Abuja - National Conference Standing Committee on Law, Judiciary and Human Rights on Thursday adopted a recommendation for the separation of the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation.
Deputy Chairman of the committee, Prof Auwalu Yadudu, made this known in Abuja.
Yadudu said that the recommendation was to ensure the independence of the office of the Attorney-General from political influence.
He said that the two offices should not be occupied by an individual in order to ensure justice.
"Of course, we have adopted a recommendation that will help, if you separate the office of the Attorney General from that of the Minister of Justice.
"This will ensure that the person appointed to the office of the Attorney General enjoys sufficient independence and autonomy to do justice to all cases that will come before him,” he stated.
A former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bayo Ojo, who is a member of the committee, said he had no opinion different from the resolution of the committee.
According to him, the committee decided that the office should be separated; "so, I don’t want to talk about any individual opinion in the committee''.
In his reaction, another member of the committee, Femi Falana, also said that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, and the Minister of Justice had not worked in the public interest and should therefore, be separated.
Falana said that there was no constitutional provision for a Minister of Justice to also serve as the attorney general.
"One of the reasons is constitutional. By virtue of Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution, while the President has the power to appoint an Attorney General, it is not required by law that the Attorney-General shall be the Minister of Justice.
"Section 174 does not say that the Attorney-General shall be the Minister of Justice but by convention over the years, the President has always asked the Attorney General to be the Minister of Justice.
"But in line with the common trend and based on our experience as a people, the two offices have not worked in the public interest most of the time.
"We had an attorney general in the recent past who, upon the completion of his term, was suspended as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria because he grossly abused the office and became the defence counsel to accused persons being tried by the government of which he was the chief law officer,” he said.
He said that many attorneys general at federal and state levels terminated "serious corruption cases” by filing that government was not willing to prosecute "whereas the public was demanding for justice".
According to Falana, some also terminated cases for which they were the defence counsel before they were appointed attorneys-general.
He explained that one of the reasons the culture of impunity was on the rise in the country was usually because of the conflict between an attorney general and the minister of justice.
He said, "because the minister of justice is a member of the government and the President or the governor wants a case discontinued, it is always a very difficult decision to take.
"We also want to relieve our colleagues of the burden of having to fight with their conscience because the president or governor has insisted that a case be discontinued.”
Falana recalled that it was the British colonial regime that fused the two positions but pointed out that in the United Kingdom, the two offices had since been separated.
He also said that in the ECOWAS, out of the 15 member states, 10 had seen the wisdom in separating the office of the minister of justice from that of the attorney general.
"In the francophone countries, the attorney general is called "de procure generale”; he’s the defender of the public interest.
"Whether the president or governor is interested in a case or not, the attorney general as the defender of public interest will prosecute any indictable offence and that's what we are calling for in our country,” he said.
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