‘Kaduna State has Fully Complied with the Judgment on Financial Autonomy for the Judiciary’

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Kaduna State was a melting pot of different ethnic and religious groups until a few years ago, when religious fundamentalism gradually crept into the state. The Nasir el- Rufai administration is however determined to address this and other challenges to restore the state to its former prosperous and peaceful position. In realisation of this objective, the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mrs. Amina Dyeris-Sijuwade shared her vision and her plans to ensure that justice administration is given top priority with May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi. She also gave insights on the state’s efforts to deal with issues such as prison congestion, security in the state and the recent Army-Shiite clash which required the setting up of an investigative commission.

You are the Attorney General of a state with diverse ethnic and religious groups, this is no easy task. What is your agenda for the Kaduna State Ministry of Justice during your tenure?

I have taken on the mantle of Attorney General of Kaduna State at a time when the Ministry of Justice is going through a lot of challenges. There is a dire need for restructuring the ministry to take care of critical areas like Commercial law which the State will need to serve the planned increased commercial activity and the anticipated partnerships between government and the private sector. I also met staff that lacked motivation especially the State Counsel due to neglect in core areas like continuous professional development and staff welfare. I realised, upon assumption of office that there was the need to reequip and reposition the Ministry so as to enable it carry out its core functions. All these might seem quite basic, but they are key to making any meaningful progress. If the Ministry of Justice is well positioned it can then effectively play its role in ensuring that justice, equity and fairness are available to all irrespective of their ethnic, religious and tribal affiliation.

Statistics from Justice for all (J4A) have shown that most people seeking formal justice do so through the lower courts. In Kaduna State in 2009/2010 lower courts handled 70,786 cases, while higher courts handled 4,076 cases. In spite of higher relative caseloads, lower courts have suffered from a lack of investment for many years. Lower courts are unable to provide the quality of service that users have a right to expect. How does your administration intend to reform the courts in the state?

One sure way to make justice accessible to all is to bring the Courts closer to the people. This informs why there are more Magistrate Courts than High Courts in the State. A bulk of the cases that come up fall within the jurisdiction of the lower Courts. This is why the lower courts are overstretched. The solution is to create more courts to relieve the overburdened Courts which this Administration in collaboration with the Judiciary has been working on. For example additional Magistrate Courts have been created in areas like Rigasa, Rigachukun, Lere and Zaria City and four new Customary Courts in Kagarko, Doka, and Giwa.

There have been complaints by some state chapters of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) that most governors are yet to comply with the judgment of the court granting financial autonomy to the judiciary. To what extent has Kaduna State complied with the judgment?

As regards financial autonomy of the Judiciary, Kaduna State is one of the States that has complied with the Court of Appeal decision which ordered States to grant financial autonomy to the Judiciary. This administration has facilitated the ongoing infrastructural facelift that is ongoing in the Courts. Also when this administration came into power, there was an indefinite industrial action by JUSUN which lasted for four Months. It was this administration that waded into the matter which resulted in the suspension of the strike by the Judicial Staff. In addition, this administration was able to pay the Judiciary Staff, four years backlog of their leave grant which the past administration failed to pay.

It is a well-known fact that Nigerian prisons have a disproportional amount of “Awaiting Trial Inmates”. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has reported that 70 per cent of inmates in prisons across the country have not been tried. As the chief law officer of the state, what are your plans for prison reform?

On the issue of prisoners awaiting trial, it is a general misconception that the fault lies with the Ministry of Justice. The prosecution of an accused person does not solely rest on the shoulders of the Ministry of Justice but on the Police and the Judiciary as well. On assumption of office, one of my concerns was to clear the backlog of cases awaiting trial due to delays in the handling of case diaries. I was able to streamline the process and enhance the synergy with the Police. This has drastically cut down the time span within which advice is given and charges preferred by 60 % . State Counsel now know that there is a deadline for proffering legal advice. The Police have been cooperating in ensuring that case diaries are transmitted to the Ministry of Justice on time. I have introduced a case management system with the assistance of Justice for All, a DFID program which allows the Ministry to keep track of its cases and their life span. We have also conducted a very rigorous decongestion program through which we have released 153 inmates accused of minor offences in the last 6 months. An important program regarding prison reforms is the introduction of a skill acquisition programme in all Kaduna State prisons. The skills to be transferred will cover ICT, Carpentry, and Tailoring, hairdressing, Barbing to name a few. This will enhance the reformatory capacity as opposed to prisons just being a facility for incarceration. In fact, for our 2016 decongestion exercise, participation in these programs will be one of the conditions for consideration for the prerogative of mercy and the grant of notice of discontinuance.

Last year there was an attempt to introduce a law prohibiting street trading and begging in Kaduna this was met with protests from people with disabilities in Kaduna and other activists. However, this law has been successfully passed by the Kaduna state House of Assembly. Could you explain the rationale behind this law? What is the state doing to make justice accessible to more people in the state especially the less privileged?

The protests were as a result of a misunderstanding of the motives behind this administration’s intent. I believe it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. We noticed that our streets were filled with beggars most of whom were from the neighbouring States where Street begging had been banned. These beggars also constituted a security risk. The Government did not just pass the law without considering the plight of the disabled and the indigent. The Ministry of Women Affairs is committed to the issue of rehabilitation/ skill acquisition centers to cater for this segment of the society. However I guess at that time the protesters just needed reassurance of this.

Recently, there has been an increase in the incidences of violence and insecurity in Kaduna State. The Army Shiite clash last December controversially left an undetermined number of casualties. Beyond the security committee meetings which the state Executive hold monthly, what other measures has the state taken to ensure the safety of lives and properties?

The misconception needs to be clarified. Unfortunately we had incidents involving some high profile persons which understandably got some press attention. However, our response was swift which was shown by the numerous arrests made. The well-coordinated and sustained operations have continued to keep Kaduna peaceful. Even the frequency of our weekly security meetings shows this administration’s commitment to ensuring peace and security for it residents.

A Judicial Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the clash between the Army and the Shiite Islamic movement in Kaduna State. Could you enlighten us on the composition and agenda of the commission?

The composition of the Commission include Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, the presiding Justice of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, Professor Salihu Shehu, a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano; Professor Umar Labdo, a lecturer at the Northwest University, Kano; Mallam Salihu Abubakar, a former director of the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; and Professor Auwalu Yadudu, a Professor of Law and former special adviser on legal matters to the government of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha; and Mr. Afakirya Gadzama, a commissioner. Others are Mr. Gadzama, a former Director-General of the Department of State Services; Brig-Gen. Aminun-Kano Maude (rtd); Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim; Mrs. Khadijah Hawaja Gambo; Mr. Bilya Bala, Editor-in-Chief of the People’s Daily newspapers; Maj-Gen Alexander Anjili Mshelbwala ( rtd); and Mrs. Desire Deseye Nsirim, a retired Commissioner of Police. The Director of the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies, Institute of Administration, Zaria, Dr. Bala Babaji, is the secretary to the commission. The Agenda of the Commission is to unravel the real cause of the violence so as to avert its reoccurrence in the near future.

What progress has been made in the investigation of the sad and horrific incident of the Army-Shiite clash?

As regards the progress made so far by the commission, I must say a lot has been achieved since it commenced sitting. However, since the Government of Kaduna state is also involved I cannot say much as the matter is subjudice.

The Bill to regulate religious activities in Kaduna State has been the subject of much debate among members of the legal profession. Some legal experts believe that the law stands in the face of sections 38 and 39 of the Constitution which guarantee the fundamental rights to expression, freedom of conscience, thought and religion? How do you think these concerns can be addressed in the Bill?

One thing a lot of people are unaware of is that this Religious Preaching Law came into existence in 1984. Perhaps one of the problems bedeviling the entire Northern region is religious/ sectarian crises and Kaduna State is not exempted as we have had our own share of the crises. This Bill was enacted during the Military regime to control hate speech by individuals who do this under the guise of religious preaching. I completely agree that section 38 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution provides for freedom of Religion, conscience and thought and Freedom of expression respectively. However Section 45 of the same 1999 Constitution states that nothing invalidates any law provided that the law is enacted to protect the public peace, public Health, public order or public morality. This law is made for the greater good of our dear State. I agree that there are areas that need to be looked into and this is why we have continuously engaged stakeholders. This is exactly what should obtain in an open and inclusive democratic legislative process That is why we are inviting stakeholders to enlighten them on the law.

The controversy of the National Assembly’s withdrawal of the Gender Parity and Prohibition of Violence against Women Bill but where does Kaduna as a State lie in the debate? Does Kaduna State have plans to enact a law that will promote equal opportunity for women?

Gender Discrimination especially against women is an issue we as a nation are coming to terms with. As a legal concept lawyers debate what the Nigerian context of discrimination is in the light of culture and custom. Gender equality and prohibition of violence is a national problem and steps are being taken to deal with it both at the National and State level. In Kaduna State, we have a draft bill. However, the State is setting up a structure where the Bill will be subjected to public and stakeholder scrutiny so as to ensure all are carried along.

One of the critical challenges facing states‎ is how to survive in the face of dwindling allocations from the Federal Government caused largely by the fall in oil prices and accruing government revenue. What alternatives are the State considering to boost its internally generated revenue capacity?

Kaduna State happens to be one of the few States that has been able to address the problem of dwindling resources. This has been as a result of our prudent and pragmatic approach to the handling of state finances. We were the first to introduce Treasury Single Account (TSA) that helped us block leakages and saved us a lot of money. We are just concluding the third phase of the verification exercise which has exposed over 16,000 ghost workers and has significantly reduced our salary wage bill. We prioritise the passage of all revenue laws to position us for improved fiscal management. The new Kaduna Internal Revenue Service has been working tirelessly to improve the collection of taxes from individuals, businesses that either had not honoured their tax obligation for years or who paid monies into a very porous basket. These measures are in addition to vicious cuts in expenditure across board.

By all comparisons the standards of formal education in Nigeria have waned from the early periods pre and post independence. The legal profession has not been spared this gradual decline, which in turn affects quality of young lawyers in the sector. What steps do you believe governments like your state’s can take to improve the standard of education in now and in the future?

States do not participate in the regulation of legal education in the country. However, the Kaduna State Government is considering raising the bar for qualifications in order to enjoy State sponsored Scholarship to the Law School.

Kaduna solid minerals array is especially lucrative with plentiful reserves of gold and iron ore. Notably Governor Nasir el-Rufai of your state audaciously observed that there is more gold in the state than South Africa. Going on to the issue of actually tapping into available resources, does the Kaduna State government have a policy plan for how to exploit the solid minerals within the state?

The Ministry of environment and the Kaduna State mining company are currently working on a roadmap for the aggressive exploitation and development of Kaduna State’s abundant mineral resources. I expect that this will be made public within the next couple of months.