2021 Budget: Senate Committee Grills Justice Ministry Officials Over N2b For Legal Services
The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters on Monday grilled officials of the Ministry of Justice over the N2 billion it proposed to spend on legal services in 2021.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN); Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Akpata (SAN); and other officials of the ministry appeared before the committee to defend their 2021 budget proposal.
In the document submitted to the committee, the ministry under overhead cost proposed that N2 billion would be used to pay for legal services.
It listed the legal services to include civil litigation, prison decongestion, trial and prosecution of Boko Haram, administration of criminal justice system and payment for international legal obligations.
Senator Ajibola Basiru, a member of the committee and Chairman Committee on Media and Publicity of the Senate, said the N2 billion proposed for legal services was not clear enough to avail auditors at the committee enough room to exercise their oversight functions.
Basiru said: “We need to know how much is being projected for civil litigation, for prison decongestion and all other items in that regard.
“Also, there appears to be an overlap with what has been provided for the sum of about N2 billion for generated items under overhead cost and some of the items listed as capital expenditure.
“For instance, there is a provision of N350 million for the administration of criminal justice on Page 4.
“What is the relationship between that N350 million budgeted and the projected sum under the heading of legal services in the overhead cost proposal?
“The same thing with the issue of prison decongestion.
“If you look at the capital expenditure proposal, the sum of N380 million was highlighted for prosecution of prison inmates and decongestion of correctional centres nationwide.”
Responding, Akpata said the proposed N2 billion would be used for civil litigation.
He said the amount was “a tip of the iceberg of what we intend to do on civil litigations and cannot be compared with what we are now saving for government.
“Presently, the last performance we had, we saved more than N600 billion because we now do cases in-house.
“So, part of this N2 billion is essentially to get the lawyers because all the cases are spread among the 36 states.
“The trial and prosecution of Boko Haram: you will recall that in 2019, we had to create a jurisdiction, a division in Kanji Dam, in which 3,000 inmates were prosecuted.
“How do you prosecute 3,000 inmates in a place?
“We had to bring four judges from the Federal High Court and pay the legal aides.
“When we look at the N2 billion, it’s a tip of the iceberg of what it intends to do.
“Presently, there is a camp in Maiduguri where we are going for another prosecution.
“This is what the N2 billion is going to do.
“So, there is no overlapping.
“When you now look at the specific activities of the N2 billion, they are separate and distinct from what you think.”