Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi & Deputy Otuna Bisi Egbeyemi attended a Special service organized by Ekiti State Judiciary to declare open the 2018/2019 Legal Year at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel, Ado Ekiti on Tuesday 30th Oct 2018.
Speech Delivered by Olawale Fapohunda, Honourable Attorney- General & Commissioner of Justice on the occasion of the Commencement of the 2018 New Legal Year.
My Lord the Chief Judge of Ekiti State, My Lords, Judges of the High Court of Ekiti State, the Chairpersons of branches of the Nigerian Bar Association, Learned Colleagues, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
1. Today’s event is a unique occasion for me. Quite aside from the commemoration of the commencement of the 2018 Legal Year, today is my first official assignment having been reappointed Attorney-General Ekiti State and sworn in yesterday.
2. May I therefore grave the indulgence of your Lordships to start my brief statement by expressing my gratitude to Bench, and the Bar for the numerous congratulatory messages I have received. I am especially grateful for the kind words of advice and the constructive suggestions on how to take forward the justice sector in Ekiti State.
3) I have tried to acknowledge these greetings by saying that it is indeed the Governor of Ekiti State who should be thanked for finding me fit for re-appointment even if his last experience with me was essentially my constant nagging him for additional resources for the justice sector. I cannot promise that I will not continue to nag him but he would be pleased to know that old age may have in some ways reduced my energy in this regard.
4) As we gather this morning to mark the Opening of the 2018 Legal Year, it is fitting for me to speak about the steps that my office will be taking to strengthen the administration of justice system in Ekiti State. Indeed this occasion provides an opportunity to present a vision for the justice sector in Ekiti State.
May I therefore grave your indulgence My Lords for additional time to make this presentation.
6) You may all remember that between the period of 2010 to 2014, Ekiti State witnessed an era of far reaching reforms in the justice sector. Some of our interventions include:
• The publication of a clear programme of action for the justice sector
• Undertaking a facelift and refurbishment of the Ministry of Justice including purchase of furniture as part of our vision of enabling an affirming work environment.
• Investing in initiatives to reduce crime and achieve effective coordination and collaboration among criminal justice agencies by providing leadership to a Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster.
• Enacting a number of justice sector legislation, including: the Equal Opportunities Law, Law Reform Commission Law, Right of Persons Living with HIV/ AIDS Law, Arbitration Law, Magistrates Court Law and we had planned to implement the biggest changes to court and criminal procedure since the creation of Ekiti State by the introduction of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law. On this Ekiti State was only the second state in Nigeria so do so at that time.
• We introduced a Register for Sex offenders for the first time in Nigeria;
• We published our Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Victims of Crime and Published a Prosecutors Guidelines;
• We launched a Computer Appreciation Programme for Staff -Lawyers and Non- Lawyers alike;
• Re-launched and upgraded the MOJ website;
• Inaugurated a quarterly Attorney- General’s Colloquium on Law and Justice;
• Revived the Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy;
• We appointed Legal Advisers to Ministries, Departments and Parastalals;
• Implemented a case tracking system for inmates in Ado-Ekiti Prisons;
7) We did not confine ourselves to the Ministry of Justice, our then administration made appreciable interventions in support of the judiciary while not forgetting the important role of the magistracy in the administration of justice. Also our administration within its limited resources supported the prisons service and the police to achieve their mandates.
8) Ekiti State was then the hub for progressive reform interventions in Nigeria. I must add that it was these interventions that led to an influx of investors and international development partners in the State with an improved rating of Ekiti State in the World Bank Doing Business in Nigeria rating.
9) That was four years ago. It is trite knowledge that a lot has changed since then. Undertaking an analysis of where we were and where we are now is for historians. What is beyond doubt today is that the task before the Fayemi administration is enormous. Specifically, we will have to reexamine the justice sector in a critical way and enable practical interventions that meet the expectations of justice sector stakeholders.
10) We have identified a number of interventions in this regard:
First, our charity must begin at home in the Ministry of Justice. We will continue from where we stopped in 2014 to build up the capabilities and competencies that officers will need to meet present day challenges in Ekiti State and beyond.
11) The Ministry of Justice has excellent officers among its ranks. I continue to be deeply impressed by their dedication and commitment to public service. I can state with confidence that the quality of work that State Counsel produce is just as good as what top lawyers in the private sector produce.
12) Our officers have been able to produce quality work across varied fields of law even in the face of daunting challenges including poor accommodation, limited material and financial support. Indeed the only way to explain the sterling work they are doing is to say that they have fully committed themselves to mastering their calling for the public interest.
13) It is my view that we should not take this commitment for granted. Therefore I will be proposing a number of interventions to Mr. Governor in Council over the next one month. First, there is a need for a new office complex for the Ministry of Justice. The place we work is as important as the work we do. We have identified an uncompleted building in the state secretariat and I will ensure that the ideal new building for the Ministry of Justice is included in the 2019 budget.
14) Secondly, we will focus strongly on continuous training and development. One of my roles as Attorney- General is to bring the best out of our excellent officers, now and in the future, and to develop them to the best of their abilities. With this in mind, I will shortly announce the establishment of a Ministry of Justice Academy, which will be an in-house unit, dedicated towards continuous learning and development within the Ministry of Justice.
15) The Academy will be mandated to develop a complete suite of programmes for the Ministry of Justice officers at all levels. The Academy’s focus will be to develop the professional skills and leadership abilities of our officers in a structured manner. All our legal officers, regardless of seniority, will receive best-in-house training in areas such as advocacy, advisory work, contract drafting and also client engagement.
16) For added measure we will explore the possibilities of attaching our officers to reputable private law chambers and commercial organisations, so they can benefit from first-hand private sector experience, and gain new skills and an understanding of commercial realities. We will also vigorously pursue international training programmes within the limited resources available to us.
17) We will not forget our non-legal staff that forms the backbone of Ministry of Justice. They will receive dedicated training, using a competency framework designed specifically to develop their professional skills.
18) Thirdly, on the issue of funding for the Ministry. The current unenviable state of our justice institutions undoubtedly places a responsibility on the state government to rethink its current investment in the justice system and to decide whether it is adequate or not. The issue of limited funding is one that the Ministry of Justice shares with other MDAs.
19) However, the practice of our lawyers paying for witnesses to come to court has now become the norm. To ask state counsel who are owed up to five month’s salary to use their savings in support of the state justice process is as unfair as it is unsustainable. There is a need to urgently address this issue. While it is our lawyers that are carrying the burden, it is my view that the solution lies in the constructive engagement of the judiciary. We need to agree on practical measures that will lift this burden from my office.
20) Given the urgency of the situation and the need to ensure that solutions are included in the 2019 budget, I will in the next couple of days present a proposal to the Chief Judge of the State for the purpose of presenting a joint memo to the State government.
21) Our intervention is not limited to the Ministry of Justice. We are concerned about the judiciary. As a starting point we will do more to improve our relationship with the judiciary. I am most times amused at some of the misunderstandings that sometimes come up between State Counsel and the Judiciary.
22) During my previous tenure, I had sought to make the point that we are victims of a system that is not only struggling with limited resources in its entire ramification but also one that has does not see the justice sector as a crucial component of development. Our people see dividends of democracy only in terms of infrastructure, heath care, education and the like. The justice sector is an invincible institution in the eyes of our people. I have not seen any politician that has won votes on promises to build more courts or improve the conditions of service of judges and government lawyers.
23) This must be the realization that should determine our relationship. From the Ministry of Justice and I dare say from the Bar, what we request are courtesy, cooperation and respect between the Bench and Bar. There is a need for an open and clear continuous dialogue between the Bench and the Bar on the state of administration of justice. There should be between us a Conspiracy for Self-development.
24) It must be obvious to us that we need to literally be our brother’s keeper with our eyes set on concrete outcomes. The career progression of our Judges is an issue is this regard. There is no doubt that Ekiti State is blessed with some of the finest judges in the country. Judges who can hold themselves in any area they are called to serve. It must then be a source of concern that we have not in recent times witnessed elevation of our judges to the Court of Appeal or International tribunals.
24) I am well aware of the politics of judicial elevation as the politicization of appointments to international tribunals. We now have an opportunity to reset the clock. We must not allow the opportunity of having an urbane and internationally exposed Governor, and our reality that one of us is now the Solicitor-
General of the Federation to pass us by. Added these to the realization that our sons are some of the finest lawyers in Nigeria today we are all come to the same realization. We have to use what we have to get what we want.
25) I have been directed by Mr. Governor to announce on this occasion, the determination of his government to strengthen the judiciary. Government is well aware of the debate around financial autonomy. Achieving a financially independent judiciary is not a favor done to the judiciary but an important step in realizing access to justice for the people of Ekiti State. Financial autonomy is not an abstract concept. It is important that to have a constructive dialogue on its practical implications. I am committed to facilitating a dialogue with the judiciary on this matter and I want to respectfully invite the judiciary to work with me in this regard.
26) May I also use this opportunity to announce the decision of government to support the use of the new high court complex before the end of this year. I have met with My Lord the Chief Judge and I look forward to receiving proposals on additional works that is required to make the complex confortable for Judge, Lawyers and litigants alike.
27) I wish to pay my respects to the Magistrates in Ekiti State. Our commitment to improving the quality and conditions of service of the magistracy is as strong as the first term of our administration. The enactment of the Magistrates Court Law as well as the purchase of Cars was important intervention in the magistracy during our first term. My office is reviewing the magistrate’s court law with a view to making implementation proposals for the information of the judiciary and for the consideration of Mr. Governor in Council. This review also includes a holistic appraisal of additional measures that are required to strengthen the capacity of the magistracy so that they can continue to remain a relevant and trusted institution in securing the rule of law in Ekiti State for the next four years and beyond.
28) It now remains for me to extend a hand of cooperation to the branches of the Nigerian Bar Association. I hope that my office will continue to enjoy the cordial and respectful relationship that exists with the Bar. May I use this opportunity to say that we need the support of the bar in the implementation of our various justice sector reform initiatives.
29) Before the end of this quarter, my office will initiate discussions on a number of initiatives. In the area of law reform, we will among others, require your input into a proposed Administration of Civil Justice Bill. For us reforms of our civil justice system are not simply a matter of law reform but an essential component of the strategy of the Fayemi administration to encourage local and foreign investment. We will be proposing amendments to the Child Rights Law. In particular we are concerned about what appears to be an increase the crime of defilement in Ekiti State. We are determined to ensure that Ekiti state is not the Defilement State of Nigeria.
30) May I also add that we will immediately reopen our Sex Offenders Register. We will be sending a list of the names of all convicted sex offenders to the leaders of their communities within and outside Ekiti State including posting same on the Ministry of Justice Website. This is in furtherance of our resolve to strengthen the administrations Zero tolerance policy for violence against women.
31) We are proposing an Anti- Land grabbing Bill. This is a response to the increasing incidents of land grabbing across the state. We also want to re-examine our Arbitration Law including whether we need to establish separate tracks for out of court settlement, which offers alternative dispute resolution methods for minor cases.
32) Quite aside from law reform we will require the support of the bar in our effort to fight crime in Ekiti State. We need your support in ensuring that criminals know that they will tried and properly convicted and sentenced for any crime that they commit. The legal profession in Ekiti State has a crucial role to play in guaranteeing this degree of predictability.
33) I will soon meet with all the branches in the State with a view to providing greater clarity on these initiatives and specific areas of collaboration including with the judiciary particularly on the idea of publishing web based judgments of the High Court of Ekiti State.
34) In conclusion I wish to reiterate my commitment to the strengthening of the justice sector. I want to reemphasize my call for cooperation among all justice sector stakeholders and may I wish us all a healthy and productive legal year.
Honourable Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice Ekiti State
30 October, 2018.