Senate. This is because something that creates a certainty and guarantee of tenure is already in place. It is only when you can isolate and insulate them and make them statutory offices and not that I can become president and remove you. That is the only time the man can discharge his functions freely, fairly and without bias. For as long as there’s an appointing authority and the man wants to get appointed, he has to go to Senate to talk to some party members to clear him. He owes them a favour. So, we need to either develop a system where we have these offices and they run independently of the politicians. Otherwise heads of these offices will just fall in line. This is because if you do not fall in line, to start with, you can get zero budget allocation for your office. If you get zero budget allocation, how then do you pay for your overheads? How do you pay for water, for electricity to run your office? So it is not a simplistic as as in separating the office.
What is your take on the clamour for the creation of state police?
We need to interrogate the question of state police, there are pros and cons. Firstly, we are coming from a federal system. Let us take Ekiti as an example. Assuming Ekiti has state police as well as federal police and we are having an election in Ekiti State. What would have happened? The point I am making is that we need to look at what are the challenges. I’ll tell you a downside. The States Independent Electoral Commission declares results and leave some spaces to be filled by state governments. So, if you use that as an example of state controlled institution, is it advisable to have state police? But if you look at the other side, when the Constitution says that the governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state, then it seems there is a contradiction in terms. So, Let’s not create more problems. However, in America where we have gone to borrow our own democratic system, they have federal police, state police, county police and all kinds of police forces, even church police. But they have defined the jurisdiction of each of them clearly. We need to have a balance, no one will give us a total solution. But, we need to decide as a people, what do we really want. if we want state police, let us start. If we start state police, it will probably be like the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA); it will have its teething problems, they will be overzealous, they will do the wrong things, but eventually as they mature they will get better and better. State police is neither here nor there. It may work or it may create more problems. So we have to be wary in making our choices.
Considering the high level of insecurity in the country, there have been suggestions that Nigerians should be allowed to bear arms. What is your take on this?
I believe all Nigerians should be allowed to bear arms. I know that when we start, it will be abused but with time we will get matured in it. Look, armed robbers have been to my house on two occasions and I was using sir for the young boys, all because of the weapons they were carrying. But in other climes, the man knows you are armed, so he will be wary. Of course, at the onset there will be cases of abuse of this right. When we start, things may be bad and there will be sacrifices to be made. But as we grow, things will straighten up. For instance, look at the National Assembly, you will agree with me that they are growing in depth. The quality of our National Assembly is increasing. In 1999, many people did not believe democracy will work in Nigeria. But, look at where we are today. Now we are talking about herdsmen going into villages with AK 47 rifles, they can afford to do that because they know the villagers has nothing to defend themselves. But assuming the villagers were equally armed, the killer herdsmen will think twice before setting out on their mission. I believe with time as we move on, things will get better. But we need to understand how the right to bear arms have succeeded in other climes. In all these, the primary role of government is the protection of lives and property of citizens. Therefore no excuse from government over its inability to perform this constitutional role is tenable.
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