By the time you are reading this piece, Prince Lateef Olasunkanmi Fagbemi, SAN, will probably have been or about to be sworn-in as the 24th Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice of Nigeria. To somebody like me and certainly all those who are well-acquainted with his pedigree, the emergence of this iconic prince from Ijagbo town in Kwara State is a palpable demonstration of the mantra of putting a round peg in a round hole.
Like many other people in the current ministerial list, Lateef Fagbemi,SAN is somebody whose appointment as a minister of the Federal Republic cannot be faulted, both in terms of superlative qualifications he wields and the enviable personal attributes he possesses.
Born on June 22, 1956 in Ijagbo, Kwara State, Prince Fagbemi has made significant and indelible contributions to the development of legal profession through the expansion of frontiers of jurisprudence in Nigeria. The singular trajectory of his career as a lawyer from the early years attests to the fact that he is a person destined for greatness. He was one time the youngest Senior Advocate of Nigeria, having attained the enviable rank of silk at a youthful age of 37!
This means he got that enviable rank of distinction before his 11th year at the bar, having been called to the Bar in August 1985. This is a rare feat in the legal profession in a country like Nigeria, which boasts of countless number of brilliant minds still dreaming of that rank even in their 50s and 60s.
Prince Fagbemi acquired his initial tutelage, grilling and professional maturation in the hallowed chamber of the legal guru, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN of Afe Babalola SAN and co, within a timeline of eleven years. He then went ahead to establish his own chamber, Lateef Fagbemi & Co, aka, Temitope Chambers, and has not looked back since then. The chamber has since grown in leaps and bounds, with branches now in Ibadan Lagos, Kwara, and Abuja.
For the past four decades, the now 64-year-old Fagbemi has handled, numerous cases in diverse areas of law practice including arbitration, alternative dispute resolution, commercial law, land and border disputes, high-profile political cases, anti-corruption matters, constitutional matters and election petition cases.
As a matter of fact, Fagbemi is at the present the Lead Counsel of the 2023 All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Presidential Election Petition Legal Team, leading a team consisting of twenty seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
His nomination as a minister was well received across board particularly within the legal community. Upon his announcement as a ministerial nominee, his state government was agog with elation. It will be recalled that the Kwara State Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq congratulated Prince Lateef Fagbemi on his nomination while extolling his commitment to excellence, integrity, and personal accomplishments as a topflight private legal Practitioner in Nigeria. A statement from the office of the governor read inter alia “His Excellency heartily welcomes the nomination. He thanks the President for the honour done to the senior lawyer with a rich progressive pedigree.
The Governor looks forward to working closely with the learned silk as he joins the Federal Executive Council”
During his recent screening by the Senate in Abuja, Primce Lateef Fagbemi ,SAN characteristically manifested both his brilliance and passion for reformed social order when he recommended the unbundling and merger of law enforcement agencies such as the Economic and Financial Commission, (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to foster enhanced efficiency.
He also recommended that the state agencies involved in investigation should not be the one saddled with prosecution of alleged offenders in order to forestall compromise, shallow investigation and miscarriage of justice. Prince Fagbemi believes highly professional investigating bodies don’t rush to arrest suspected offenders on the basis of mere suspicion or flimsy evidence, but rather bid their time to establish a watertight case.
He said “The investigation of corruption cases should not be handled by the same body that does prosecution. It doesn’t augur well to ask the same authority to investigate and prosecute. That is where we have problems.
“My take is that a situation should be created such as the one that happened when Hushpuppi was arrested. They (US authorities) had been trailing him for years, but he didn’t know. Nobody talked to him. But the day they said his time was up, he also knew that his time was up,”
In this submission, Princr Fagbemi was in his element as he has always been campaigning for a better governance system through appropriate structural reforms. For example, in February 2020, he recommended a constitutional change for decentralisation of Nigeria Police.
Speaking at the Law Week organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Okitipupa branch, Prince Fagbemi had bemoaned the current security arrangement of the country which constantly endangered lives and properties and called for its total overhaul. He said “Despite the huge budgetary allocations to defence since 2018, the spate of robbery, kidnapping, ritual killings and insurgencies had refused to abate.
“Nigeria has porous land borders; our immigration practices must be tightened to ensure accountability for everyone that goes in and out of the country in order to check insecurity. Government should invest heavily in social security and reduction of unemployment”
His views on issues of national importance are always reformatory and progressive, by way of another example, we should recall that he had also once called for enactment of a new law that would reduce political parties in the country to maximum of six.
He made this recommendation at the national workshop on ‘Election Petition Review’, organised by the Court of Appeal in collaboration with International Foundation on Electoral System (IFES), which held in Abuja in April 2021. He said “Having as much as 86 political parties is too unwieldy leading to confusion and exclusion that may not be deliberate on the part of our electoral body”, he said.
“Let nobody be taken off guard, our electoral system needs some drastic and very unpopular rejigging and amendments to the law. The sui-generis nature of electoral laws also dictates that reforms to them cannot but be unprecedented if they are to be effective”.
“We cannot overemphasise the need to ensure that our electoral laws are designed in such a way to allow for the election of credible, competent and responsible leaders at all levels.
“Our current situation where elections are characterised by rigging and violence leaves very much to be desired on the quality of both the leadership and the followership.”
He was never afraid to speak truth to power, for instance, during the heat of scandals involving the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal and the ex-chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, AbdurRasheed Maina, Fagbemi said “Truth be told, every well-meaning Nigerian must commend the effort of the present government at combating corruption in the country. That said however, the case of Maina and that of Babachir Lawal, I sincerely think, ought to have been handled differently.
“I expected the government to have come out with a definite position on its suspended SGF, having received the report of the committee purposely set up to look into the allegations against him.
“The time it took the government to take a position in Babachir Lawal’s case makes the Nigerian people to have doubt about the sincerity of the government in the fight against corruption”
“The Maina case, epitomizes the problem inherent in our public administration and our system generally. Taking the matter away from the mischievous realm of politics, one cannot stop wondering how somebody who had long been declared wanted by the EFCC, the most popular crime-fighting organisation in Nigeria, would be right there within the corridors of powers and nobody was able to blow the whistle on him.”
This bold statement re-echoes Prince Fagbemi’s conviction in the facts that corruption in Nigeria is systemic and requires multifaceted battle strategy to counter its potency.
With all the above, prince LateefFagbemi ,SAN should come across to everyone as somebody coming to office knowing quite well what he is coming to do.
Given the fact that it is the function of the Attorney General to advise the Government on the constitutionality of policies and actions taken or embarked upon by the Government, in addition to providing legal services to support law enforcement agencies and every department or institution of government, a lot of issues on rule of law and constitutionality in a nation rests on the office of the AGF.
It is the famous English philosopher and jurist, Francis Bacon, who was credited as saying that the office of Attorney-General was “the painfullest task in the realm.” The insight to be drawn from this statement is that the roles and responsibilities of the office of the Attorney General are enormous and requires not only somebody with brilliance but also a person with passion, and what is more, conscience, character and integrity to succeed in it.
I have a very big hope that prince Lateef Fagbemi,SAN will succeed. He will definitely be an Attorney General and Minister of Justice that properly advises the Government on the constitutional and legal issues, one that upholds the rule of law and denounces lawlessness like disobedience of court orders.
He holds a promise as an Attorney General that truly represents the interest of the public in legal proceedings for the enforcement of law and the assertion and protection of public rights. Here is Wishing Prince Lateef Olasunkanmi Fagbemi, SAN, the Ethical Lawyer and the 24th Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria a successful tenure.
Muritala Abdul-Rasheed, aka Murray, is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a former Publicity Secretary of the NBA.