18 June 2002

Nigeria: Council Caretaker Panels Unconstitutional, Agabi Insists

Abuja — Why FG won't challenge Sharia in court

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Godwin Kanu Agabi (SAN), has defended his position on the unconstitutionality of local government caretaker committees which states appointed to replace elected representatives.

Agabi also gave reasons why Federal Government would not go to court over the adoption of Sharia, the Islamic legal code by some states.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with THISDAY in Abuja at the weekend, Agabi said his position was predicated on the fact that the constitution guaranteed only democratically elected council chairmen.

He said, "it is not my position. I don't have any position at all. It is what the constitution says. The constitution guarantees democratically elected local government councils. When you appoint a transition committee, is that a democratically elected body? It is not. You know we just love controversy. We love to violate the law and to blame it on the constitution and some other things. The constitution guarantees democratically elected local governments so you cannot appoint a caretaker committee.

"They caretakers are not democratically elected. For instance, in some states, you have PDP local governments where you have APP governors. There are cases where the governor is PDP and the council chairmen are APP or even AD members. Now, if the governor of such a state is allowed to appoint a caretaker committee, naturally he will appoint a PDP caretaker committee in place of an APP or AD local government. By this singular act, he is able to wipe out the other parties. Why should he have the power to do that?," he queried.

Agabi maintained that the proper thing would have been to extend the tenure of council chairmen as the constitution vested power in the State Houses of Assembly to do that.

Agabi described the creation of new councils by state governors as a violation of the constitution, but refused say what the Federal Government would do about it.

He, however, said those councils had no existence in the eyes of the Federal Government and the constitution.

He explained that the scenario had been played in the past. It is happened already. it according to the law," Agabi said.

Stating reasons why Federal Government would not go to court over the adoption of Sharia, by some states, the minister said only private rights were rights violated by the application of the code were Agabi said the rights that are violated by the application of Sharia are rights that are vested in private persons. They are not rights vested in the penal code. So, it is for those whose rights are violated to sue. For instance, when Jangebi's hand was cut, it was his hand that was cut. If he feels that his rights had been violated and that people should not be subjected to that kind of punishment, he should sue.

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