Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Femi Falana and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, have waded into the dispute between the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, and the Senator representing the FCT, Ireti Kingibe.
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The senior lawyers noted that the FCT minister in terms of execution of duties was not answerable to Kingibe or the National Assembly.
The FCT lawmaker had warned Wike to desist from working without the supervision of the National Assembly.
Kingibe also noted that the FCT minister does not have executive powers but must operate within the constitutional frameworks of the country’s legislative arm.
Kingibe said, “You also have to remember that the minister of the FCT – I’m not sure we have had a former governor as a minister, I think we have had one. Some [former] governors may think that as an FCT minister, the minister does not have executive powers. He works hand-in-hand with the National Assembly and the president to administer the FCT.”
However, interpreting the constitution, Falana stated that Kingibe was wrong to have said that the minister was answerable to the National Assembly in the discharge of his duties.
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He said, “The distinguished senator is wrong. The power of the executive with respect to the FCT lies with the President. Making laws and passing laws for the FCT are the business of the National Assembly.
“Section 299(a) of the constitution provides: The provisions of this constitution shall apply to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as if it were one of the states of the Federation; and accordingly
“(a) all the legislative powers, the executive powers and the judicial powers vested in the House of Assembly, the governor of a state and in the courts of a state shall, respectively, vest in the National Assembly, the President of the Federation and in the courts which by virtue of the foregoing provisions are courts established for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
He further explained that since the executive powers of the FCT are vested in the President who then delegates them to the minister as he pleases, the minister can act in the capacity of the President who is the governor of the FCT.
Falana said, “The executive powers of the FCT are vested in the President, the legislative powers are vested in the National Assembly, while the judicial powers are vested in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
“To that extent, it is very wrong to say that since there is no governor in the FCT, the executive powers are vested in the National Assembly; those powers are vested in the President.
“So, whenever the president appoints a minister, the minister is performing in the powers delegated to him or her by the President.”
He added, “If you are dissatisfied with the decision taken by anyone in the FCT, you go to the FCT High Court.”
Corroborating his colleague, Adegboruwa said that the minister was answerable to the President and not the National Assembly as posited by Kingibe.
The SAN explained, “The ministers are all appointed by the President, and they owe their duties solely to the President who has the power to remove them or have their decisions overturned.
“Among the ministers, only the Attorney General has specific responsibilities that are recognised by law as stated in Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution.”
Adegboruwa further explained, “The rest of the ministers have no specific statutory duties unless assigned to them by the President.
“So, to that extent, the ministers of the FCT, like other ministers, report to the President for his day-to-day activities. He is not responsible to the National Assembly or members of the legislature except with respect to defending the expenditure or budgeted estimate or whenever he is summoned to appear before the National Assembly when they are carrying out their oversight functions or they are passing a law that requires some investigations or contributions.”
The senior lawyer further clarified that other than that, the minister is not answerable to the National Assembly for his day-to-day execution of functions as long as it aligns constitutionally and it’s in line with the mandate of the President that appointed him.
He added, “As it pertains to the FCT generally, I think that it is important to recognise that it is a no man’s land by the law of our land, although the constitution also recognises the natives and the indigenous people.
“By designation, anybody could be appointed to hold any position in the FCT. Just like in the case of the FCT, you’d see that all FCT High Court judges are occupied by people all over the country.
“So, it is not correct to say that appointment into the FCT must be limited to the indigenes, though I believe they should be carried along. But that cannot be a validation to discredit the minister.”
Meanwhile, the senior lawyers kicked against the demolition of structures stating that proper procedures must be followed for such activities to be carried out.
Falana said that neither the President, the minister nor the governor of a state had the power to demolish the property of any citizen in Nigeria without following the proper process.
Falana said, “The President, governor, or minister cannot decide that a house has been built without approved plans and then proceed to demolish without a court order.”
He stated that in each of the states and the FCT, the relevant law is the Physical Planning Act, under that the relevant law is the Urban and Regional Planning law and under these laws, there is a provision for demolishing a house or property.
He expressed, “Without complying with such a law, nobody has the power to demolish a house. In fact, under any of such laws, there is usually an agency set up to investigate whether somebody has violated the urban and regional planning law.
“If you’re dissatisfied with the decision of that agency, there is an appellate committee. In other words, if a demolition notice is pasted on my building or structure, I have the right to disagree with you.
“So, an agency in the Ministry of Physical Planning would examine my complaint and make a decision and if I also disagree with that decision, there is an appellate committee to review the decision of the agency.”
Falana added, “In the case of Lagos State, if you’re dissatisfied with the decision of the appellate committee, there is a provision to go to the High Court which shall within a specified period of time decide the case.
“Just as a private person cannot demolish someone else’s property, the government cannot also demolish the property of a citizen.
“So, you cannot come out to say these structures were not on the building plan. Who are you? Because you’re a governor or a minister? So, you have now constituted yourself as the complaint witness.
“Since the government operates under the Rule of Law, the government is under a duty to conduct its duties under the relevant laws.”
He explained that if the government was going to demolish any building, there was a procedure, and the government could not just wake up and surround a person’s house with bulldozers and raze the building to the ground without a court order.
“That is the position of the law,” he posited.
Falana further added that a lot of demolitions in Nigeria were politically motivated.
He said, “Most of the demolishment is targeted at the poor. The rich are often allowed to regularise illegal and defective structures, but it is the poor whose properties are demolished.
“Most times, except for political reasons, you don’t demolish the house of the rich.”
Similarly, Adegboruwa said that it was wrong for the government to destroy the properties of its citizens except for violation of environmental laws.
Adegboruwa said, “On the issue of the demolition, I think it is generally wrong for the government to demolish properties of citizens except for challenges such as environmental issues such as flooding.
“If people build houses without complying with relevant approval, they can be invited to regularise it. They are Nigerians and we are in an economy that is challenging.
“I’m generally opposed to government demolishing people’s houses. There should always be an option of correcting whatever was done wrongly.”