George Okoh spoke with a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, on various issues of national interest. Excerpts:
What is your take on the proposed national conference?
We just keep panicking in Nigeria over nothing. For me, the framework for national conference has not undermined the constitution and cannot undermine it. The reason is that at the end of the day, their report will be sent to the parliament. So, I don’t see why people should panic because Nigeria is run based on laws.
Whatever decision- executive decision and implementation of what will come out of the conference will not be adhered to; it has to be sent and if it is not consistent with the existing laws, there must be new legislations. And until legislations are done, the report of the conference cannot just be implemented by the President sue moto.
Other aspects may be implemented if the existing laws permit the president to do it. Those aspects they have recommended which existing laws do not cover, the president must go to the National Assembly. And if it requires the amendment of the constitution, then, the National Assembly will commence the process but then, two-thirds of all the states of the federation must agree. So, I don’t see the need for panicking.
Panic aside there is a school that says with the National Assembly in place, the conference is needless?
Well, he must have got an informed intelligence to commence. But we are all watching to see the purpose. He must have gotten informed intelligence. You know, he says he was also against it, but he changed his mind because after all, the constitution guarantees freedom of association, freedom of discussion and that could be in the basis. What do I want to bother myself and keep saying the people should not express their grievances? It is better for people to talk than people not to talk. That is why when I was the Attorney General, I was against time bar for litigation because I feel Nigeria will be safer when people are allowed to do what they feel is best for them; to pursue their grievances in court no matter how long it takes them than to shut them out.
After the elections of 2011, some cases were terminated based on time elapse. There has been confusion over the matter till date. Meanwhile, the National Assembly is still in the process of amending the constitution. Some of these issues we expected them to raise include the time frame to determine an election petition but unfortunately it was not touched.
Can you say you are comfortable with the issues they raised in respect to the amendment of the constitution?
Well, especially on the confusion created over time barred for election petitions, apart from the National Assembly, the Supreme Court itself has a duty to revisit the issue. The Supreme Court as a court of justice, where it gives a decision but it appears that there is substantial injustice occasioned on the populace; the court has a duty to revisit. For instance, when appeal remitted back and then time bound will run, I don’t quite agree with that. When my case is struck out there is nothing before the court and the time is supposed to run only when the case is before the court. There are two ways of looking at it: there must have been a broader interpretation to accommodate that.
For instance, there is an inherent right for an appeal to be heard and if a case is reversed and is asked to start afresh, it is within the law that nothing happened. So time supposed to have started commencing from the day. It has to do with the interpretations of that. The best thing that will happen to save that embarrassment is that Supreme Court must revisit the situation.