By Haruna Salami
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, (SAN) has made a strong case for proper funding of the Ministry for it to perform its statutory duties.
He made the call Monday while reviewing the 2023 budget performance of the Ministry and defending the 2024 proposal before the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
According to him, in the outgoing budget cycle for 2023, the Ministry was allocated N3,321,283.533.00 as Capital Budget and N4,688,847,054.00 as Recurrent Budget, but lamented that at the moment, and “with less than 30 days to the end of the financial year, the Ministry has only had releases of N617,456,896.00 for capital expenditure and N2,734,110,775.62 for recurrent expenditure.
He said the foregoing has greatly constrained the performance of the Ministry in its mandate areas, adding they are quite determined to achieve a paradigm shift in 2024, wherein the Ministry has been allocated N5,341,356,849.00 as capital expenditure and N8,860,880,311.10 as recurrent expenditure in the 2024 budget proposal.
Highlighting some of the critical mandate areas of the Ministry for which they are “pleading and praying” the committee to empower the Ministry with further legislative and budgetary support, he said it is quite fundamental for the Ministry to be empowered to drive the current administration’s roadmap for the justice sector (legal and judicial reforms) which is one of the vital priority areas under the President’s eight Priorities/Focus Areas.
“The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation requires funding to perform its role of coordinating and oversighting the entire legal or justice sector institutions in Nigeria.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation is also saddled with onerous responsibilities in the implementation of vital legislations including the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, Cybercrime (Prohibition and Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015, Extradition Act, etc and other international treaty obligations.
Fagbemi noted that the process of proscription and prosecution of terror suspects and entities entails considerable funding inclusive of catering for the logistics and welfare of judges, prosecutors, support staff, witnesses, and provision of security for the trial, etc”.
“In order to ensure the security and confidence of the judicial officers coupled with the location of the trial, the Ministry is required to charter aircrafts to air lift them. The Ministry is also spending considerable resources on provision or upgrading of infrastructural facilities at the various venues to make them fit for purpose.
He said whilst the Ministry has been promoting the policy of having State Counsels in the Ministry handle more cases on behalf of the government, there are instances where the need to engage senior external solicitors becomes inevitable.
“Thus, greater funding is required to increase the capacity and boost the moral of State Counsels through regular payment of duty tour allowances, robe allowances, etc, The professional fees of the private solicitors also need to be settled, The Ministry is also involved in defending the country in international litigation and arbitration which are by their nature very expensive to prosecute or defend in terms of payment of administrative fees to tribunals, professional fees to solicitors, expert fees, etc.
These cases usually arise after the closure of the budget preparation and passage process, which means the Ministry is unable to make specific budgetary request for funding the cases. There is therefore a need for the Ministry to be provided with adequate funding line or reserve to address these cases.
He noted that there are already backlogs of obligations which needs to be cleared in order to sustain the current efforts of the Ministry in reducing government’s exposure to judgment debts as well as ensuring that implementation of government policies/projects are not hindered by litigation. It is to be noted that some of the unpaid claims unfortunately have been outstanding since 2007.
“The Ministry is also currently defending over 2000 cases, with huge potential liabilities, on behalf of FGN and its MDAs. “These cases require diligent prosecution and effective defence to avoid embarrassment and enforcement actions”.
Earlier, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Judiciary, Mohammmed Mongonu (Borno North) said the main aim of the meeting was to ask the Minister to give them a review of the 2023 budget in line with the constitutional responsibility that gives the parliament the power to oversight ministries departments and agencies (MDAs) with a view to ensure that Nigerians get value for money and to ensure transparency and accountability in the utilisation of funds that were given to you.
He assured that the Committee will work with the office of Attorney General to review the laws of the federation because laws are not supposed to be static, they are supposed to be organic that supposed to change with the changing society.