The Nigeria Law Reforms Commission (NLRC) is currently carrying out, the much needed revision of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), comprising Acts of Parliament, pronouncements of the courts and international treaties Nigeria is signatory to. In this interview, chairman of the commission, Mr. Kefas Musa Magaji explains why he set a target of August 2018 to present the updated LFN. Magaji, who is serving a second term as head of NLRC, also speaks on how useful an updated compendium of laws will be to Nigeria running more efficient systems.
By Kemi Yesufu
Why is the Federal Government so keen on reforming the laws of the country?
The mandate of this commission is to reform the laws of the federation, to keep them updated in terms of content, form so that the laws will remain in tune with the society since society is dynamic. The laws also need to meet up with the challenges of modern reality. So, our main responsibility is to look at the laws as they are to see what the challenges are and how to effect changes. The development of ICT like in the banking sector where you can now deposit in one branch and withdraw from another branch make it imperative for laws to be reviewed and updated. It is incumbent therefore for laws to catch up with developments thrown up by the ICT. That is what we do in all sectors of society.
In law reform, you deal with the substance of the law. For instance, investors, local and foreign must be able to do their business profitably and possibly repatriate their profits or source funds for their operations. So, they should be confident that the legal climate is safe enough. Therefore, when we are looking at these laws, we also take into consideration, not only local peculiarities, but also international dimensions. First port of call is commonwealth, with which we share historical antecedents and origin of laws and process of law making. From there to non-commonwealth countries. Law reform and law making take a long time and is also expensive, so in reforming laws, we don’t always think of now but also future. There are laws that were made before independence that are still applicable today. It is for that reason that we need to do elaborate research so that we come up with reforms that will meet current and future needs as much as possible for any particular sector or industry. Apart from our mandate of reforming all federal laws, we also on request, assist states with their law reforms.
When we come to law revision, which is the focus of our immediate task now, it is essentially different from reform in that we only update existing laws in the context of consolidating the laws. By tradition, we do law revision every ten years. But the last set of laws that are operational is the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The first one in Nigeria was done in 1958, we never had another one until 1990, after that was this one of 2004, which is the current one. Our mandate now is to produce Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2018. Actually, the 2004 document covered laws updated as at December 2002, so laws made from January 2003 till date are not in the current volume of laws of the federation. So, you can discover laws that have been amended once or twice since then by the National Assembly or pronouncement of the court. So, in law revision, we take only the particular parts that are amended, then go to the main text, delete the old version, and insert the new provisions so that if you pick the text of a law, you now have the law and amendments that have been made. As at now, if you pick a law, you wouldn’t know the sections that have been amended because it is the original text and version as of 2004 that you will see. But in law revision, we will produce a clean copy with all the amendments.
There are also subsidiary legislations, also known as delegated legislation as empowered by the National Assembly, made by Government Departments, Agencies and Parastatals and so many other stakeholders, we now bring in all these amendments and produce a clean copy. These are compiled to make part of the body of the laws. For instance if you pick the NAFDAC Law, you will also be able to see the subsidiary laws. This holistic approach is useful to industry stakeholders.
When courts declare certain provisions as invalid or amend them, they do not go to libraries to add those pronouncements to the law books, so it is at times like this that we identify those gaps and produce the current laws as they are. We produce the laws as they are, we don’t add opinion; we don’t add even a comma or any other thing if it represents the clear intention of the law; although we are permitted to correct grammatical errors. We can also tamper with renumbering of sections or parts of the law in instances where the older numbering is clumsy in view of recent amendments, without touching the substance of the law. We can also introduce divisions to make the law clearer.
Any specific area of priority given by the President upon your appointment?
I answer this by reminding you that government printers no longer produce sufficient gazettes for the Nigerian public. In the absence of the official gazettes, you find vendors hawking incorrect versions of various laws. For instance, the Evidence Act of 2011 has different versions on the streets, such that you don’t know which one is authentic. Even justices of the Supreme Court have been confronted with situations where lawyers appear before them with different versions of the laws of the country. But the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, which we are about to produce will become the reference point as the authentic version.
A good example is the 12 Federal Universities established by the Jonathan Administration. Their laws have not been gazetted. It is this kind of problem that makes government to mandate us to do this exercise. One of the problems we had before was that government set up ad-hoc committees to review these laws, but when their tenures expired, they were not bound by law to come and explain their work. But as an institution, we are always available to explain what we have done. What we are doing now is to develop software that will accommodate all previous works and amendments to give us a complete set of laws. We even expect academic input from universities based on their own research and works to enable us carry all stakeholders along.
Have you enjoyed the support of Ministries, States and Departments which are going to be using reformed laws as guidelines and for other purposes?
I must start by commending the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, who supervises us. From day one, the Attorney General was very willing to assist us. He recommended our proposals to the President and the President gave the approval for us to do the assignment. Although it is our mandate, it is gratifying that the Attorney General did not hinder our work and we have been getting the best of cooperation from him. In the next two weeks, we will tidy up the research process and go to the next phase.
So, can Nigerians expect that you will meet your August deadline?
I have given myself a target of August this year, by which time I will submit this document to the government. I have told my staff and every consultant that there are timelines towards this date. If they don’t complete the assignment, I will take over their jobs and ask another team to handle them.
Aside from the support shown you and your team, by the Attorney General of the Federation, what other ways can the Federal Government back you for timely delivery on this assignment?
This exercise has shown me that our record keeping in this country is not very good, so the agencies we expect to have authentic copies of certain laws, to our greatest surprise, we don’t get these copies from them. So, I wonder where else we will get the correct law and that is a great challenge. There certainly is a need for us to work on our record keeping processes. When laws are passed by the National Assembly and accented to by the President, there should be places where one can easily get authentic copies of these laws from, but it is not so. This lapse encourages private printers to circulate any version available to them, even incorrect ones, because people want to have these laws to guide whatever they are doing. You go to Government press, the gazettes are not there. There is a need for the Government printers to be activated so that the gazettes will be easily available.
Although your mandate is to review all laws, which aspect of our national life do you think deserves more attention now?
In law revision, you don’t take it sector by sector. In the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, we have 663 laws and we are working on all of them. The laws made by the National Assembly from 2002 till date are not there and we will make sure they are included in the current version we are working on. So, it is not like we revise one component and leave out another, we have to produce the entire set of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. My opinion only comes in, if we are talking of law reform. Some of the laws were made during the Military era when we had Supreme Military Council or Armed Forces Ruling Council. We shall revise these to read National Assembly as have been amended. For instance, some confirmation processes for government appointees used to be by House of Representatives and Senate, but now, it is only done by Senate. Some of these things need to be tidied up.
At what point will you start law reform?
The Attorney General of the Federation, being the chief law officer of the country, can refer to us laws that are due for reform in line with the need of the government at the particular time.
If he looks at the laws and finds out that there are the ones that can inhibit that particular government’s programmes, he can refer them to us for reform. For instance, the Attorney General has referred to us, the Code of Conduct Bureau Act and another law on foreign exchange. We can also, on our initiative, identify laws that need to be reformed. Besides, since we are a service agency and do not generate funds, we await budgetary allocations to carry out reforms and most times as directed by government for particular reforms. By the way, we hold workshops where our reform propositions are articulated and debated by experts and stakeholders, and practitioners of that area of law. We now build up on this and provide a draft that is transmitted to the National Assembly for eventual passage. That is how law reform is done.