Unarguably, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice has been adjudged as the most innovative, in terms of proactive reforms ahead of other ministries in the country. Its Civil Procedure Laws, Criminal Justice Administration Law and Sex Offenders Register have been emulated and replicated by many other states. The new Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem explained his agenda for justice administration and how he intends to reposition his ministry in line with the state government’s policy direction to May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi
After a successful career in private legal practice, you were appointed Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Lagos State. What would you say is your agenda for your first few months in office?
First of all, I see my new portfolio as a call to service and my agenda is intertwined with His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s primary objective of a safe, secure and prosperous Lagos. This agenda is also tied to the vision of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice that is to promote integrity and innovation in public legal service. To this end, the first step towards achieving my agenda was to strengthen the relationship between all stakeholders in the administration of justice sector. Upon my assumption into office, I visited the heads of the Judiciary, Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Prisons Service to reiterate my commitment to this goal and to seek their support in strengthening the administration of justice.
I also realised that technology is key to improve efficiency and to save cost, therefore, I have started the process of ensuring that the Lagos State Ministry of Justice is fully compliant in terms of technology usage. The Ministry must have a digital identity that will enable it project itself and the services it renders to the people of Lagos State. You would agree with me that the internet as a communication platform is upon us and the active use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media tools is now a critical success factor for any organisation.
Another key part of my Agenda is to improve the motivation of law officers and create a supportive work environment where they can thrive so they can match the best anywhere in the world. Specifically, with my private sector background, I recognise the need for better efficiency, cutting edge knowledge, and expertise to aid speedy justice delivery.
In four (4) months, we have been able to launch the new Laws of Lagos State, 2015. We will continue to promote awareness on domestic and sexual violence to ensure protection of our people. We joined the rest of the world to commemorate the Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness month, and to mark the World Human Rights Day in December 2015. We also launched functional Mobile Courts to facilitate prompt trial of violators of the law especially environmental and traffic offences. The mobile courts will operate with full compliance with Rules of natural justice, equity and good conscience. Citizens appearing before it will be afforded their Constitutional Rights and fair hearing.
Lastly, we will continue to focus on the critical areas of Justice Sector Reform like Prison Reforms, promotion of Juvenile Centres, speedy dispensation of Justice and the active use of technology through creation of a functional criminal database. We are also looking at establishing a DNA Forensic Laboratory to aid criminal investigation, prosecution and adjudication.
Upon your resumption of office you charged law officers at a maiden management meeting to be proactive and innovative and get accustomed to the use of technology to encourage efficiency. What immediate challenges do you face as Attorney General of Lagos State?
The Lagos State Ministry of Justice is probably the largest collection of lawyers serving a State Government. It serves several Ministries, Departments and Agencies. It also serves about 23 Million Lagosians. For any service related entity, its greatest assets are its people. So for me the greatest challenge would be to improve on the personnel in the Ministry of Justice to enable them serve the public better. This will involve ensuring that they anticipate and attack problems better; expose themselves to global best practices of law and deploy technology effectively to combat modern legal problems facing a city-state like Lagos. However, I am very confident that we have the right staff to achieve the desired changes. A lot of people do not realise the amount of lawsuits that are filed against the Lagos State Government on a daily basis some of which are frivolous. We however realise that a lot of the processes and procedures that lead to some of the legitimate suits against the State government can be improved upon to stem the tide of these court cases. We will also employ more Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms like mediation, negotiation, conciliation with claimants to resolve these issues and unclog our courts. Another critical challenge of any public Sector organisation like the Ministry is document archiving and you can imagine that a Ministry that has been in existing for close to 50 (Fifty) years will have document storage challenges. We will therefore be exploring digital document archiving solutions to ensure easy access to information that will in turn assist the Ministry to efficiently perform its functions.
The Federal Government has for the past few months engaged in a decisive campaign against corruption, however without a corresponding commitment from the state governments the fight against corruption will be ineffective. How does your administration aim to assist the government in the fight against corruption?
Firstly, the anti-corruption campaign by the Federal Government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari is extremely laudable. A lot of people assume corruption is a victimless crime, but it is not. Corruption creates victims of immense numbers because for every theft of public funds, it deprives several people who could have legitimately benefited from developmental projects arising from the legitimate use of those funds.
Lagos State Government has been in the fore-front in the fight against corruption and will continue to do so. Our judiciary has been widely-acclaimed as one of the best suited in terms of experience, work ethic and transparency to fight corruption. Our Legislature has also been in the forefront of enacting and domesticating Laws to fight corruption. My administration will ensure that it strengthens the synergy between the State government and the Federal government through sharing of information that is critical in any fight against corruption. My administration’s drive is to create databases of criminals and critical information that will be shared on an on-going basis with law enforcement agencies.
We have always worked closely with the law enforcement agencies and intend to continue to partner with them and where we are able to support either through funding, we will do so. I have maintained an open door policy to address petitions, allegations of corruption or otherwise against persons or Agencies and same has been referred to relevant bodies for investigation. I also understand that a large number of criminal activities are now committed online. In order to curb this and augment the efforts of other Agencies, my Office will set up a cybercrime unit. The unit will seek means of tackling cybercrimes and make Lagos one of the most secure places to reside and to do business.
Lagos State has been lauded for its ability to generate revenue, thereby reducing its dependency on the federal government. On the downside private businesses have complained about multiple taxation introduced by the state and local government increasing the cost of doing business. What can be done to address this issue?
While the complaints of multiple taxation are noted, the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is a sensitive one that believes in the rule of law. Imposition of illegal or double taxes has never been and will never be part of our revenue drive. We have been working with the Local Government Councils and State House of Assembly with the aim of harmonising the local levies, removing ambiguities and regulating the collection process so that corporate organisations and residents of the local government areas will be made aware of their obligations and make necessary provisions towards payment. As you may be aware, there exists a public complaints and advisory unit on taxation to address the concerns of people and give necessary information on tax payment problems and processes. I hope the citizens will make the best use of these facilities.
Over the years Lagos State has been commended for being a pioneer in legal and Justice Sector Reforms including the introduction of the 2012 rules of civil procedure which made provision for the electronic filing of court processes, the Administration of Criminal Justice law 2011, the establishment of the Lagos Court of Arbitration etc. What innovation does your administration seek to introduce to further aid the administration of justice in the state?
We will continue to work with the Judiciary and other stakeholders in the administration of justice system to develop sentencing and bail guidelines. As I stated we intend to invest in a DNA forensic Laboratory with the aim of improving investigation and prosecution of cases. A cybercrime unit will be introduced in the Ministry to specialise in the prosecution of cyber crime and other related offences. Recently, Mobile Courts were commissioned to facilitate the prompt and immediate trial of traffic and environmental offenders. In addition, we are looking into proposing in the very near future a Stakeholders’ Summit to discuss issues surrounding Justice Administration with a view to reviewing rules and laws where necessary in line with present day realities. The Crime Data Register will also be reinvigorated to reduce some of the challenges facing our criminal justice system.
In spite of the Lagos State government’s support for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) evidenced by its introduction of the Multi-Door Courthouse and the inauguration of the Lagos Court of Arbitration International Centre for Arbitration and ADR. Alternative Dispute Resolution is still not popular with the general public. What can be done to increase the popularity of ADR mechanisms in the state?
Continuous sensitisation cannot be overemphasised. Currently, the High Court of Lagos State Civil Procedure Rules contains mandatory provisions to adopt Alternative Dispute Resolution. I agree a lot still needs to be done in this area and especially in relation to awareness of its significance and achievements. The State Government will continue to assist in providing the supportive environment with Regular workshops with judges to increase capacity building, as well as continuous advocacy.
Statistics from the Office of the Public Defender show that the incidences of rape and domestic violence, occur largely among the indigent in the society. What practical steps can be introduced to deal decisively with domestic violence?
The fight against sexual and domestic abuse is a top priority for the Administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. The Lagos State Government has embarked on an aggressive awareness campaign to educate the populace. This still goes back to access to Justice and making sure the prosecution of such cases is properly and adequately dealt with. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (“DSVRT”) comprises of representatives of the Police Force, NGOs, Health Institutions, Directorate of Public Prosecutions and Office of the Public Defender. This is dedicated to handling domestic and sexual violence cases. We are also working with the judiciary to designate a court to focus on domestic and rape cases to ensure speedy hearing. This is designed to send the necessary signals and serve as a deterrent to offenders. I personally intend to handle some of these cases to show our determination to stamp out these despicable crimes. DSVRT has strengthened partnership with the Nigerian police by training divisional police officers and area commands and also provided the sexual offences laws to the Nigerian Police. His Excellency Governor Akinwunmi Ambode recently launched the Domestic Violence Guidelines which spells out the protocol response to domestic violence crimes by relevant agencies. The Governor also approved the use of 112 as a Toll free emergency number to report rape, domestic violence and other sexual related offences. The State joined the rest of the world to commemorate the Domestic Violence awareness month that is internationally acknowledged every year.
You have previously expressed your intention to initiate the Criminal Offenders Register which would perhaps be the first in the country. Kindly share more light on this innovative project and how it would run against the backdrop of Information Technology challenges in this part of the world.
Technology has served as an important tool in monitoring the justice system in more developed countries. Likewise in Lagos State, the Crime Data Register was introduced to serve as an electronic repository of information about suspects and offenders who pass through any of the prisons in the State. The operation of this register involves the co-operation of key stakeholders, the Lagos State Judiciary, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, the Lagos State Command of the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Prisons Service. This Registry is being revived with new improvements to bring it in line with current day technology. In addition, the registry will be used to generate reports and to gather all the necessary information about the status of suspects in the criminal justice process. More importantly, the registry is expected to host the electronic version of the sex offender’s register in the State.
Mobile courts have come under criticism in Nigeria, among other things for delivering summary judgments. Now, you are determined to reintroduce mobile courts in Lagos in specialised buses. What implementation means do you envisage could be put in place to ensure that the purpose of justice is served substantially?
This administration recognises that Lagos is Africa’s fastest growing mega-city, and Law and Order are critical pillars for sustenance of its fast paced development. The mobile courts were established to try essentially traffic and environmental offences and they are vested with powers to sit at any convenient place close to the scene of the commission of any offence. Though its enabling law contemplates its summary nature, it will operate in accordance with the rules of natural justice, equity and good conscience in line with Constitutional provisions of fair hearing. It is presided over by Magistrates and there are prosecutors from my office and defence lawyers from the office of the Public Defender who are readily available to those defendants who so desire.
You identified your focus after your assumption of office to be justice sector reforms, special attention to courts, prisons, community sentencing and creation of more juvenile detention centres. How do you intend to go about this, given the huge funding such initiatives would necessarily require and in tough economic times as this?
Justice Sector reforms universally involves co-operation of the citizens and partnership with relevant stakeholders. Apart from State funding, we also intend to partner with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Laws in the State allow partnership with the private sector. The Lagos Public Interest Law Partnership (LPILP) is a public – private partnership between the State and private sector legal practitioners aimed at providing pro-bono services to indigent persons in the State. It currently attends to the needs of Awaiting Trial Persons who need legal representation.
You previously expressed your intention to prosecute Cybercrimes in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice. How feasible would this be given that there is hardly concurrent jurisdiction in these areas? Or was this in reference to a more general approach of prosecuting such matters?
Crimes committed using computers and mobile gadgets are usually termed as cybercrimes. The Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011 creates offences for misuse of computers, though the Cybercrimes Act 2015 is wider in scope. The decision to create a cybercrime unit was to complement the efforts of law enforcement agencies already working in this area and make Lagos one of the most secure places in the world to do business in cyberspace. The options available to us for prosecution is not limited to enforcing the provisions of the Criminal Law of Lagos, we may also obtain a fiat from the Federal Attorney General if prosecution will be done under the Cybercrimes Act. We are also exploring the option of domesticating the Act into a State law.
Before you came in, your predecessor in office, Mr Ade Ipaye introduced the Fast Track Procedure to ensure quick dispensation of justice. What in your opinion is the success of this initiative? And what is your assessment of its acceptance by Lagosians?
Generally, the fast-track procedure in the High Court of Lagos State has to a large extent, been successful. However there is always room for improvement. A lot of litigants and their counsel still waste time, using delay tactics particularly in cases where they have less chances of succeeding.
Perhaps, we may need to work with the Judiciary to initiate punitive costs to serve as a deterrent to counsel and litigants who in the opinion of the Judge is wasting the time of the Court. This, I believe will further strengthen the fast track procedure.
A justice system that delays resolution of cases discourages investors. What is your ministry doing to make sure that the justice system in Lagos will be responsive and so encourage investors?
Lagos is a city State with approximately 23 Million people and currently has under 60 Judges to cater for this population. We feel that the figure is insufficient to support a speedy and efficient judicial system. We would therefore seek to increase the number of our Judges in order to decrease their heavy dockets that will in turn enable speedy dispensation of Justice. We also seek to deplore greater use of technology in adjudication of matters through Video Conference, telephone conferencing etc. We shall of course continue to encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution through the creation of additional offices for the Lagos Multi door courthouse. Our Citizens Mediation Centres are currently being expanded to ensure that the facilities are available to a larger number of people.
Your office filed an appeal at the Supreme Court against the judgment of the Court of Appeal which set aside the conviction of Al-Mustapha and others charged with killing Kudirat Abiola. What has happened to the appeal?
The Appeal is still pending, we have filed all necessary papers and are awaiting a hearing date.
Despite various initiatives introduced by the Lagos State Government to make sure that people have access to justice, justice remains elusive for a great number of people living in Lagos. What is your plan to address this imbalance?
Justice is not elusive. Activities of Agencies like DSVRT, Office of the Public Defender, The Citizens Mediation Centre (CMC) have been highly commendable. In the past year these Agencies have resolved over 5,725 cases for Lagosians at no cost. Last year, the OPD treated a total of 1,290 matters and undertook 9 rescue missions within the year, while the Directorate for Citizens Rights in the Ministry received a total of 633 human rights related petitions, out of which 487 were totally resolved and 146 pending. The Public Advice Centre also treated over 100 matters free of charge. This is not to say we will not do more. We are exploring the possibility of opening more centres for OPD and CMC within the Local Governments in Lagos. We will also continue to carry out greater advocacy on our access to justice activities.
One of the problems faced in Nigeria is absence of records of offenders especially reliable records of such data. What is your ministry doing to make sure that proper records of offenders are kept?
I earlier mentioned the Crime Tracking Registry that we are in the process of reviving and improving upon to meet international best practice. Our DNA Forensic Laboratory will also have a DNA bank where the DNA of all suspects and convicts in Criminal matters will be stored for future reference.
Do you share the view that the office of the Attorney General be separated from that of Commissioner for Justice so as to ensure that politics does not influence the judgment of the holder of that office and if so why?
There are different angles to it. Some have argued that the fusion of the office has failed to bring out the desired results and that it would be proper to separate both offices. While some have said that the fusion of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice has its roots in the Constitution. Most proponents for the separation of the two offices often point to the abuse to which the exercises of the powers of the Attorney Generals have been subjected in Nigeria. For a long time the fusion of the offices has attracted immense debate.
This debate centres on the ability of a political appointee to perform the duties expected of an Attorney General without being influenced by political considerations.
The reason for the abuse of power is widely believed to be the fact that the appointment of the Commissioner for justice and Attorney General is always made by the Governor and that as a result such an appointee will be susceptible to political pressure in the discharge of his duties. He will therefore be less inclined to act in the best interest of administration of justice. It is thus felt that a separation of the offices would bring about the much-needed change.
It is a fact that both roles are fused in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The framers of the Constitution must have worked on the assumption that whoever would hold that office would possess the right level of integrity to balance both roles. Therefore, I believe that as long as we can find persons of integrity to hold that office there will be no need to depart from the present position.
You have also made representations regarding the juvenile justice system in your previous media interactions. That is an area where many states, including Lagos, are not doing well. Are you thinking of a new approach to juvenile justice system in Lagos? Would you share this with us?
There is an increase in the number of juveniles who are being convicted for street trading and other environmental offences and by the provisions of the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, such children cannot be committed to the normal prison. Statistics have also shown that the imposition of fines has not been an effective deterrence to both juvenile and adult offenders. Hence, there is need for the commitment of juvenile offenders to secured juvenile homes to undergo intensive rehabilitation programmes which will deter them from committing further offences and also serve as a secure accommodation for those who are from outside Lagos State in order to be reunited with their parents or guardians.
The short-term benefits include the immediate reduction of the number of juveniles on our roads who are involved in street trading and commission of other crimes and misdemeanours.
In the long term, the availability of secure homes will lead to the protection of our juveniles from exploitation by adult citizens who take advantage of their naivety and age to force them into crime.
There is a need to have expedited proceedings where victims of crime and defendants are juveniles. We will work with the judiciary to designate more family courts where juvenile offenders can be expeditiously tried .The State is proposing to provide more remand homes for juvenile offenders to ensure they go through the criminal justice system as quickly as possible without traumatising them whether they are victims or witnesses. We are also training our prosecutors on interviewing techniques to elicit best evidence from child witnesses and are looking at dedicating a team of lawyers who will be trained to handle cases involving children.