Interviews

Expect more laws in the governance of Lagos – Onigbanjo

Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, Lagos Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice

Lagos is a cosmopolitan city state popularly regarded as mini Nigeria. As the Chief Law Officer, what are your plans for the justice sector?

As you rightly said, Lagos is a mini Nigeria; Lagos prides itself in its large population of multi-cultural, multi- religions and a diverse ethnic society. As the Chief Law Officer of the State, I will, through the Ministry of Justice continue to ensure that residents have access to justice even in respect of the most mundane of matters. The plan is basically to foster speedy and time effective justice delivery equally amongst all persons in the state. This will be achieved mostly through institutional and policy strategies.

For example the Office of the Public Defender OPD handles 1,636 cases, 600 petitions out of which 245 have been concluded, 141 judgements obtained, over 30 children rescued and total compensation of N8,103,567.09 was received on behalf of clients. Similarly PAC –Public Advisory Centre, received monetary claims of N3,684.666 on behalf of claimants whilst the Directorate of Citizen’s Rights instituted cases in the National Industrial Court where 7 Claimants were awarded N21, 352,319 as terminal benefits from their various organizations. 

As a cosmopolitan city, we recognise the need to ensure that Law and Orderliness are kept. It is this administration’s agenda to clamp down on criminals, land grabbers and other trouble makers to reduce crime and all forms of security threat to the barest minimum. This administration has zero tolerance for criminals. We would also ensure that the poor and downtrodden in the society have access to justice through our agencies.

Traffic offences would be seriously dealt with and erring drivers will forfeit their vehicles and sanctions shall be imposed. It is no longer business as usual.

Onigbanjo

What are the challenges confronting the administration of justice system in the state and how do you intend to tackle them?

The major challenge confronting the administration of justice is multi-faceted.   On the part of the Government, the plan is to tackle the operational problems and to ensure that there is cooperation between the different bodies working to enforce the  law. The aim is also to ensure that residents have quick access to justice as justice delayed is justice denied. The State Government has put in tremendous effort to enhance justice administration. However, most of the stakeholders within the sector are not under the control of the State Government. Example of this is the police, prisons amongst others pivotal agencies. It is no longer news that the State at different intervals have had to intervene and support these agencies through our Lagos State Security Trust Fund. The challenges facing the different stakeholders can be  overcome by concerted efforts and creating more synergy in achieving access to justice and ensure Law and Order.

Your predecessor used the Prerogative of mercy council as instrument to decongest correctional centres. Do you plan to sustain 

We hope to sustain and surpass the achievement of the council by strengthening the advisory council on prerogative of mercy. A new council will soon be inaugurated by Mr Governor and we are optimistic that the members of the council will hit the ground running to decongest the correctional centres /prisons.

We are going to embark on a more robust approach in decongesting prisons and plans are underway to implement the initiative. We would ensure that periodic visits are done and would also ensure that the gesture is spread across all the facilities within the state for deserving applicants.

I will ensure the council is encouraged by working independently, fairly and transparently with adequate resources for the discharge of its basic duties.

Also the State through Community Service Unit is willing and ready to work with the Nigerian Correctional Service to enhance the non-custodial sentence provision as provided in the Nigerian Correctional Services Act. This will immensely reduce the amount of people who go through the prison system.

Are you going to continue with plea bargaining arrangement in criminal persecutions?

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Plea bargaining is undoubtedly a veritable procedure for decongestion of the correctional centres, giving closure to victims of crimes, de-clogging the courts’ docket and reducing the state expenses/resources. It is one of the focal points of this administration to enhance the process to make it seamless and more efficient. In the last 2 weeks, 94 plea bargain applications have been treated. 

It is definitely effective, it saves the judicial and prosecutors’ time and criminal matters are quickly concluded.  This administration intends to continue with the system and hopes that more defendants will embrace the option of plea bargaining if they are indeed guilty.

Legal Advice from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions has always been under attack for alleged delays and corruption. Do you have plans to tackle this challenge?

Let me first correct the impression that Legal Advice issuance is delayed. This is no longer the case. It takes an average of 10-15 days to issue Legal Advice. The DPP Office has been very efficient in ensuring that Legal Advice are despatched in a timely manner, the records are there. A two weeks deadline had been given some months back and there has been substantial compliance with the deadline.

For instance, the DPP’s Office received 212 duplicate files for Legal Advice and 164 has been issued and despatched. The remaining 48 could not be treated because of request for further investigation by the Police.

The Officers in DPP are of high moral and professional integrity coupled with the fact that this administration has zero tolerance for any corrupt practice, I would like to allay the fears of the public in this regard and urge them to speak up/write to my office with facts should they observe anything untoward. The DPP and its team of lawyers work assiduously to ensure that legal advice is issued within the time frame. The process is not subject to undue influence as the lawyers in DPP serve with integrity and are mindful that this administration has a zero tolerance for corrupt practices. I assure you that Legal advices are issued within the time frame and devoid of undue influence.

As a chartered arbitrator, what are your plans for Alternative Dispute Resolution as option to litigation? 

ADR is the new wave and as expected Lagos State has made tremendous progress in entrenching it in its justice system through the establishment of the Multi-door court, citizens mediation centre and the OPD, this administration would create more sensitization and awareness for members of the public.

As you already know previous administrations have begun the work to making Lagos the hub of arbitration by investing in the LCA. The Ministry of Justice has the Citizens Mediation Centre, Citizens Rights, Office of the Public Defender, AGPT, all of which deploy the use of ADR in resolving disputes. The plan of this administration is to further enlarge the capacities of these offices by opening more centres in different LCDA/locations for easy access to the Public. We hope to commission 2 new centres of CMC.

The Multidoor Courthouse role seeks resolution of dispute without going through the long haul of litigation is pivotal in resolving our commercial and civil disputes. This ties in well with ease of doing business and reposing investors’ confidence in judicial system that afford prompt and expeditious resolution of legal disputes.

Despite the work of the Office of the Public Defender, and Citizens Mediation Centre, access to Lagosians is still a big challenge. Are there other avenues you can deploy to make justice accessible to all?

On the issue of access to justice what determines its improvement is not continuous proliferation of agencies or departments to assist in this regard. As a matter of fact these agencies/ organisations including the Directorate of Citizens rights, Public Advisory Centre and the Public Interest Law partnership which provides pro-bono services of private law firms for indigent persons. The most important thing is the efficiencies of these agencies. And one of the focus of this administration is to ensure the effectiveness of the existing agencies.

We are working on enhancing the capacities of the OPD and CMC and also open up new centers to cover more areas within the State. The public most importantly would be sensitised of the existence of these agencies. Possible expansion of OPD Offices in all the nook and cranies of the state especially in each local government and LCDAs. We plan to sensitize the indigent resident to make use of these offices (CMC, OPD, AGPT, DCR,) by our various awareness programmes.

How is your relationship with Lagos State Judiciary since you assumed office?

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Our relationship is cordial and mutual. As you know the judiciary is a separate arm of Government, it is independent of the executive as provided by the constitution. The need to preserve judicial independence necessarily limits engagement with the judiciary to matters that relate to public interest, policy and legislation. However we shall together tackle the challenges facing the courts in terms of infrastructure.

How will you describe your relationship with other law enforcement agencies in the state?

My Office and that of others law enforcement agencies are in synergy. We all represent different parts of the same structure which is the justice sector and each part has been discharging its role as effectively as practicably. I think the constitution is clear as to the role of each agency.  The courts have also on a number of occasions pronounced on the issue. I doubt that an issue should arise in that regard. In any case the law lies in the bosom of the court so I believe the court will set the issues straight

How do you want to maintain a conducive business environment in the state, particularly government contractual agreement that will benefit both government and the people?

Onigbanjo

The Mega city plan is on course and this administration understands the importance of fulfilling contractual obligations, we know it is important in gaining the confidence of investors and as such we will ensure the enforcement of agreements on our side/part.

It is a global phenomenon that Government works with the private sector and investors to bring about development in all sectors of the economy. This administration intends to continue in that regard and is committed to honouring our part of the terms of agreement.

The commercial law department of the Ministry of Justice has over the years been doing a fantastic job in putting up the most favourable portions for the state. And you may be aware Lagos has always been forthright on its part of the agreements. The records are there. I intend to continue to uphold this standard and perhaps ensure that the percentage of failed agreements is reduced drastically.

The Directorate of commercial law has drafted 46 Commercial Agreements and generated N12,934,296.43 for the State.

In 2016, your predecessor, Gov  Ambode Akinwunmi, through the House of Assembly enacted the Property Protection Law to curb activities of land grabbers otherwise known as omo onile. Lagosians seem to have no respite despite this law, as demonstrated by some cases that has come to your attention. What will you do about the land grabbers menace?

Since the enactment of the Lagos State Property Protection Law, 2016 and the establishment of the Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers, I make bold to say that the nefarious and notorious activities of Land Grabbers have been gradually curtailed in Lagos State. 

Yes, there are still pockets of reports of illegal activities of land grabbers across the State. We are not unaware of the havoc and unrest caused by these land grabbers particularly in developing areas of Ibeju-Lekki, Ajah, Ikorodu, Ipaja, Badagry amongst others but this, when compared to what obtains before the enactment of the property protection law and establishment of the taskforce has shown that the implementation of the law through the taskforce is yielding the desired results. It is worthy of note that since enactment of the law and inauguration of the taskforce, over 3600 petitions have been received by the Taskforce. About 500 of these petitions have been concluded. Over 3000 petitions are currently being handled. In the course of the Taskforce operations, over 200 arrests of suspected land grabbers have been carried out.

The operation of the Taskforce recently received a boost when 19 alleged land grabbers were arrested on the 13th November 2019, at Plot 1 Block II within Ogudu Phase II Government Residential Scheme in Kosofe Local Government and trial still on going at the Magistrate Court.

We presently have 35 Land Grabbing cases in Court, wherein land grabbers are being prosecuted and we are hopeful that justice would be served without hindrance to serve as a deterrent to other land grabbers. 

From these statistics, it will be noticed that there is an appreciable increase in number of citizens who patronize the Taskforce for resolution of land grabbing cases, we owe this in part to intensification of publicity and awareness campaign as well as testimonies of people who have had their cases resolved through the Taskforce. As cheering as this is, Taskforce is confronted with myriads of challenges in carrying out its legal responsibilities which we are presently addressing for optimal performance. Of note is the deliberate attempt by land grabbers to arm-twist the taskforce into doing its biddings by embarking on smear campaign in traditional and online media to pre-empt cases the taskforce is working on. These challenges have however not deterred us from carrying out our responsibilities. I have a word for them, “We are daunt and unshaken in our resolve to carry out our mandate”. 

Many legal experts have pointed out that the Lagos Administration of Criminal Justice Law requires improvement. Is any reform coming soon?

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As a matter of fact, we are in the process of reviewing the Law. The process should be completed by the first quarter of Year 2020. We need to ensure that we have more robust provisions that can deal with issues like restraint order and pending investigation, freezing assets of criminals before they dissipate the asset or proceeds of crime.

A lot more is in the review and the general public is called upon to support the Government in the area of prosecution by making themselves available in courts as witnesses when called upon.

What priority areas in the justice sector will get premium attention?

Particular attention will be focused on Law and Order and Legislative Reforms. We have a whole lot of Laws in the pipeline. The importance of Laws in a Society cannot be overemphasised, it keeps the society running. It also serve as a norm of conduct of citizens. Laws are made to provide for proper guidelines ad Order upon the behaviour for all citizens and sustain the equity on the three branches of the government. We believe that laws are important in a society.

Recently there was a walk to commit to and act against Domestic and Sexual violence organised by DSVRT on the 26th November 2019. It is a clear message that the Lagos State Government will not tolerate any form of domestic sexual violence and that is why the symbolic walk was led by the Governor.  

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