…As Reps move to cut AGF/Minister of Justice’s power
By Bethel Tunde
House of Representatives has put modality in place to establish Christian courts, equivalent of Sharia courts of Appeal.
The House has also moved to reduce the power of Attorney-General of the Federal (AGF) and Minister of Justice.
The Bill seeking to establish the Christian court passed second reading on the floor of that House and was sponsored by Hon. Istifanus Gyang (Plateau PDP) and eight others.
The Bill is titled, “a bill for an act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004, to provide for the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of the States, and for related matters.”
Leading debate on the Bill, Gyang explained that it seeks to activate section 37(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of every citizen to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including propagating his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
He added that the judges to take responsibility of the courts are to be called cardinals, and are expected to be drawn from those learned in law, who would be required to administer justice in accordance with Christian faith and the laws of the country. Their appointments would be done by the National Judicial Council.
He said that the Ecclesiastical courts when established would complement the regular courts in adjudicating in matters relating to the tenets of the Christian faith.
He said: “This shall be between individuals and groups that yield and submit to its jurisdiction.”
He explained that the amendment Bill was seeking 14 alterations in sections 6, 84, 185, 240, 246, 247, 288, 289, 292 and 318 of the principal Act.
Gyang said: “It alters the second, third, sixth, and seventh schedule of the principal act. It has four insertions in Part 1G, section 270A-E, Part 2D, Section 285A-E and a citation.”
He added that the amendments will no doubt widen the scope of jurisprudence, adjudication and legal practice in our nation.
According to him, “it will bring to reality the administration of Ecclesiastical Christian tenets and law in adjudicating matters of personal Christian law and civil matters. These shall be prescribed in the rule of practice and procedure of the Ecclesiastical courts.’’
Meanwhile, a Bill seeking to separate the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, also passed second reading.
The Bill to this effect is titled, “an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to introduce the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation distinct and separate from the Minister of Justice, sponsored by Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno.
Leading debate on the Bill, Hon. Monguno explained that if the office is separated, it would allow for effective separation of power, as the two offices would be given the necessary environment to function optimally.
He said: “The Attorney-General being the chief law officer is empowered in Section 150 and 195 respectively of the 1999 Constitution to enter nolle proseque. The power can only be exercise if office is free from any political interference.
“The office of the Attorney-General is such an office that should be seen to be Independent and not be subjected to some political consideration, and his appointment should be seen to meet some standard in legal profession. The fact being that, the Attorney-General performs some quasi-judicial functions hence the need for the office to be separated from the office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice.”
He said that it was not right for these two offices merged together to be operated by one person.
He noted that the AGF is the chief law officer whether of the federation or states and advised the government whether at the federal or state levels on matters relating to law generally, adding that whereas, the office of the minister or commissioner of justice is political in nature if read alongside other ministers or commissioners.
The lawmaker noted the enormous power wielded by the Minister, adding, “the Constitution gives the Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, the power to discontinue any criminal case in any part of the country, before its determination. The implication is therefore that his powers quasi-judicial office.”
The bills were, however, referred to the Special Adhoc committee on constitutional review.