Buhari Will Consider National Conference Report – Idahagbon
Edo State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Barrister Henry Idahagbon, shed some light on some of the positive recommendations made by the National Political Conference Committee which was set up by the Goodluck Jonathan led federal government. Excerpts:
While in office, then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan set up the National Political Conference Committee to fashion out a new direction for the country. So much money was expended in the course of doing this. Now that a new administration has taken over is there any compulsion that they should conclude the project?
It was one of the criticisms of the conference that it was not backed by any law. There is no act of the national assembly that authorized the former president to hold that national conference. And that is why many thought at that time that it was a mere political jamboree. It was designed to appease political leaders from different parts of the country in order for President Jonathan to perpetuate himself in office. But out of every negative situation some good apparently may come out and I think there were some fundamentals recommendations from the national conference that ought to be given a second thought by current administration. But it is too early in the day. The administration is yet to be hundred days old and President Muhammadu Buhari is still trying to settle down. There is a lot of rot in the system; everything has decayed. In fact, Nigeria, as a country, has practically collapsed whether in terms of economics; in terms of politics and even in terms of our social life. So, the President is trying to rebuild it. I think we should give him time. I am sure after President Buhari has settled down he will take a second look at the conference report and some of the very good provisions may now have to be implemented. I do not think that members of the constitutional conference committee can return money. They were paid honorarium not salaries and they did their job. It is now left for government to implement some of the very positive recommendations.
Talking about positive recommendations, which of the recommendations of the conference, in your opinion, if upheld could help shape a good future for the country?
I think there were recommendations about financial autonomy for the various tiers of government. There was also talk about devolution of powers from the federal government to state and local councils. There is no doubt that there is too much concentration of powers on the federal government of Nigeria to the extent that we are beginning to question whether Nigeria is a federation. It is more like a unitary government. Fifty-eight percent of our national resources is spent by the federal government while all the 36 states and 774 local governments are asked to spend just 32 percent. There are a couple of other very good recommendations like the call that the office of the Attorney-General should be made a tenured office which means an Attorney-General can be appointed but cannot be fired. He has to serve a term of four years. And also getting direct funding for the office of the Attorney-General, I think this will strengthen the judicial sector; it will strengthen the hands of an Attorney-General in giving advice based only on law without sentiments to the governor and the President. I think there are a couple of other positive recommendations that came out of that conference which deserve a second look and which I believe ought to be implemented but at the appropriate time after this government would be have settled down.
Some people argue that the judiciary is still not as free as it ought to as it is been tied to the apron string of the executive arm of government. Do you agree to some extent with this argument?
Well, autonomy is relative. One can even ask the question, which arm of government in this country today is autonomous? Is everything autonomous? Is the legislative arm autonomous? But it is of fundamental importance that the judiciary must be insulated from the hustle and bustle of the executive and legislative business. And to that extent financial autonomy is desirable for the judiciary so that chief judges do not go cap-in-hand begging for money from the chief executives of their respective states and from the President. But this we can only do within the context of Nigeria’s economy. But I think many states today, including Edo State, have granted financial autonomy to the judiciary. They now manage their resources and I believe that will go a long way in enhancing the status, the independence and the impartiality of the judiciary. The most important thing for me, however, is for us to craft a mechanism to avoid interference in judicial activities. You can have financial autonomy but there can be other methods of interference. By the time we allow the judiciary to do their job the way it should, without any form of interference I think there would be better quality of justice delivery in the country. But so far, so well I make bold to say that of the three arms of government the judiciary still remains the best. It remains the platform that cements together the Nigerian nation.
Without the judiciary this country would have descended into anarchy; President Jonathan would have remained in power and all the impunities committed under his administration would have remained. So, the judiciary should be commended for helping to keep this country together. In popular parlance it is said that it is the last hope of the common man but emerging facts have proven that it is the last hope of even the wealthy. The wealthy depend on the judiciary even more than as the poor depend on it. The Nigerian judiciary has done well and as such should be commended.
Can we have an update on the issue of the judicial workers strike?
That phase of JUSUN strike has come and gone. We commend the workers.
Since they returned to work they have applied themselves diligently and it is our hope that we will never have a situation where the courts would be closed again. I believe whenever there are issues to discuss between workers and their employers it is better to sit down and have a discussion than to resort to strike. Strike is a very potent weapon, it is allowed by our laws but it should be as a matter of last resort. It should not be resorted to on a daily basis to threaten the employers. And there are strict legal procedures that must be complied with before a strike can be consummated in law. Workers should not forget that the law is very clear – section 43 of the trade dispute act – when you go on strike you are not entitled to be paid for the period under which you are on strike.