The immediate past Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on Friday justified the continued detention of high-profile individuals despite court orders which granted them bail.
The Federal Government had in the last four years refused to obey the court orders that granted bail to the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and a former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd), both of whom were arrested in 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari had while speaking at the 2018 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Abuja, in August 2018 said the rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.
But Malami, while being screened by the Senate as a ministerial nominee on Friday said Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) made provisions for the public interest to take preference to private interest.
He said the high-profile individuals remained in detention in public interest.
He said, “I concede as argued by the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), that a Minister of Justice and Attorney General as stipulated by sections 36, 37 and 39 of the constitution, is supposed to protect the rights of any citizen from being violated even by the state, but where such rights conflict with the public interest, the latter overrides the former.
“The Office of the AGF has exclusive responsibility to uphold the public interest above personal interest of anybody.”
He explained further by citing the ruling of Supreme Court in Federal Government vs Asari Dokubo where on the grounds of public interest, the court refused him bail.
While Dasuki had been in detention at the instance of the Federal Government since December 2015 on alleged corrupt practices, El-Zakzaky and his wife had been detained by the Department of State Services since December 2015 for alleged treasonable offences.
Malami told the lawmakers that there should be deep-rooted collaboration between the executive and the legislature for bills passed by the latter to enjoy the assent of the executive.
He said, “The absence of collaboration and cooperation between the legislature and the executive accounted for high rate of bills rejection by the Presidency from the last (National) Assembly. For such not to repeat itself during the current ninth National Assembly, the culture of deep-rooted collaboration between the two arms of government has to be put in place.
“The culture of collaboration between the two arms has to be demonstrated right from the stage of conception or formulation of a bill to the level of public hearing and eventual passage.”
He pointed out that the rejection of the Petroleum Industry Bill by the President in the Eighth Assembly was because of some self-serving provisions that would empower individuals and compromise the interest of the host communities.
He said, “The public interest element of the role of the President requires that the public interest should be factored more than individual interest; that was fundamentally the reason among others it was not assented to by the President at the time it was transmitted.”
Malami, while addressing the Senate at the committee of the whole, chaired by the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan, enjoined the ninth Assembly to involve all parties to a bill from its conception till it’s transmitted to the President for assent.
Expressing his reservation about the volume of rejected bills by the executive, Lawan said it cost the nation and the legislature huge resources to pass a bill and transmit same to the President for assent.
He, however, urged senators who are joining the executive to canvass more support for presidential assent to the bills from the National Assembly.