Should Lawyers Accept to Serve in Government? By : Abdulrasheed Ibrahim
For some times now there has been agitation by some lawyers that the office of Attorney General should be separated from that of the Minister or Commissioner of Justice. As it is presently the two positions are fused together. There is doubt that the office of Attorney General and Minister for Justice is a very powerful one. It seems to be the only ministerial position specifically created by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This position has been very attractive to many lawyers that at a time it nearly sent the National Bar Association (NBA) at national to a voyage of no return. The reason for this was that many big lawyers at that time saw the office of the President of the Association as a VISA to become the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice which then brought about what can be called the “Rat Race Politics” in NBA particularly during the General Babangida’s military regime and that eventually sent the Association at the national level to a recess.
By the time the Association returned from the self-imposed recession ,it had learnt a lot of lessons, amended its constitution and introduced a CAVEAT that if a lawyer becomes its President ,that position should not be used to solicit for that ministerial position. We need to bear in minds that it is not only the position of Attorney General and Minister of Justice that lawyers are often invited to take up in government; lawyers are often invited to serve in other capacities. The question that we are concerned with here is that: Should lawyers accept invitations to serve in any government? In answering this type of question, one should not expect people to be unanimous. Some lawyers may decide to accept the invitation and consider it as a call to service and not self service, while other may turn it down on ground of personal principles.
We have great lawyers that had served in government on invitations. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN was released from prison after the July 1966 counter coup, he was offered the position of Commissioner for Finance and the Vice-Chairman of the Supreme Military Council under General Yakub Gowon. Although he performed very well in that position, he later resigned to go back to his private practice of law and prepare the ground for his involvement in Second Republic politics. Alhaji Femi Okunnu SAN, CON who recently marked his 85th birthday also served under General Gowon as Commissioner for Works and Housing .He also did very well. He later resigned and went back to private practice. Much earlier, Chief FRA Williams served as the first Nigerian Attorney General in the old Western Region and also later returned to private practice.
In the book titled LEGAL LUMINARIES, it is written about Judge T.O. Elias that:
“During the counter coup of 1966 that brought in General Yakubu Gowon as the Head of State, the earlier coup of January same year having swept away the First Republic Civilian Regime under which Judge Taslim Olawale Elias served as the first Attorney General of the Federation, who after the first coup had returned to the University of Lagos as Professor of law and Dean of the Faculty of Law. Gowon then sent Justice Bello to Judge Elias to persuade him to accept to serve again as the Attorney General under his Military regime. When Elias declined the offer, Justice Bello insisted and prevailed on Elias that at that critical time when the existence of Nigeria as a Federation was in danger, Gowon needed Elias’ expertise, experience and maturity as the Attorney General.”
The late Judge Elias till date remained the only lawyer in Nigeria that served under both civilian and military regimes as Attorney General of the Federation and from that position he was elevated to the Supreme Court bench as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Chief Olu Onagoruwa both Senior Advocates of Nigeria and now deceased were very good friends until the latter accepted to serve under the late General Sanni Abacha as the Attorney General of the Federation against the former’s advice. One of our great and brilliant lawyers that had been very unfortunate in accepting the invitation to serve in government was no other person than Chief Bola Ige. That the gruesome murder of this Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice still remains a mystery till date is very unfortunate like many other unresolved murders in the country. When the country was to return to democracy in 1999, Chief Bola Ige was one of those that signified their intentions to contest for the Presidency under the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD) being one of the political parties then. Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a lawyer and one of the founders of the said political party said recently during the public presentation of his autobiography titled “Telling It As It Is” to mark his 90th birthday that:
“As far as I am concerned, the moment Bola Ige joined Obasanjo’s government, following his (Bola Ige) loss of AD’s presidential primaries who polled six votes against Chief Olu Falae’s 17, marked the beginning of the end of the party. In my opinion, these are scenarios which led to collapse of the AD.”
To me ,it was not only the invitation of Chief Bola Ige to the Obasanjo’s government that marked the beginning of the end of the AD as a political party, the major factor ,I once argued many years back in my article titled : THE COURT AND THE ELECTION RIGGING was that:
“In 2003 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo jettisoned the Mandela option to the run for the second term, his kinsmen, except Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, who were then the Alliance For Democracy (AD)’ Governors in the South West decided to take their people for a ride by engaging in the tribal politics. The political blunder committed by those AD governors was that they informed their people that in the then coming 2003 elections, they should cast their vote for Obasanjo of PDP on the ballot papers while they the AD governors should be voted for on the gubernatorial ballot papers. At the end of the day, Obasanjo of PDP won and those AD governors lost their seats to the PDP gubernatorial candidates in the said elections and the rest was history.”
If you don’t know I can tell you authoritatively that it was that singular act by Bola Tinubu that made him spent 8 years as Lagos State Governor unlike the other AD governors in the South West and that is what made him to still be very relevant in Nigerian politics today by his refusal to go along with the AD’s decision to vote for Obasanjo in 2003 while they were against him in 1999 presidential election.
While it may not be a bad idea for lawyers to accept invitations to serve in the government at any level, but a lawyer quitting his law practice for such appointment must go there with his brain intact He must go there with a memo in his pocket to be submitted to his would-be boss on how things can be properly done for the benefit of the people. A lawyer must not allow himself to be carried away by the luxury in government. When those in government derail from doing what is proper and refused to listen to his voice of reason and wisdom, that lawyer must not fail to quit. For if he fails to quit, he will surely sink with the boat if the boat of bad government eventually capsized. Please shine your eyes!
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ON TENURE ENLONGATION
“It is settled law that the time fixed by the constitution for doing of anything cannot be extended .It is immutable, fixed like Rock of Gibraltar; it cannot be extended, elongated, expanded, or stretched beyond what it states. To calculate the tenure of office of Governors from the date of their second oaths of allegiance and of office while ignoring the period from 29th May 2007,when they took this first oaths is to extend the four years tenure constitutionally granted the Governors to occupy and the act in that office which would be unconstitutional. It is therefore clear and I hereby hold that the second oaths of allegiance and of office taken in 2008 ,though necessary to enable them continue to function in that office ,were superfluous in the determination of the four years tenure under section 180 (2) of the 1999 constitution.
Per ONNOGHEN, JSC (as he then was ) in Marwa & Anor. Vs. Nyako & 9 Ors. (2012) 1 SC (Pt. III) Pg. 86 Lines 15-25
THE SETTLED PRINCIPLE OF LAW
On when a driver will be held liable for criminal negligence in traffic offence
It is trite that where it is established that without apparent cause a driver goes off his side of the road to the other side of that road, a court in the absence of an accepted explanation from the driver of the vehicle, is entitled to draw an inference that it was due to a momentary unattention amounting to criminal negligence. If an accident occurs as a result, the driver of the vehicle is liable in negligence.
See The State Vs. Ibeneme (1965) ENLR Vol. 9 Pg. 26; ILUYOMADE Vs. OGUNSAKIN (2001) 8 NWLR (Pt. 716) Pg. 570, Paras G – H
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