4 May 2008

Nigeria: Constitution Superior to FEC Directives - Fmr Attorney-General

Chief Bayo Ojo, former minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo has reinstated the superiority of the laws of the land and the constitution over and above the Federal Executive Council, FEC, even during President Obasanjo's era which he served.

Ojo, who appeared before the Senate FCT probe panel Friday explained that the laws and the constitution was clear on certain matters and that the former FCT Minister, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, did not need to consult with FEC to act appropriately.

"I want to state straight away that at no time did the FEC sought to override any act or a law, particularly the constitution, which is the supreme document. It is the grand norm from which all other laws flow, so the FEC cannot and does not have the power to override any law," the then chief law officer told the probe panel.

Former FCT minister, Nasir el-Rufai, had told the probe panel that he consulted with FEC for approval for most of his actions as minister of the FCT. El-Rufai also told the FCT committee probing him that he relied on the FCT Land Use Act for his land operations which resulted in the demolition of several structures in the FCT, and that he did not meet any Land Use and Allocation Committee in the FCT as it is constitutionally required. When confronted, the then chief law officer stated: "When you talk about the Land Use Act and land Allocation Committee, I had course to dabble into that, at that time there was a court decision by the court of Appeal in one case called Ona's case, which laid the principle of the grand rule at that time under which the FCT must have been operating, but recently, the Supreme Court has overturned that case and ordered for retrial so we are actually back to the law as it were, that is the Land Use Act, so I agree that that is the law and there should be a Land Use and Allocation Committee now."

The FCT Land Use Act did not reorganize partial development of any property, so such properties were demolished while the (federal) Land Use Act recognised partial development as property and were to be allowed to stand if used.

Chief Bajo Ojo was also asked if he was aware of disobedience to court orders in his time by the FCT administration, and why the federal government turned a blind eye to it. The FCT is administered in trust for the federal government. He told the panel that the FCTA had a legal department which advised on such matters and that there was no time when he was minister of justice that the FCT referred any matter to him for advice.

He, however, noted that all the times court orders were drawn to his attention by ministries, he advised that they must be obeyed, "because the foundation of our democracy is on the rule of law and if you don't obey court orders then we will have a situation of anarchy where nobody will be safe."

Officers of the FCDA, including the FCT minister (then) el-Rufai said they did not disobey court orders because there were not properly served on them, even when such officers were confronted with such orders.

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