By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim
On 13th September 2023, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Governor of Lagos State sworn-in 36 Commissioners that will work with him in the next four years. Among the new Commissioners is Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN who is to serve as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. Prior to his appointment as the Attorney-General, Mr. Pedro has been in active private practice since 2015 after retiring from the Lagos State Ministry of Justice from where he rose through the rank from being a State Counsel and moved gradually and steadily to the position of the Solicitor General and the Permanent Secretary of the same Ministry.
Starting from the bottom of any establishment, move to the top, retire and later return to head such establishment is a rare privilege that was achieved by Mr. Lawal Pedro SAN within almost the period of four decades or 36 years to be precise. It was within that period that he was conferred with the prestigious rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in the Legal Profession and being the first to be so conferred in any State Ministry of Justice in the Federation .The story of Mr. Lawal Muhammed Alade Pedro should be an inspiring one for the young and upcoming lawyers particularly those in the Ministry of Justice whether at the State or Federal level.
The position of Attorney General whether at the Federal or State level is a very powerful one in any government as it is about the only Ministerial or Commissionership position specifically mentioned and assigned roles in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. It is so powerful that the holder of that position was once described in 1983 by the Supreme Court in the case of STATE Vs. ILORI per Kayode Eso (JSC of blessed) as “a master unto himself, law unto himself”. A call to any lawyer to be appointed as Attorney-General is a call to great service to the nation. Many great lawyers in the history of the legal profession have been called upon to serve as the Attorneys-General of the Federation or that of a State, the position is combined with the Minister/Commissioner for Justice at the federal or state level. At the national level we have had prominent lawyers like Dr. Taslim Elias who served in that position both under civilian and military regimes. Elias later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria and thereafter the first African President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Great legal Luminaries such as Hon. Justice Augustine Nnamani, Mr. Kehinde Sofola (SAN), Judge Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), Chief Bola Ige (SAN) all of blessed memories among others were at one time or the other holders of that position. We recently had Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) who was just succeeded by the incumbent Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).
Chief F.R.A. Williams (SAN) and Hon. Justice Mamman Nasir also respectively served in that capacities in the old Western and Northern Regions, while the likes of Alhaji Aliyu Salman (SAN), Professor A. B. Kasumu (SAN), Mrs. Hairat Balogun (Life Bencher), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Chief Awa U. Kalu (SAN), Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), Mr. Salmon Jawondo (SAN) and Mr. Sulaiman Usman (SAN) among many more lawyers too numerous to mention have at one time or the other served as the Attorney-General of their respective States. While working as a lawyer in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mr. Pedro worked with and under many great legal luminaries that eventually found themselves on the judicial bench of the various hierarchies of courts and made remarkable impacts in their services to the nation and the legal profession in particular.
When the former Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) was the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr. Pedro was his Director of Civil Litigation where several law cases were argued on behalf the Lagos State Government up to the Supreme Court. Mr. Pedro was the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary when Mr. Supo Shasore (SAN) and Mr. Ade Ipaye were respectively the Attorneys-General of Lagos State. During those periods, various great law reforms were embarked upon and yielded positive results in the Lagos State and have been copied by many other States in the federation. Mr. Pedro has been one the law reformers in Lagos State.
As a great law reformer and believer in the quick dispensation, he does not compromise whatever he believes in and always stands up for what is right. There is no better way to illustrate this than the way Mr. Henry Ojelu recently put it in the Vanguard Newspaper (vanguardngr.com):
“He was never afraid to speak the truth to power. One instance of this rare disposition of a government officer was when Justice Habib Abiru who is now at the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment against the Lagos State Government. Being the Director of the Civil Litigation at the time , Pedro was directed to appeal the judgment but he insisted that there was no basis for appeal because that would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. President Bola Tinubu, who then was the Governor of Lagos State and an ardent respecter of the rule of law, with the support of the Attorney General at the time, accepted his decision. Pedro suggested to the state government to find solution to the problem because there was no basis for clogging the court system with an appeal that he knew was dead on arrival.”
“Another instance of Pedro’s stand for justice irrespective of whose side he is on, was when the Ministry of Justice introduced the Community Service Scheme. A seminar was recommended to be held on a weekday for Magistrates to understand the scheme – a situation that would have required that the entire magistrate court in the state be shut down. Pedro vehemently kicked against the date for the conference and insisted that it was unwise to hold it on a day that would have made the judiciary close down the whole of the Magistrate Court, especially because of some inmates of correctional centres could have a call over, and if the magistrate did not sit on that day, persons presumed innocent would still have to be returned to custody. Although some persons in government grumbled over his position, the then Chief Judge agreed with him , and the event was held on a Saturday.”
What these have gone to show is that Mr. Pedro’s appointment as the new Attorney-General is a very wise decision taken by the Lagos State Government and that is to say the right man for the job has been chosen. His recall and return to now head the entire Lagos State Ministry of Justice is an invitation of being asked to come and complete the good job he left behind when he retired in 2015. As powerful as the position of the Attorney General is, the holder of that position whether at federal or state level must be the conscience of the nation or of a State.
The problem with many institutions today is lack of patriotic people within the system that are ready to call a spade by its really name. How many subordinates today are ready to tell the truth to their superiors when they knowingly know that their superiors are plying the wrong route? The examples we have cited above as once displayed by Mr. Pedro are the kinds that are expected from the advisers to the leaders in government or any position of authority particularly the Attorney General who must emulate such gesture whenever it comes to giving frank advice to the President of the country or to the Governors of the various States particularly on legal matters or in compliance with any order of the court in the land.
The courts are congested today with many frivolous or unnecessary cases or appeals because people who ought to advise against that are not living up to their responsibilities. The legal system has been turned to the instrument of oppression and frustration because some people are benefiting from such injustice. If people do not have genuine cases why must they insist on going to the court or mounting unnecessary pressure on judicial officers rather than looking for a better way to amicably settle the matters out of court.
Honestly our legal system is in need of serious reforms and the Attorneys-General at different levels must make this a reality if we really want this country to develop. New methods must be devised to decongest our courts. There are many cases that have no business being in courts but unfortunately they are there. The involvement of the Attorneys-General in the appointment of judicial officers must be taken very serious as there must be standard that must be strictly adhered to without leaving room for compromise. The judicial officers must be appointed base on what they know in law and not who they know in the system, as that is best and the only way to have good materials on the bench. The argument of learning on the job must be done away with. One of the issues that will need the serious attention of the new Attorney-General in Lagos State and solution needs to be proffered to is the way many Certificates of Occupancy are issued on a single particular land. There are many cases in courts today where parties are claiming to have their respective Certificates of Occupancy issued by the same Lagos State Government. Issuing certificate of occupancy should be about making money for the government but must be about authenticity to avoid unnecessary litigation in court. Although it is the law that having a Certificate of Occupancy does not confer valid title as any other party that can prove better title can be declared to be the owner of the land in dispute. Since Certificates of Occupancy are issued by the State, it is hereby suggested that the similarity of what is being done by in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in the registration and incorporation of companies by refusing to approve the registration of any company with a similar or same name with the one already in existence should be adopted by the Lagos State Government.
There was this tradition in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice where the selected judgments of the High Court of Lagos State as well as that of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division and the Supreme Court used to be reported through the publication of the “Lagos Law Report”. Mr. Pedro used to be one of the Editors of the publication but probably because of his retirement from the Ministry, the publication also proceeded on recess. One hopes with his return to the Ministry as the new Attorney -General of the State, the publication will be revived. The publication unit of the Ministry needs to be reactivated to encourage the lawyers in the Ministry to come up with brilliantly researched publications in form of books and law journals that will add value to the knowledge of law and jurisprudence. With Mr. Pedro being an author himself with many publications to his credit, one hopes with his return to the Ministry, he will not hesitate to encourage lawyers in the service of the Lagos State Government to come on board in this direction to justify the State’s claim to being the Centre of Excellency.
The ovations and applauds that have greeted the appointment of Mr. Lawal Muhammed Alade Pedro as the new Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of the Lagos State, both from within and outside the State, have been very wonderful and overwhelming, with this gestures,one believes he will be more inspired to live up to expectations and his responsibilities. May the Almighty Allah guide and be with him in his new task to the government and the people of Lagos State!
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
17th September 2023