Keyamo outlines radical judicial reforms if appointed Nigeria’s attorney-general

Festus Keyamo
Festus Keyamo

Nigerian lawyer, Festus Keyamo, has promised to ‘unbundle’ the Supreme Court and decongest Nigerian prisons if he is made the next Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) or Minister of Justice.

He made the promise while fielding questions from senators at the screening of the ministerial nominees on Friday.

Mr Keyamo, who was the spokesperson of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign organisation in the last general election, was one of the 43 ministers sent in as nominees by the president.

Mr Keyamo answered questions ranging from the workings of the Supreme Court to the many existing political parties.

When asked the major reforms he will like to see in the justice sector, he said he is prepared to work in any sector the president dims fit ”but if made the Attorney General of the Federation, he will work with the idea of 3Ds”.

The ‘Ds’, are the decongestion of the Supreme Court, decongestion of the prisons and decongestion of courts across the country ”and that will be the courts linked directly to speedy trials”.

“I will unbundle the Supreme Court. I will decongest the cases that go up to the Supreme Court, that will be my first task.

“Our Supreme Court is the busiest Supreme Court (in the world). The kinds of cases that go up to our Supreme Court are scandalous, appeals dealing with frivolous matters.

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“I think this country is big enough now to have six regional Supreme Courts where appeals coming from those regions will end there. Land matters, contract matters, marriage and all of that.

“As the Supreme Court is designed today, you won’t believe that a case of assault, ‘I slap you, you slap me’, goes up to the Supreme Court and (will) be lining up with political and constitutional matters to be heard – which is why cases in Supreme Court have been pending for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

He further explained that the diary of the Supreme Court right now, ”is filled up till 2022”.

“You cannot get a date at the Supreme Court now till 2022 except political cases. We need regional Supreme Courts so the one in Abuja can only attend to constitutional and political matters.”

Mr Keyamo promised to press for legislation to unbundle and restructure the Supreme Court.

He said Nigerian prisons are full, thus he will push to give magistrate courts the power to grant bails.

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“There have been provisions to canvass the decongestion of cells in our prisons. Every police station in police stations should open their cells to any magistrate court close by to explain why suspects have been arrested. Not keeping them unnecessarily for long.

“People wrongly arrested are part of the reasons why cells and prisons are congested…instead of sending them to remand, the magistrate should be able to call for proof of evidence at that stage,” he said.

‘Mushroom’ parties

When asked his view on the existence of so many “mushroom” parties on the ballot paper (in the last election), he said there was a need to “strike a balance to open up political space on everyone.”

According to him, for new political parties to be registered, ”they must show capacity”.

“Until you win the governorship election, you cannot contest for the presidency. Until you win councillorship, you cannot run for senate,” he said.

The former activist also said he can balance activism and governance.

“Activism is not when you buy an android phone and begin to insult people on social media.

“Activism is not when you go about burning cars in the name of demonstration. That is nonsense. Real activists are the legislators, they are the people in government,” he said.

Delta senator, James Manager, thereafter, moved that the nominee take a bow and go.

He described Mr Keyamo as fit for the position. “It is obvious that we need to separate the office of the AGF from that of the minister of justice.”

On his part, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said Delta is (not) in contention. “He did extremely well.”

Mr Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, then took a bow and left the chamber.

Keyamo vs Malami

Mr Keyamo’s radical reform plans if appointed attorney-general differ from the conservative stance of Abubakar Malami, the immediate past attorney-general.

For the four years Mr Malami was justice minister, he made no step to implement any of the reforms Mr Keyamo spoke about on Friday.

Mr Malami had, also, during his ministerial screening justified the continued detention of individuals despite court orders. He argued that state security should always trounce individual security whether or not the court thinks otherwise.

One of Messrs Malami or Keyamo is expected to be appointed attorney-general.

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