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BRIEFS ON THE HIGHLIGHTS OF ACTIVITIES, PROJECTS/PROGRAMMES UNDERTAKEN BY THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE BENUE STATE, ON THE OCCASION OF THE ACCOUNTABILITY PRESS BRIEFING ON 27TH DAY OF FEBRUARY, 2017 PRESENTED BY MICHAEL GUSA ESQ HON. ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND COMMISSIONER FOR JUSTICE, BENUE STATE Introduction The Ministry of Justice is essentially a professional and service-oriented Ministry established to render legal services to State Government and all its agencies. The Ministry is, therefore, very critical and crucial for the smooth operations of government in general and the administration of justice in particular especially to sustain the tenets of democratic governance. Functions/Mandate: The mandate of the Ministry covers its main goals, objectives and functions as follows:
  1. To render proficient legal advisory services to the government of Benue State, thus covering all Ministries, Extra-Ministerial Departments, Parastatals, the State Legislature and the Judiciary with the view to attaining social and legal justice, public order, public security and good governance in the state. It also renders similar services to the Nigeria Police in the State in Criminal Justice administration;
  2. To initiate, take over and continue or maintain criminal prosecution (including appeals) of all State (and some Federal) offences, in Magistrate Courts, Tribunals, High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court;
  • To prosecute and defend (as the case may be) all civil actions and other proceedings in which the Benue State Government is a party or has substantial interest in any part of the country in all courts and tribunals throughout the country;
  1. To represent the interest of the Government of Benue State in all legal matters whenever they may arise;
  2. To complement the Judiciary in the administration of justice to all;
  3. To establish and maintain Area Chambers and Rent Tribunals in every Local Government in the State where there is a High Court Division;
  • To act as Administrator-General and Public Trustee in the administration of Estates of deceased persons;
  • To establish Marriage Registries and conduct and register marriages under the Marriage Act.
Structure The Ministry of Justice is structured into the following Directorates, each headed by a Director:
  1. Administration and supply;
  2. Finance and Accounts;
  • Public Prosecution;
  1. Civil Litigation;
  2. Legal Drafting and Advisory Services;
  3. Citizens’ Rights and
  • Planning, Research and Statistics.
The Ministry also maintains three Area Chambers in some Local Government Areas, namely; Gboko, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala Area Chambers. Highlights of Activities, Projects/Programmes since the inception of the Ortom Administration Since the inception of the current administration in Benue State, the activities of the Ministry of Justice have recorded a huge boost in the following areas: Infrastructural Development: From the creation of Benue State in 1976, the office structures in the Ministry of Justice Headquarters Makurdi, had remained unrenovated and unimproved, until the inception of the present administration. It must be pointed out that most of the office structures in the Ministry had no provision for conveniences for staff and those that had, were in a deplorable state. The current renovation has accommodated this basic necessity. Staff welfare: Apart from the efforts of the administration to provide conducive office accommodation, legal officers of the Ministry of Justice have been sponsored to two Annual General Conferences of the Nigerian Bar Association held since the inception of the Administration at Abuja and Port Harcourt. Approval has also been given for the robe allowance of legal officers, and this is pending release, while the process for promotion of all deserving staff is at an advanced stage. Defense of Cases against Government: The Ministry of Justice has been served over 100 civil claims against Government in the period under review. In particular, there are 40 claims arising from the findings and recommendations of the Justice E. N. Kpojime Commission of Inquiry into funds accruing/received and the utilization of Benue State funds/assets, 2015. Out of these 40 cases, 26 have been disposed of and the highlight is that criminal proceedings may be initiated against the indicted persons. In this regard a formal complaint has been sent to security agencies and some persons have since been invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigeria Police Headquarters, Abuja. Some of these cases arising from the Justice E.N. Kpojime Commission of Inquiry against the Benue State Government are:
  1. FHC/ABJ/CS/718/2016 – Hon. Solomon Wombo and 42 others Vs Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and five others at the Federal High Court No. 5 Abuja.
  2. CA/M/71/2016 – Dr. Gabriel T. Suswam Vs The Governor of Benue State – Court of Appeal Makurdi;
  3. MHC/142/2016 – Hon. Omadachi Oklobia Vs Governor of Benue State and 11 others;
  4. MHC/1089M/2016 – John Ngbede Vs Governor of Benue State and 9 others;
  5. MHC/976M/2016 – Hon. Kester Ikyenge Vs Governor of Benue State and 3 others and other cases not mentioned.
Other assignments:
  1. Inauguration of the Hon. Justice Kpojime Commission of Inquiry that looked into the utilization of funds that accrued to the state between May, 2007 – May, 2015 and the subsequent arraignment of indicted personalities at various courts.
  2. 68 contract agreements and Memoranda of Understanding vetted and returned to the respective sponsors (MDA).
  3. Inauguration of Justice Sector Reform Team, December, 2016.
Prosecution of Criminal Cases: From the 10th of June, 2015 to the 9th of February, 2017 the Ministry of Justice has handled: Number of cases received for legal advice – 388 Motions:
  1. Lower Courts – 190
  2. High Courts – 156
  3. Appeal Court – 24
  4. Supreme Court – 14
Appeals:
  1. Supreme Court – 7
  2. Court of Appeal – 14
Disposed Matters:
  1. Legal Advice issued – 304;
  2. Cases filed – 137;
  3. Cases disposed – 46
Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy In exercise of the constitutional powers of Amnesty, the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy, has, since the inception of the present administration, carried out the following in respect of convicts:
  1. Those released –                                   25
  2. Those whose sentences were reduced –                                   10
  3. Those who commuted to life imprisonment –                                   18
  4. Those whose fines were paid –                                   74
Total                                                               –                                   127 Marriage Registry: Within the period under review, the Marriage Registry has conducted 300 marriages under the Marriage Act. Mediation Centre: In line with the Government’s policy of peaceful resolution of conflicts, the government has encouraged the activities of the centre to ensure dialogue and harmony to make way for development. CHALLENGES FOR URGENT ATTENTION: Office accommodation: Apart from the Headquarters, there is urgent need to extend the efforts to provide office accommodation to the Area Chambers where the situation is similarly deplorable. In this regard, it is essential for Government to hold discussions with the contractors handling the Area Offices at K/Ala and Otukpo with a view to taking possession and occupying the offices which are almost completed. The urgent need to enhance the monthly overhead cost allocation to the Ministry from N1,000,000.00 to at least N2,000,000.00 to accommodate the huge volume of litigation handled by the Ministry and the revival of the Litigation Fund of N2.5m per quarter to the Ministry of Justice. Inadequate Support Staff. Failure or neglect of some MDAs to involve the Ministry at the negotiation stage or vetting of contracts and other high profile documents, resulting in terms and provision that are adverse to Government interest. Obsolete Criminal Justice Administration laws, leading to delayed outcomes, especially as the Ministry does not have an up-to-date library. Conclusion The achievements recorded by the Ministry of Justice would not have been possible without the personal interest and intervention of His Excellency the Executive Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who, from the inception of his administration, has shown tremendous interest in the affairs of the Ministry and has continued to render support in spite of the adverse financial environment. The management and staff of the Ministry is encouraged to strive even harder, to ensure the realization of the administration’s respect for the Rule of Law, recognizing that the administration of Justice is the bedrock of democratic governance.