Ibrahim Mukhtar is Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. He served as chairman of the Kano branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with Legal Editor JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU, the Bayero University Kano (BUK) alumnus speaks on the challenges of justice administration , corruption in the judiciary and his state’s efforts to improve the justice sector.
How has your experience as former Chairman, NBA Kano branch, assisted you in your present assignment?
You know very well the challenges of leading lawyers as a branch chairman. These are people who know the law. They practice it every day and go to court on a daily basis, facing serious challenges in prosecuting their trade. These are the same people fighting for the rule of law, fighting for justice for everybody, both the low and mighty in the society. It is a much larger responsibility now, because here you are dealing with not only a professional association, but the whole state as a chief law officer. I am using that experience actually in fighting corruption, in trying to improve the judiciary in the state, trying to put things in order in the justice sector, so that the society will be better. That same experience is leading me to expose corrupt judges, magistrates and Sharia court judges, if any. That is what I did to instill fear in the minds of crooked lawyers who had no respect for the rule of law who were cheating their clients and were eroding the very foundation of the legal profession when I was the branch chairman of Kano NBA and I succeeded in instilling fear in them.
How did you do this?
Well, it depends on the circumstances of each case. In some cases I reported them to appropriate authorities, and in some other cases I lifted cases from our disciplinary committee at the branch to the national level. Though a number of cases are still there pending, I reasonably believe that I am one of the chairmen, who lifted the highest number of cases to the disciplinary committee at the national level so that we will protect our profession and build public confidence in the people, so that people will have respect for lawyers.
The situation was not actually encouraging because you would see people rushing to various Police stations for debt recovery and thereafter paying a percentage of the recovered debts to other people instead of going to lawyers to use judicial processes to recover their debts. If we had left it like that definitely we would lose the profession and lawyers would not have any other means of livelihood. That was the fight and that was what we did. Thank God that we succeeded in cleansing our branch, in cleansing Kano State, especially the legal profession of rots. Now I am expanding it in my office as the Attorney-General.
Are you enjoying any support in this fight?
I am enjoying the full support of my branch and the state governor in the fight. The Governor wants to make the state better for everybody. For instance, Kano is the only state in Nigeria that has a Public Complaints and Anti- corruption Agency. The governor is enlarging the agency to have offices in all the 44 Local Government Areas. Now they have completed the construction of offices in 23 Local Government Areas across the state, the remaining ones will be covered in this year 2018 budget. So, each local government will have an office and he has employed many lawyers for the Commission so that they will start work immediately. This will impact the state heavily because of the fact that people now have a place to lodge their complaints. This is a step towards solving their problems. It is a means of fighting corruption and it amounts to taking solution closer to the people not only in Kano metropolis, but various Local Government Areas.
The NBA, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is canvassing for the adoption of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 in all states of the federation. What is the position in Kano State?
We didn’t have any criminal justice law in the state, but when I came in, with the approval of my Governor, I set up a 16-member committee, which I chair because of its importance. The purpose of this committee is to look at the existing Criminal Procedure Code in the state and the new ACJA provisions with the hope that we will have a better criminal procedure law combining both the old and new ideas to have the best law in the country. That is what we have done and we have concluded our work. We now have a draft law in our hands. We are waiting for the validation of the Law by larger stakeholders, who will be meeting on January 16, this year.
What is the next step after validation?
After the validation, it will be taken to the state House of Assembly and I believe that our law will stand the test of time. It will be unique, in fact, other states in the Northern parts of the country have started requesting for a copy because our law will be applicable, not only in the High Courts, but also in Sharia and Magistrates Courts. So, it is applicable to all the courts, you don’t have to carry different procedure laws in your bag as a lawyer practicing in the state. It is unique and is very transparent and all the innovations provided for under the new ACJA are properly covered in our draft bill, including the issue of speedy trial, transparent trial, investigation by the police, to make sure that the incidence of torture is eliminated by the police in the process of investigation.
All are accommodated including the provisions that are contrary to the constitution like denying the accused person appeal, until he waits for the final determination of the case. We rejected that kind of provision in our new law. So, there will be no conflict. That is what we have done and very soon, within this 2018, we will have ACJL for the state.
What about the Child’s Right Act ? What efforts are you making to adopt it in Kano State?
Actually when I came in Child’s Rights Law was not a pending issue in the state. It is not a current issue actually, but I know that a long time ago, the issue was raised by the state government and it attracted criticisms and public outcry because the background and culture of the people. Traditionally we Africans are so used to controlling our children the way we want, so such provisions that allows a child to sue his father or his mother will create serious problems. That is the challenge actually but there are good provisions in that law and we have to protect our children like the issue in the Northern parts of the country where people release their own children to go to the streets in the name of Alma Jiri, that one is not in line with Islamic teaching at all, on the contrary, it is totally done out of ignorance.
It is never in any religion for you to give birth to children and released them at the early age of four to six years to another state.
Why is this practice high in the state?
You know that most of the Almajiris in Kano are not from Kano State, but are migrating from other states in the country including Niger Republic and other African countries. Because people are running away from their responsibilities, they cannot even trace the whereabouts of their own children and they are not even searching for the knowledge which they claim. They just come down in search of livelihood and that one is polluting the atmosphere in the State, it is really creating serious societal problems and challenges.
How would you raise a responsible son without a guardian in this society? He will definitely fall into the hands of criminals, become one of them and the number of criminals will keep increasing. So, such type of laws that will force parents to be responsible to take care of their children and to prohibit that kind of acts is in line, such provisions are there in the Child’s Rights Act and we are putting that into consideration. We are looking for a way we can lift such provisions even if it is not in the name of the Child Rights Act, but maybe we can have them in our Penal Codes without calling them the Child Rights Act. Even the nomenclature is attracting problems, Child Rights Act but what we are after is the provisions, the protection of the rights of children in the society, this is very important because if you don’t protect the children now, you will not have a good future generation and that is what we are after, to have a quality future generation after our own generation.
Corruption in the judiciary is a matter of concern. How are you tackling the problem?
There is no state in Nigeria that you will not find corruption. Corruption is everywhere, but the challenge is that you can easily hear information informally from lawyers, on the radio in form of allegations, but the name of the person committing the offence may not be mentioned and when the name is mentioned, nobody is ready to come and give you any evidence against that particular person even the lawyers. They are not willing to come out themselves and give evidence. So, without evidence, there is no way you can sanction any judicial officer, it will just remain a hearsay evidence and that one will not hold water. That is the major challenge, but if you are sure of what you saying and you know that somebody has committed an offence, come out and say it. Because if you take any step without considering whether it is a good case or not and you fail, you will pay for it because you have made an unsubstantiated allegation against a judicial officer without any evidence, it will definitely come back, if you don’t fight, corruption will fight you.
So, we are fighting corruption and we are encouraging members, especially the professionals to come out and give evidence. Even the victims should come out and give evidence. You are suffering from the menace and you don’t want to give evidence. You don’t want to report to the Police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and others, then nothing will happen. So, we are encouraging people to come out and give evidence so that it will not be a mere discussion or a mere rumour. We have to come out; we have to deal with the issues so that we can solve the problems.
Most cities are strengthening the Alternative Disputes Resolution (ADR) mechanisms to complement the courts in resolving commercial disputes. What is Kano’s position?
Kano State is one of the first states that established a Multi-Door Court House. The purpose of this court house is to enhance and ensure alternative dispute resolution. That is their main mandate and under our own rules of courts, there is a provision giving right to each and every judge when dealing with any case to refer a case filed before him to that multi door court house for settlement. He has the right to give that order and that house can attempt to settle the parties. If they succeed, they will just send their settlement terms to the court and the court will adopt same as a consent judgment instead of the long and tortuous way of litigation. So, Kano is one of the first states to embrace ADR. After Lagos State, it was Kano on ADR and apart from that multi-door court house, which is an establishment of law, we also have a department, which we call Citizens Rights under the Kano State Ministry of Justice whereby ADR is being applied and people are coming daily to resolve their disputes.
How is the department doing?
That department is doing very well and we have another plan. The Governor has given us approval to create the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) in the state. This is in the pipeline. I sold the idea to the Governor and right away he agreed to set it up. To have that office because it will help the public not only in ADR, but in defending them in courts, you know as a state counsel, you cannot defend somebody in court, but if you have to create an agency to do this independent of the Ministry of Justice, it is in the pipeline and very soon it will come up. We are good in that and we are trying to improve it on a daily basis
What is your greatest challenge as Kano State AG ?
My greatest challenge in the Ministry of Justice is the issue of punctuality to work. If you don’t have punctual staff in office, in courts and elsewhere, you will never succeed. I have been able to change that situation. Now my members of staff are coming into the office as early as 8 am, and they don’t close before the official closing time. As a result of that now our cases are returning in large number. They are increasing and we are receiving commendations from the Acting Chief Judge of the state, some judges also commended us that they have seen a lot of changes. Our state Counsels are also punctual in courts, in office and we are also trying to train them to be better in terms of quality. We have received approval from the state governor to train more counsels. We have also secured approval to employ 25 more state counsels, who we have interviewed and that will give us about 130 lawyers in the state Ministry of Justice and we are also trying to do more in the area of training, recruitment and a lot more. With that number, we are going to start taking over the prosecution of criminal cases from the Police at the lower courts, already state Counsels are the ones prosecuting before High Courts and other courts of record, but at the Magistrates Courts, Police prosecutors are the ones prosecuting, but we now ready to take over the prosecution of cases by the state Counsels.
Why do you want to take over the prosecution of cases at the lower courts?
This is to improve the quality of the prosecution. You cannot compare a lawyer, who is trained in the law with a police officer, who was trained in investigation and security issues. These are professionals, police are equally professionals in their own way, but not in courts, they should just come and give the outcome of their investigation as witnesses in courts while professional lawyers should prosecute so that people will benefit from that quality not only the rich who can afford to employ a private lawyer to do it for him, but the poor should also enjoy that services from the state. That is what we are doing with the support of the state Governor. We are planning to involve the NYSC, we are going to train them so that they will enjoy their service here with experience. They will have a senior lawyer with experience appearing with them so that they will be learning and at the end of their service year, they will have the basic skills in prosecuting cases.
Funding is the major challenge in running ministries, departments and agencies. How are you handling this?
You cannot say that you have all the resources you need to run a government agency that you have. But what we used to receive earlier in the last administration as grants has been doubled by this administration. I mean 100 per cent increase from what we used to receive during the last administration. Now 100 per cent increase is very encouraging and it is helping us to do more. Apart from that, we made a case for additional offices and the Governor has just directed the Commissioner for Works and Housing to build additional block of flats for us in the Ministry of Justice. What we have now as a structure is just a two-storey building and with the additional recruitment which we are making, we need additional office structures. He has approved it, they have conducted soil test and are now taking measurements for the building. The government is building additional blocks for us and the government is also modernising our library to give us a computerised library in the Ministry of Justice. Apart from this, all law practice books, both hard copy and virtual books, will be there.
There is this controversy about the removal of the former state Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC). What is the true position?
The issues can be resolved if you look at the provision of our laws and the constitution of the APC. If you look at Section 17 of that very constitution, it gives power to the state working committee if it lacks confidence in a leadership to pass a vote of no confidence and that is exactly what happened. The working committee passed a vote of no confidence on the leadership of Umar Haruna Doguwa, which same constitution says that if there is a vacuum, you cannot allow a leader under a democratic system that the people do not want to continue leading them. Now the same constitution gives power to the national leadership or appropriate body to appoint an acting chairman, pending the approval by a national congress of the party. So, you cannot leave that vacuum, you cannot leave a party without a chairman.