By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
The Honourable Attorney-General/Commissioner of Justice, Nasarawa State, Assoc. Prof. Abdulkarim Abubakar Kana, in this interview with few selected Journalists in his office in Lafia, beard his mind on the challenges hindering the efficiency of criminal Justice system, how the ministry saw to the lifting of garnishee order on the state government’s account and the role of the ministry in averting legal tussle between the government and individuals among sundry issues bordering the state. Excerpt.
Considering the role of your ministry in administering justice, how will you assess the performance of your ministry in 2020?
2020 wasn’t really a good year. We started well with a lot of speed by first ensuring that we put together all our strategic plans for the year 2020 to 2023 which was approved by the governor, and our annual plan also was put in place. We had our targets but, part of the work we were supposed to have done in 2020 was to make sure that we decongest our diary that has as many of our cases as possible. Also, to see that as many bills and laws needed to make governance in the state more effective and efficient are also prepared and sent to the house of assembly for passage. And the ones which are supposed to be addressed through executive orders are set to his Excellency the governor
Towards all these, we started with speed and heading towards attaining our objectives before the unfortunate global pandemic of the COVID-19 came and slowed down our progress. So I will say that while we started well, we had clear objectives, we had constraints. I would say that we have done very well in 2020, bearing the obvious challenges. I won’t say that we are satisfied but we’ve done well.
The State House of Assembly has passed some bills into laws, and one of such is child right law and the anti-rape law and host of others, which the State Governor has accented into some of these bills. How much importance has the government placed on the implementation of these laws?
I will start by saying thanking you for having me. Before I go on to say something, we need to set the record straight. The Nasarawa State House of Assembly didn’t pass any fresh law, the child right law being implemented is a child right law of Nasarawa State 2005, which had not been put to use and had not been implemented since its passage in 2005.
So, what His Excellency, the Governor of Nasarawa State, Engr. Abdullahi Sule did in 2020 was to issue an executive order, which now direct for the full implementation of the Child Right Law 2005. So, it is an existing law, it wasn’t recently passed by the State House of Assembly.
Now for the second issue you raised about anti-rape law, there is no separate ant-rape law that has been passed yet, what we did was to implement in full the Child Right Law of which, part of the provision within the law is the provisions regarding relating to rape of children of person under age and which imposes life imprisonment on the offenders.
The only other law closest to what you have said which the State Assembly passed is violent against persons law of Nasarawa State which also has provision on rape of women, which include children and adult women, and of course, imposes life imprisonment on offenders. So, this is the clarification we need to make so that we understand where and how the law are.
So, those laws as it is, are now in full implementation and as the Ministry of Justice, we are trying our best to see that the Police also, which work together with us all the times put together the charges that these laws are implemented and of course, an individual who commit such acts are properly charged under these laws.
Would you say, you are satisfied with how the administration of justice are carried out in this State?
Well! That is a difficult question, it is a difficult one because we are doing ours, but the efficiency of criminal justice system is a function of many arms and different sectors that must work together in consonant, and the infrastructure also has to be conducive and the environment also must be ready and prepare to cooperate with also these sectors that are trying to carry out their functions.
In the implementation of these laws, we are bound to face challenges and some of these challenges are reasons I would say, I am not too satisfied, yet, with the level of implementations, because some of these obstacles on the way, some of these obstacles are cultural in nature, social in nature, some of them are environmental, some of them are infrastructural and some of them have to do with some of the exhibitors, some of the defects in the laws, because you need to begin the implementation of the laws before you know its weakness. And for the ones that has to do with the laws, we are working consistently to see that where we are having some of these problems, we identify them. So that we begin to make appropriate proposal to the State House of Assembly for amendment of the sections that are not working or we are finding it difficult to implement.
The aspect of infrastructure, you will see as much as possible more judges are being appointed, so that we can take on most of these cases as many as we can and then more court are being built. And some have being function recently. Infrastructures for the judiciary is being expanded. This are done to ensure access to justice and efficiency in the administration of justice in the state.
The challenge that we have, which we are unable to correct immediately is that of the social factors, the communities, the people themselves who in most cases do not consider most of these things the law says are offences, they do not consider it as serious offences.
For a case against a child for example you are very likely to see whole traditional ruler or a religious leader coming to interven or to plead on behalf of the defendant or try to interfere in the course of the investigation or proceedings. So, these are the some of the challenges we face and as it is right now it is directly imparting negatively on our ability to efficient in the administration of justice. A classical instance is where you find out the issue of the witnesses are being intimidated or the witnesses are being admonish to forgive and forget when such cases are perpetrated against them for a case as serious as rape.
Information has it that, the State Government has started prosecution of the suspected killers of the former State APC Chairman. Can you tell us the progress you have made so far on this issue?
The progress we have made so far is part of the police and that is why when we were interviewed during our first appearance in court on this matter, I said we need to congratulate our police force in Nasarawa State and I can assure you the reason why many people in the State can sleep with their eyes closed in full is because the police are working and we have so much work to do here in the Ministry of Justice, you can see from my desk the volume of files is because the police are working. If the police are not working according to law, firstly the criminals would not have been apprehended, it means I won’t have work to do and there won’t be any case to prosecute and nobody would have peace on the streets.
Secondly, If the Police are not working according to the law, they would arrest them and they would extrajudicial acts on the field, waste them or something, which is contrary to law and we won’t have work to do here.
The fact that we are constantly getting input or work to do from the Police, cases that have been properly investigated and completed and the files comes to us prosecute, goes to show that the Police in Nasarawa State are effective and efficient, and are relatively carrying out their duties according to law.
For the murders and killers of our amiable former chairman of the APC, Chief Tateri Shekwo, the Police made a breakthrough and made initial arrest of quite a number of suspects and at the course of the investigation, some of them are found to be connected to the suspect, but not connected to the crime, and for those individuals who are connected to the suspect either as relatives or friends or being at the wrong place at the wrong time investigation is still on to ascertain exactly their level of involvement. But there are cogent suspect who made confessional statement, for those individuals we have also arraigned them before the State High Court I, and they were arraigned and were given a date to hear their plea. Mainly because some of them on the day of the agreement had no legal representation and the court had to give them appropriate order that they should be given a chance to obtain service of Lawyers to defend them or for legal aid council to send a representation on their behalf. So, this is where we are regarding the individuals that were arraigned in court.
So, how many do you have that are not connected with the issue?
For the moment, the police are still working on investigation, I cannot tell you for sure the outcome. We have arraigned five persons and then, an additional person has not been apprehended. The information we now have we cannot just jump into convicting someone on camera. This last one that was recently apprehended from the information that we have is the one that is more directly connected to the offence.
So, the police is still trying to gather more facts from what it has to determine the level of each of them. While we continue to push on with our prosecution. The case was adjourned for them to get their plea.
Recently, the state government closed down some businesses, including Access bank for defaulting tax payment, the garnishee of the state government’s accounts, and the instance where some individuals dragged the state government to court for breaching contractual agreement. Can you share how the ministry stepped in, in resolving these issues?
The issue of Access bank has to do with withholding taxes and by law, banks are mandated to collect and remit from customers and to the government. What we call withholding tax which is imposed by law. It was a liability that arose before Access bank took over the Diamond bank. It is a legacy liability from Diamond bank which Access bank inherited from Diamond bank, which was not resolved up to a point where the state government had to take steps to enforce payments. And the process of enforcement also led to the closure of the bank following the grant of the order by the judge, who is sitting here with us right now, the judge of the revenue court. The bank had to be distraint, and the law is that once there is distrain, it won’t be reopened unless they pay. They have commenced payment, we reached certain agreements for installment payment and I think they are in the process of completion of their payments now and once that payment is completed, we do not have issues with them anymore.
As to cases against the government, they grow every day. Government is the biggest businessman in the country, and the bigger the business man, the more he becomes a target for potential litigants. So, it’s not any big deal at all when the government gets sued. On our part as ministry of justice, we are like the planetary defenders, working behind the curtain all the time to ensure that we avert some of those cases where possible, and the ones that eventually become cases, we defend them as much as we can. As to breaches of contractual obligations, in many cases those are allegations and of course, we usually meet in court to sort it out.
On the issue of the garnishee of the state’s account, that happens. You win some cases and you lose some. However, we won many cases in 2020, we won a lot more than we lost. The few that we lost, we sometimes go on appeal, and of course during the process, there are what we call legal technical hiccups, which may create a room for the individuals to attempt to garnish our account. So, they froze our account temporarily. The state government’s account between July and August 2020 was frozen for nearly 25 days, following an application by some individuals who claimed that they had judgment against the state. We challenged it and the court found merit in our arguments and agreed to our objection to that order. So they set aside the order and our accounts were unfrozen.
How many cases are there in courts against the government or vis-a-vis?
At the moment we have over 2,000 cases against and for Nasarawa state. Some we are suing, some are suing us. Most of the ones we are suing are criminal cases and they are in their hundreds. Revenue cases are close to a thousand and then civil cases also are in hundreds. So, we have close to three thousand cases right now for and against the state. For the criminal cases, the government is also the prosecutor, so we are the ones taking the criminals to court, and you can see that we are doing that on a daily basis across the 143 courts in the state. And, for the civil cases, sometimes people sue. Most of the cases are gamble, like I earlier said, government is the biggest business man in the country. Sometimes people sue the government hoping they will get lucky, sometimes they get lucky, due to a lot of technicalities and cracks in the system which enables them to have their way, but they always get caught up at a point. So, we get sued sometimes, and like I said, the revenue case are in thousands, cutting across the whole state between the revenue court in Lafia and the revenue court in mararaba in Karu Local Government, individuals who tried to avoid payment or remind taxes, we move against them.
How much are we looking at, the accruing amount of defaulters of taxes?
Well, I haven’t taking time to do a computation of cost of amount out there that are yet to be recovered, but am sure the state internal revenue board has the data, because they usually provide us with facts and names of individuals/organisations who are defaulting.
Nasarawa state was created from Benue/Plateau, it must have inherited some laws which are still applicable in present times, what is your ministry doing to annul some of these laws and create more to match the current realities?
Sometimes you do not embark on legislative adventure just for the sake of it. However, for some of the laws, aside from the fact that they were inherited, there is also a need for amendment, either they have overstayed their usefulness and require rebranding or reform. We have taken some steps, and many of them are being rebranded and reformed. For the ones that we believe or we think that there’s no need to hurry, it’s just for the names to be changed, we have retained them and they are working well. We are taking them one after the other so that we do not end up with antiquated legislation that is not effective anymore.
The constitution provides for separation of power between the executive, legislature and the judiciary, how effective is that in Nasarawa state, and how is the relationship between the arms of government?
The legislature is the state house of assembly, the executive, headed by his Excellency governor Abdullahi Sule, and the judiciary. We are working in consonance to ensure proper governance in the state. When we talk of governance, with reference to expectation of government service from these arms, not just the executives. So, when the government fails, it is all of them that have failed together.
In order to concretize and solidify the relationship between us, if you remember 30th of September and 1st of October 2020, the government convened what we called The Summit Of Arms in the state, where all the three arms of government converged and we discussed and robbed minds and areas of challenges in our relationship, and some recommendations were made to ensure we move on and improve on our relationship. And I can assure you that some of the recommendations that were made, implementation has commenced in full. The work between these arms of government has become even smoother after the summit of arms.
One thing you must understand about the separation of power is that it is both vertical and horizontal. When you talk of vertical separation of power that is between the arms, also, we have the tiers of government, the federal, state and the local government. So, Nasarawa here, the government has ensured local government enjoys its full autonomy, in terms of managing its own resources and affairs. I can assure you that we are working directly with the tiers and other arms of government.
Let me take you back to your 2020 records where series of rape cases were recorded in the state, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, where do you think the problem lies, and what is the government doing to curb such act?
What the government can do is to ensure that those found guilty are prosecuted. We have the Child’s Rights Law of 2005, which was domesticated in Nasarawa state by his Excellency, Engr Abdullahi Sule in 2020, through an executive order. The Violence Against Persons Law also has provision for rape and it ascribes life imprisonment for defaulter.
However, there are certain crimes that are as a result of a collapse in the social values of our people, and to address them will also require some form of value change in the way we think, the way we act, the way we behave and interact with one another in the society. The view and customs of many of our people about the place of the woman, the value of a woman, I think it’s partly why the cases of rape are on the rise. And until we begin to see and accept that women are our mothers, and we stop looking at women as mere commodities or sources of amusement, then we will continue to have these problems.
The challenge that we have which we are yet to correct is that of the social factor, the communities, the people themselves who in most cases do not consider some of The these things that the law says are offenses, they do not consider it serious enough. And, for an offense against a child for example, you are very likely to see a whole traditional ruler or religious leader coming to intervene or to plead on behalf of the defendant or try to interfere at the curse of investigation or the course of criminal proceedings. A practical instance is where witnesses are either being intimidated, or the witnesses are being admonished by traditional arm or religious leaders to forgive and forget.
The religious leaders have a major role to play, let them preach less of poverty and prosperity and preach more on values. Many religious places you go today only preach about how you are going to make money, while paying less attention to social values.
Many young people who engage in crime do not even understand that their actions are wrong because they come from a society where attention is not paid to ensure they understand and assimilate some of these problems to know that they are serious offenses in the eye of the law and before God.
So, unless we begin to pay more attention to social values, to the need for people to be more disciplined, then, I think we are in for it. The law has a limitation whether we like it or not.
There are insinuations in some quarters that you’re eyeing the seat of the State House of Assembly in your constituency in 2023, given the number of projects you have embarked in your area. How true is that?
I am a technocrat as you can see and I try to be professional in everything thing I do. As to politics, am not sure, I don’t know, I am a person who believes strongly in divine providence, and as I work, I do not chat a path for myself, anywhere the wind blows or the path of Almighty Allah, I move towards that direction. So I can’t tell you anything about politics or whether I have have plans or not, I wait for God to speak to me and from time to time he does.