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Chief Bayo Ojo, Attorney-General of the Federation uses his opinions to justify actions already illegally performed - Oladele

November 8, 2006

 

Excerpt.

 

How would you describe the decision of the Court of Appeals sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State that nullified the impeachment of Governor Ladoja?

 

I have had an opportunity to read the decision and I think it is one of the finest anywhere in the world. For once, the Court of Appeals has categorically come out to defend our democracy and guide us on what the world expects of us. You don?t borrow a system without its standard.  Democracy has a standard.  I am particularly intrigued by the Court?s discussion on the venue of the meeting where the said impeachment took place.

 In principle, unlawful legislative action can be reviewed, not by suing Members of legislature for the performance of their legislative duties but by enjoining those agents who carry out their directive. This is what we called the doctrine of legislative immunity.  However, this immunity does not extend to those many things that Nigerian legislators regularly do that are not legislative acts.  In Nigeria today, several Houses of Assembly repeatedly harass the executive branch outside hearing rooms and legislative halls, but they are not immune if, in connection with such activity, they deliberately violate the law. Such actions are not only unacceptable; our Court must declare them null and void. Otherwise, democracy will lose its value and rule of law will lose its regard.


 

Therefore, what the Court of Appeals has just done is to say that all right, we recognize legislative immunity but we have never held that, in order for legislative work to be done, it is necessary to immunize all of the tasks that legislators perform including those that occurred outside the legislative Chambers, not D? Rovans Hotel, Ring Road Ibadan. In other words, there must be a civility standard. The court held that the purported sitting of the defendants at the D? Rovans Hotel where the notice of allegation of misconduct was issued, and which was outside the designated official venue of the Oyo State House of Assembly was unconstitutional, invalid null and void.  Another vibrant part is where the Court of Appeals exercised its power under section 16 of the Court of Appeal Act to determine the merit of the originating summons so as to speed up the entire legal process.  I don?t think the Supreme Court will disturb that decision.

 

 

The Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo has described the Court of Appeals ruling nullifying Governor Ladoja?s impeachment as declaratory ruling, why did he say that?

 

A declaratory suit is one in which the plaintiff?s requested relief from the court is a statement of the parties? rights. In a declaratory action, an actual controversy must exist between the parties in order for a court to declare the rights and legal relations. Generally, an actual controversy exists when a declaratory judgment is necessary to guide a plaintiff's future conduct in order to preserve the plaintiff's legal rights. It is not necessary that actual injuries or losses have occurred. Rather, the plaintiff must plead and prove facts, which indicate an adverse interest necessitating a sharpening of the issues raised. Actions for declaratory relief are intended to minimize avoidable losses and the unnecessary accrual of damages. Declaratory relief is authorized when other relief is also available. The choice to use declaratory relief is discretionary and cumulative, not exclusive or extraordinary.

 

Are declaratory Orders coercive, I mean can they be enforced like every other ?court orders??

 

The distinguishing characteristic of a declaratory judgment is the absence of coercive relief. They are non- coercive declaration of rights rather than orders that impose penalties or liabilities. Declaratory relieves are not enforceable by nature but public authorities are enjoined to obey them. It is the most effective way of ensuring that authorities comply with the law. Other reliefs such as certiorari and mandamus are seldom used.

 

 

 

 

Does the Attorney - General have the power to stop the Inspector-General of Police from executing the Order of the Court of Appeals?

  

Generally speaking, the Attorney General can provide non-partisan legal opinions to public officials to assist them in the performance of their duties. This has long been a function of AGF. The opinions are only intended to address questions of law, not questions of fact, mixed questions of fact and law, or questions of executive, legislative or questions of statutory interpretation. When special circumstances exist, the AGF may even provide opinions to members of the general public on issues of significant public interest.  However, the Opinions of the AGF do not have the force of law, but they are persuasive.  Obviously what we are experiencing in Nigeria today is an era of extra-judicial pronouncements by the AGF instead of legal opinions.  This is why people who occupy sensitive positions like the AGF in particular must be very careful in making public statements about issues that are within the ambit of judicial resolution.  In the U.S for instance, the Attorney - General can submit his opinion to the Courts, particularly in difficult or momentous questions of law for resolution by declaratory judgment. In no circumstance must his opinion be regarded as the law. What I am saying is that the AGF should not give his opinion to arbitrate a political dispute nor should he use his opinion as a weapon to assist one side in a dispute. Unfortunately, the AGF Chief Bayo Ojo has made some pronouncements in the recent times, which I think are out of context and are tantamount to using his exalted position to influence the course of justice.

 

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Can you be specific about the statements?

 

First, he ?ruled? on the situation in Ekiti State and by so doing, usurped the power of the bench, secondly, he wrote a letter to Chief Ladoja warning him not to assume office in compliance with the Court of Appeals ruling when it was apparent that there was no stay and Ladoja was not served with any show cause Order or Motion for injunction but simply notice of appeal; he has no authority to do so and he made a statement approving the impeachment of Governor Obi and legalizing the swearing in of Obi?s deputy as the new governor of Anambra State. Apparently the AGF has put himself in a situation where he wants Nigerians to believe that the bulk stops at his desk- using his position to achieve political goals. This is exactly what he is currently doing and it is making our legal system fast becoming the world?s laughing stock.

 

 

 

Are there any issues that the AGF cannot issue his opinion about?

 

There are several of them; unfortunately these are the ones Chief Bayo Ojo is in the habit of giving his opinions on.  An attorney-General cannot issue his opinion in matters that involve questions of a speculative nature; questions requiring factual determinations; questions which cannot be resolved due to an irreconcilable conflict in the laws although the AGF may attempt to provide general assistance, matters involving intergovernmental disputes unless all governmental agencies concerned have joined in the request; questions involving an interpretation only of local codes, charters, ordinances or regulations; or where the government of an official or an  or agency  of government has already acted and seeks to justify the action. Chief Bayo Ojo is in the habit of writing his opinion to justify an action already illegally performed.  He is also using his discretion to abuse his office.  Maybe he thinks this is more expedient than waiting for Court opinions on political issues.

 

Can you give specific officials of government or agencies that may request a written legal opinion from the AGF?

 The attorney-General can give an official opinion and legal advice in writing  on the written requisition of the President, Governor, a member of the Cabinet, the head of a department in the executive branch of state government, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, or the Minority Leader of the Senate, and may, upon the written requisition of a member of the Legislature, other state officer, or other unit of local government, on any question of law relating to the official duties of the requesting officer.

How would you describe the unfolding political events in Nigeria today?

 

What we currently have is a caricature democracy, very chaotic and a similitude of anarchy. The rise in impeachment processes are alarming and damaging to our political development. We have the legislators that are over-checking the executives without anybody to check the legislators. Our hope is in the judicial branch but then, executive influence is affecting our judiciary. What we currently have is a state of lawlessness. However, I believe that every society out of absolute obscurantism will discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it. To be able to fulfill our dream of achieving stable democracy and respect for the rule of law, we need a fearless judiciary, educated and bi-partisan legislature and an executive that will obey the laws of our land.

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