- The disclosure that there is no record of treaties Nigeria signed deserves serious attention
Treaty making is a serious business that involves many agencies of government. While the executive initiates and signs such treaties, conventions and protocols, whether bilateral or multilateral, the legislature has the duty of ratifying them before they could be cited in the municipal courts. The Attorney-General of the Federation, being the Chief Law Officer of the land, legal adviser to the President and the Minister of Justice, has a duty to get involved from the conception, since his advice is crucial. After the endorsement, too, a copy is sent to his office that acts as depository of all such international legal instruments.
It was therefore shocking when the Attorney-General of the Federation, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, disclosed that there is no depository of the treaties and conventions Nigeria has entered into over the years. This is self-indictment. What has the Federal Ministry of Justice done to obtain and document all the treaties? If the ministry does not have the record of the treaties, how does the country take full advantage of the benefits and avoid penalties where applicable?
It is gratifying that the new National Policy on Justice 2017 has made it mandatory that there must be due consultation with the Federal Ministry of Justice before any treaty could be endorsed by a government official. Although it is coming so late in the day, it is better late than never. As the attorney-general has pointed out, the ministry is about embarking on “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the country’s level of compliance under the various United Nations and regional convention”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot exonerate itself from this lapse. It is surprising that, with the large retinue of diplomats in the ministry, they do not, or refuse to do what is needful in this respect. A ministry that would allow such development cannot be entrusted with adequately representing the country in other countries.
It is therefore not surprising that Nigerians abroad keep complaining that our foreign missions are of little use to them. Nigerians are persecuted, sometimes remanded in custody without our missions taking any steps to ensure that their rights are not abridged. President Muhammadu Buhari, as the Chief Executive, should feel personally embarrassed and get the officials involved in the negligence punished. Only the best should be allowed to serve in the public service.
The National Assembly, too, deserves some knocks for allowing such sloppiness pass for so long. The essence of a legislature is to make laws for good governance, as well as carry out oversight over ministries, departments and agencies of government. Section 12 of the constitution makes it mandatory for all treaties, protocols and conventions to be domesticated by the National Assembly before they could be admissible in the Nigerian court. Section 19 also imposes an obligation on the country to give effect to all treaties. Having failed to perform such a basic role, the legislators have failed Nigeria. What has the Committee on Foreign Affairs been doing? We call on the lawmakers to live up to their responsibility and justify the huge salaries and allowances they draw from the treasury.
At a time the government has served notice that it would be pruning the number of foreign missions in a bid to cut cost, it is preposterous that such laxity that has little to do with cost could be condoned. All public officials should be made to sit up to justify their pay and those who fail to live up to expectation should be sacked. This government’s pledge to effect change should be thorough and ensure efficiency.