This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
A lot has been said about the power of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF); especially due to the recent squabble surrounding tax evasion leveled against MTN by the Federal Government.
Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and AGF in a letter to MTN (earlier this month) asked the telecommunications company to pay $2bn in pending tax arrears on imported equipment to the Federal Government.
This came with a lot of criticism, especially from the investor community. They believe that writing to a private company on tax evasion is abuse of power. There have also been arguments from the public that he does not have the jurisdiction to delve into matters like this.
So, what exactly does the AGF have the power to do?
Sections 150 and 195 of the 1999 Constitution both provide for the appointment of an Attorney-General (AG) who is the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and the State respectively. The position of an AG at both the Federal and State levels is a dual position because he is also a Minister of the Government at the Federal level and at the state level, the Commissioner for Justice.
The AGF can undertake and institute criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in the country. According to Section 174 (1) of the constitution, this means that he can take over and continue criminal proceedings started out by any authority or person. He can also discontinue cases at any stage before judgement is delivered.
In the absence of the Attorney General, delegated officers of his department can exercise his powers on his behalf. Regarding prosecution of cases, the AGF can decide whatever case it wants to prosecute, but by law cannot pronounce judgement on its own.
The same section that lays these points down also makes it clear that regardless of the amount of power the AGF has, he is to exercise them with regard to public interest and avoid the abuse of power.
By law the Attorney General of the Federation is the Chief law officer of the state, his jurisdiction covers the bulk of legal issues in the country - including the MTN tax squabble. Whether or not his involvement in demanding for a refund on suspicion of tax evasion counts as abuse of power is what is unclear.