The office of the Attorney General of the Federation is the number one governmental Law office in the federation. The constitution describes the AG as the Chief Law officer of the federation. According to Section 150 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the Attorney General otherwise known as the A.G shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation.
By virtue of the position occupied, it is reasonably expected that whosoever occupies the key position of A.G. whether of the state or of the Federation, must be someone with a considerable knowledge of the Law. This is owing to the fact that the same is going to be directly responsible for defending suits against and for the federal or state government, as the case may be. According to Section 150 (2) of the Constitution, a person shall not be qualified to hold or perform the functions of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.
This means that whosoever is to be appointed as Attorney General as minster of the Justice of the federation as stipulated by law must be someone who has been so qualified for not less than ten years.
As provided in Section 174. (1) of the Constitution, the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power – to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly; to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.
Over the years, there has been this misconception about the appointment process. Many think that being a senior advocate of Nigeria is a prerequisite for one to be appointed as an Attorney General of the state or of the federation, maybe because, coincidentally is the fact that Section 5 of the Legal practitioner’s Act, which provides for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocates prescribes ten year minimum post call qualification as well.
Considering the eligibility provision and the general screening process of the Legal Practitioners’ Act Cap Lil, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, New guidelines for the conferment of the award of the rank of senior advocate of Nigeria, 2016 as published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No. 123 Lagos -5th August, 2016 vol. 103, it is true that appointing a legal practitioner as Attorney General who is already a learned Silk is not out of place, but making it a practice as per being legally provided is not aptly right in Law. The reasons are quite simple:
- The Constitution of Nigeria is the grundnorm, hence the supreme Law in Nigeria by virtue of Section 1(1) of the Constitution.
- Any Law inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution is null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.
- The constitution provides for a minimum of ten years post call which is part of the qualification statement and not necessary ten years of active practice (even though not encourage able)
- A legal practitioner may be in active practice for over fifteen years or more and yet not a Senior Advocates. After all, the rank is mainly conferred on candidates based on application.
There are some that were appointed Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice before they were conferred with the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. the likes of Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN, at the time of his appointment as Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice he was not a SAN In fact, while Prince Ajibola was conferred with the rank of SAN while he was the AGF. Dr. Onagoruwa became SAN over 10 years after he had ceased to be Attorney General of Federation. It is also on record that Professor Yemi Osinbajo became SAN when he was the Attorney-General of Lagos state and Majority of attorneys-general of the states are not senior advocates of Nigeria.
Whilst it is agreed that appointing a learned silk to function as an Attorney General of Federation is not a bad idea, making it a practice seems to give it a bad eye in Law. It will only make others believe that except one is a learned silk, one cannot be an A.G. F. Though it may sound like a convention, it is not constitutional; for as there are learned silks, there are also learned cottons.
18 December, 2017