Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN, principal partner, Lateef Fagbemi & Co, is a prominent Nigerian lawyer and jurist, who has made significant contributions to the development of law and justice in Nigeria. He is the lead counsel of the 2023 All Progressives Congress’ Presidential Election Petition legal team, leading a team of twenty seven senior advocates of Nigeria.
The multi-dimensional election petition case tops a long list of high-profile cases that populate the records of his law practice. In recognition of his expertise and professionalism in the legal profession, including having served as a judge in various Nigerian courts, he has been appointed a minister by the Tinubu-led government.
His involvement in election petition cases goes beyond the immediate interest of his clients to hammer on long-term considerations of fairness and efficiency of the electoral system. He was part of a national workshop on ‘Election Petition Review’, organised by the Court of Appeal in collaboration with International Foundation on Electoral System in 2021, where he expressed his concerns on how to attain greater efficiency of the electoral process.
He links the efficiency of the electoral process to effectiveness of the electoral law. “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”, he said.
His conviction is that it takes good electoral laws to produce credible and competent leaders – which reduces the challenges faced by both the electoral body and the courts in election petition cases.
“We cannot over emphasise 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 said.
Specifically, he has advised that a new electoral law that would reduce the number of political parties in the country to a maximum of six is needed to inject efficiency into the electoral process. The move, he believes, will reduce errors and confusion on the part of the electoral body, which would, in turn, limit the number of election petition cases at the courts.
His reformatory and progressive ideas also touch on governance system through appropriate structural reforms, including enhancing law enforcement practices in order to adequately equip the courts in delivering justice.
For a reformed social order and to enhance efficiency, Fagbemi is pressing for the unbundling and merger of law enforcement agencies such as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.
The courts clearly need professionally conducted investigations in order to avoid miscarriage of justice. For this reason, Fagbemi is pressing to separate state agencies involved in investigations from those prosecuting the suspects.
The idea is to forestall compromises, shallow investigations and miscarriage of justice. The investigating bodies need to take their time to do their jobs professionally; a watertight case should be established first rather than the present practice of rushing to arrest suspected offenders on the basis of mere suspicion or flimsy evidence.
“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” he said.
His concerns and suggestions have been enriched by diverse experience that cut across his involvement in election petition cases, constitutional matters, high-profile political cases, anti-corruption matters, among others.
Fagbemi is bringing his brilliant knowledge and versatile experience of four decades of high profile law practice into the affairs of the federal government to shape up constitutional and legal issues as attorney general and minister of justice of the federation.
The topflight legal practitioner can count on his commitment to excellence, integrity and a burning desire to improve the nation’s justice delivery system to excel in his new role.
In his new position, it has become his job to guide the government to ensure the constitutionality of its policies and actions, empower law enforcement agencies, uphold the rule of law and constitutionality in the nation.
Fagbemi attended the University of Lagos, where he obtained his Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree in 1981 and a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in 1984. He was called to the bar in 1984 and soon emerged as a renowned lawyer in election petitions and other constitutional matters. He joined the league of most influential lawyers in Nigeria in 2015 when he was conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria – the highest legal title in the land.
He began his legal career as a counsel in the law firm of Gani Fawehinmi & Co. He soon established his own law firm, Lateef Fagbemi & Co and has also served as a judge in various Nigerian courts, including the federal high court and the court of appeal.