The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Delta State, Barrister Peter Mrakpor, on Tuesday, spoke with our Reporter in Asaba, on wide range of issues concerning the Ministry of Justice, Delta state and Nigeria. He stated that, posterity will judge him, when he leaves as AG.
Two years as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, what can you say has been your achievements so far in the Ministry?
I have given staff of the Ministry a sense of direction; I told them they are professionals. We act as advisers to the Government, prosecuting arm of the government, defence arm, also we mediate, which places a lot of responsibilities on us to do what is right, for the benefit of Deltans. I have midwife the administration of criminal justice law to be domesticated in Delta State. It is a dream comes true. This makes prosecution to be very fast. Delta state is the first state in Nigeria, where we have introduced written depositions as part of the trial process. We have looked at trial within trial procedure, and eliminated it, even consent before prosecution, because it consumes time. The bottle necks in criminal trial, which makes cases to drag between one year, two or more, have been removed under the administration of criminal justice law in Delta state. Today in Delta state, criminal trial is a maximum of six months for justice to be done.
How many years have you been in practice?
I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1989, which is twenty eight years.
What significant impact have you created different from what your predecessors left?
I think posterity will judge me. My predecessors were giants. Like Professor Amos Utuama, who is a former Deputy Governor, Dafe Akpedeye, SAN, Chief Victor Otomewo, etc. They did their best.
Can you say how many convictions have been obtained since you became the AG?
I can’t say off hand, but we have gotten. We have matters at different stages. For prosecution cases, we are doing very well. There are also cases we are reviewing, to make sure that those who are supposed to stand trial, are facing trial. Some also involve land issues, attempted murders, etc. We have had to query some law officers, who were involve in some of those cases. We’ve had cases where, from the facts, there is no case, but the opinion says there is a case. We’ve had to review some of it.
Sir, are there laws in the state that have been repealed since you took over as AG?
Yes, we have repealed the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) law, prerogative of mercy. We are in the process of repealing others. One law that is currently being repealed is the corona’s law, which is a law of 1954 in Delta state, inherited from the colonial masters. It is a very crucial law, because it will make room for inquest over mysterious deaths and sudden deaths. Cases of people dying suddenly, even in police custody. Investigations will be carried outside the police, and headed by a judge. It is a judicial inquiry, where no bias will be found. Persons indicted are referred for prosecution. Laws relating to Local Government council, even the law which makes the Chief Judge to be subject to the State Executive Council, which is wrong. We have identified it. Urban and Regional planning law. New towns will always spring up. Without proper planning, it will be difficult to manage it. It will be difficult for government to plan roads, so they must be a proper law to take care of that. All the states in the south western region, the Corona’s law have been repealed and are applicable, but not so at the moment with Delta state.
Are there plans to partner with any of the south western states to know how effective this law is?
I don’t think that is necessary, because it is a straight forward law. Once you put that law in place, it checks everyone. The Governor is very excited, and has urged us to bring it out as soon as possible.
Aside the administration of criminal justice law, are there new laws in the state?
We have the mediation centre law, public defender’s law, and protection of public and private property law. These are bills before the house of Assembly. We want o domesticate the freedom of information act in Delta state. We are working on the customary court law to amend it, even the magistrate court law.
We are also looking at the criminal code law. We have different laws giving different sanctions for infractions. What we are trying to do, is to bring all together, under a criminal code, so that if it relates to kidnapping, murder, or any disobedience, we have all of them codified. You pick up one law, and everything is there.
What steps have been taken so far, in the implementation of laws in the state?
Sensitization is Key. We have loss of values. Making efforts to enforce law is the best way to develop society. Take the U.K for example. There is a culture to respect the rule of law. Nigeria is a place where people believe everything can be negotiated. But if people know, that for every infraction, there is a penalty, they will comport themselves. Why will someone disobey traffic, and call another person to intervene? You are breaking the fabric of the rule of law. It is a culture thing. Once people begin to understand it, then they will adjust. I have told staff in the ministry of Justice, that anyone who is corrupt will be prosecuted. If you don’t come to work, we recommend you for dismissal. If we post you, and you don’t resume, we issue a query.
There are allegations of extortion against DESTMA. Can you react to that sir?
In Nigeria, you hear all sorts of things. If there are persons taking bribe, I believe the Commissioner for Transport will get at them. Some make allegations without coming forward. We do advise people, to put their allegations in writing, and follow up. The public advisory service unit has been set up by the Governor, to offer free legal services to Deltans, who cannot hire lawyers. Just work into any of the Justice Ministry in your location, and lodge your complaints, or you come to the Attorney General’s office. You are protected. The Governor has directed that anybody who wants to harass or extort Deltans, the Public Advisory service has a duty to step in.
How can you rate Governor Okowa’s administration?
He is the best man for the job. I came out with the slogan, “Delta in Safe hands,” “Standing Tall.”
Despite the financial crunch the state is facing, he is trying. The Governor should be prayed for. It is not easy to run a government without money. It is a nightmare.
Do you see the Governor winning a second term easily?
What should Deltans expect in the remaining two years of Governor Okowa’s first term?
Massive development, health care, education, lots of roads.
Dr. Cairo Ojuboh had accused the Governor of operating a blank budget. What can you say about that?
Budgeting system is straight forward. All commissioners were invited. I was also there, when the budget was later approved by the executive council. We made defence in the House of Assembly, even at committee levels. I have raised memos on that same budget. I don’t know what he is talking about, because, the budget is still operational.
Can you rate the Buhari’s administration and suggest areas it needs to improve?
They are trying within their capacity. More autonomy should be given to state. States should be left to handle certain things like roads. There should be liberalization in terms of port arrangement. I support the handing over of federal roads to states. We have intervened in some of these Federal roads in the state. There shouldn’t be categorization whether for Federal or state roads. If that is done, I think the roads will be better.
What will you want to be remembered for after your tenure as the AG?
When i became Attorney General, there are some persons i had singled out, like Chief Rotimi Williams and the Vice President, who was Lagos State Attorney General, who used the law to change certain things in Lagos state through the law; i should also be able to change Delta through the law. I want to leave better legacies here. I have had exciting moments here, with larger people and larger clients.
What is the relationship between the police in the state and the ministry of justice?
How has your impact been felt in your community in terms of development?
I visit my community on regular basis; i have attracted street light to them, health centre, markets. There are people under my payroll, who are acquiring certain skills like tailoring, salons, and mechanic. Not only in my community. To me, the best way to take people off the street is to help them acquire skills.
in Delta State ministry of Justice, there is a unit that takes care of abuses and rape cases. People are free to walk into any of our Justice Ministry, and lodge a complaint.
Advise for Deltans and Nigerians in general?
Let’s pray for God fearing leaders
Finally, there is a case of non-payment of severance to the former aides who served in the last administration. What can you say about that?
I have explained that nobody is a stranger to financial challenges the government is going through. He has said he will pay them, i think the Governor should be given a little time to do that.