By Ajibola Bello Esq. and Maryam El-Yakub Esq.
The recent appointment of ministers by the Executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has ignited discussions about the potential positive changes they might bring to their respective ministries and the nation at large. Among the newly appointed ministers, one individual facing intense scrutiny is the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation, L.O Fagbemi SAN. This heightened attention is mainly due to pressing legal challenges and issues that demand immediate attention and resolution.
The role of the Attorney General of the Federation, as stipulated by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), now assumed by the learned silk, comes with significant responsibilities. By law, the Attorney General serves as the Chief Law Officer and Minister of Justice, wielding authority over a broad spectrum of legal matters outlined in the Constitution and various statutes. This includes representing the state in legal proceedings, initiating and handling criminal cases, and discontinuing criminal proceedings at any stage before judgment is delivered. The learned SAN is expected to exhibit proficiency in shaping the Nigerian legal landscape, particularly as it pertains to the administration of justice, while also driving the creation of progressive laws and the repeal or amendment of archaic or dormant ones.
Perhaps a procedural matter of great urgency and immediate impact for the new Attorney General is the provision of Section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Processes Act, LFN, 2004, which empowers the Attorney General to grant consent for the enforcement of monetary judgments against public officers or government agencies. It is important to note that the exercise of this power has become an obstacle in the administration of justice, as it often delays or denies successful litigants the benefits of judgments earned against government entities. While the requirement for the Attorney General’s consent is well-intentioned, perhaps to serve as a check on charges against Federal or state accounts, the need for consent has turned into more of an impediment than a procedural safeguard. As a seasoned litigation lawyer himself, there is no doubt that the learned SAN, prior to his appointment, is familiar with the challenges of obtaining this consent.
This discretionary power of issuing consent carries significant administrative importance, and its exercise is crucial to upholding justice. The discretion empowers the Attorney General to act as circumstances dictate, and established administrative law principles dictate that when a power is vested in a body, there is a prima facie discretion to exercise it. In cases involving ministerial powers, discretion is inevitable, and the failure to exercise this discretion should warrant an order of mandamus to assist the supposed beneficiary.
Beyond the obligatory legal mandate for the Attorney General to ensure timely payment of lawful debts by the Federal or state government, there is a pressing need to address outdated laws that fail to accommodate the modern economic, social, cultural, and technological landscape. Laws such as the Sheriff and Civil Process Act, the Penal Code, and the Matrimonial Causes Act, which date back to pre-independence and slightly after the independence of Nigeria, remain unchanged despite the evolving needs of society.
As the newly appointed Attorney General assumes office, the nation eagerly anticipates his insightful leadership, commitment to justice, and potential to address the legal challenges and reforms required for a more equitable and progressive Nigeria.
Ajibola Bello Esq., is the Deputy Managing Partner and Head of the Corporate and Commercial Department at Law Corridor, Abuja.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com
Maryam El-Yakub is a Senior Associate and the Head of Consular and Diplomatic Law in the Litigation Department at Law Corridor, Abuja.