Last Thursday, the Senate, in concurrence with the House of Representatives, transferred the power of the President in controlling the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act (CCB and CCT) to itself.
At the conclusion of work on the Bill to amend the CCB and CCT, the Assembly successfully altered section 18 (2) of the existing Act to enable the National Assembly do the conferment of additional powers on the CCB instead of the President. The thrust of the controversial bill is the transfer of powers from the president to the National Assembly.
Saraki is currently facing a criminal trial at the CCT over alleged under-declaration of assets when he held sway as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. His trial by the Federal Government, through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has polarized both chambers of the National Assembly.
While those who lost out in the leadership tussle of the National Assembly are firmly behind the ongoing trial, a sizeable number of lawmakers, drawn from both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have described it as a slap on the parliament by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Further angered by the perceived political vendetta, the lawmakers declared an open war on the presidency. Their sole aim was to weaken the CCT and CCB and strip the presidency of powers of oversight over the body.
In many instances, the Red Chamber was shut down whenever Saraki appeared before CCT to face his criminal trial. He was and is still frequently accompanied by a retinue of lawmakers who dumped their primary assignment.
Saraki on his part, has made frantic efforts to quash the ongoing trial. He has approached almost all the various courts in the country to stop the trial and has been rebuffed. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Supreme Court ruled that he should face trial and that the CCT was constitutionally empowered to handle his case.
Not willing to relent, Saraki employed other tactics to frustrate his trial. One of such was when he blatantly told the chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Umar to disqualify himself over claims that he was being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Therefore, what culminated last Thursday started about six months ago on the floor of the Senate. On April 12, 2016, Code of Conduct Act CAP C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (SB 248), scaled the crucial first reading seamlessly.
Sponsor of the Bill, Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North) and a key supporter of the Senate President, had told reporters that the bill’s aim was to save Nigerians from desperate and overzealous politicians. Nwaboshi had described the bill as “a patriotic” piece of legislation that should be quickly passed to make the CCB and the CCT independent.
On the timing of the proposed amendment, the Delta North lawmaker had maintained that he was prompted to initiate the bill after reading the judgment of the Supreme Court on the trial of Saraki. He had added that timing or no timing, his duty was to Nigerians and to Nigerians alone.
Explaining what he meant that the objective of the bill was to save Nigerians from overzealous and desperate politicians, Nwaboshi had said: “The CCB and the CCT are under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. It is clear to every Nigerian that the SGF is a politician. He can use the organs as a weapon against his opponents.
“Since the Supreme Court has ruled that the CCT is a court, the CCB and CCT should not report to a politician. It should be made an independent body that should be seen to be neutral and independent of any politician. The original framers of the CCB and CCT Act did not intend to create an institution that should be used as a weapon by an individual.”
But the Senate eventually chickened out when Nigerians out rightly condemned the move and some rights groups threatened to lead protests against lawmakers. Unwilling to throw in the towel, the House of Representatives in the same month, introduced the amendment bill and passed it in May this year.
As it is expected in the parliament, the Senate had to concur and that was exactly what was done last Thursday. The passage of the amendment bill was not without drama and high tempers. It was a war between members of the Senate Unity Forum and Like Minds group.
The passage of the bill by the Senate, followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions which did “critical examination of the bill preparatory to concurrence of the Senate.”
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, explained that the political situation of the time when the bill was first introduced in the Senate was not conducive for continued processing of the bill, and was subsequently suspended.
Anyanwu listed objectives of the bill to include, to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap.C15 Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 by Altering the tenure of the office of the Chairman and Members of the Bureau; Amend entry age of the Chairman and Members of the Bureau; Relocating the power to exercise authority over the Bureau from Mr. President to the National Assembly, Extending power of the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute to private legal practitioners to enable the Bureau prosecute its cases; and Making certain provisions clearer and more elaborate.
Section 1(2)(b) which sought to reduce the entry age of the Chairman and members of the Bureau from 50 years to 30 was rejected by the Senate.
The upper chamber therefore retained 50 years as the entry age of the Chairman and members of the Bureau. Section 1(4) which sought to reduce the tenure of the Chairman and members from serving until they are seventy to a term of five years subject to renewal for one further term only, making a total of 10 years in all was carried.
Also carried was Section 3(d) which sought to make it compulsory for any case of breach or non compliance to be brought to the notice of the person concerned to enable him make a written admission of such breach or non compliance, and where such is done, there shall be no reference to the Tribunal.
The lawmakers however turned down Section 4(2) which sought to transfer the power to make rules and regulations for the Bureau from the President to the National Assembly.
The rejected Section 4(2) seems to be in conflict with Section 18(1) and (2) where the lawmakers accepted that the powers assigned the President will now be performed by the National Assembly.
The Senate resolved that “Section 18(1)(2) under “Exemption” are amended by substituting ‘President’ with the ‘National Assembly’ and to substitute in sub section 1 ‘him’ with ‘it’.”
The Senate further amended Section 18 by adding new sub section 3 thus: “Failure to comply with sub section 2 above shall constitute misconduct.”
Section 18 (1) in the Principal Act states “The President may by order exempt any cadre of public officers from the provisions of this Act if it appears to him that their position in the public service is below the rank which it considers appropriate for the application of those provisions.”
The principal Act in Section 18(2) states that “The President may by order confer on the Bureau such additional powers as may appear to it to be necessary to enable it to discharge more effectively the functions conferred upon it under this Act.”
With the amendment, the National Assembly will now perform the function in Section 18 (2) instead of the President, which implies that the National Assembly will determine those to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Section 18 (1) specifically sought to enable cases of exemption under the Act to be handled by the National Assembly instead of the President while 18(2) will enable the National Assembly do the conferment of additional powers (if need be) on the Bureau instead of the President.
The Senate introduced Section 20 (2) to ensure that a minimum of three members of the Tribunal sit at all times. The upper chamber also introduced it to subject the appointment of Tribunal members by the President to the confirmation of the Senate.
Section 24(2) which sought to enable the Attorney General of the Federation prosecute cases with private legal practitioners as he may find suitable was adopted.
Section 24(5) was introduced to make the provisions of the Evidence Act, 2011 applicable to the Tribunal where crime is an issue. Those who predominantly spoke against the bill were members of Unity Forum.
Senator Yahaya Abdullahi said: “To move a whole president who has equally been elected by the country is wrong. You cannot reprobate and appropriate the substitution of the President to the National Assembly. We can hold the President responsible. We are the only institution that can even remove the President in this country under the Constitution. So the President is under our oversight. I think we have taken this thing too far. Let us be dispassionate about this matter.”
Adamu Abdullahi observed: “My observation is simple. At this point in time, the bill is clearly provided for by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the functions therein. I am not comfortable with our making any legislation that will run contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. That is my own observation.”
A prominent member of Unity Forum, Senator Ahmed Lawan noted: “The Senate is a moderator on legislation. This bill emanated from the House of Representatives and our colleagues there passed it. I agree totally with the submissions of some of our colleagues here that we do not have to tarry to pass it.
“We will be doing ourselves and this National Assembly a better service if we step down this thing and move on to some other things that will make this a better bill only. We should go ahead only when we have convinced ourselves that what we are trying to do is not for our sake.
“We feel we are affected today because perhaps either one of us or some of us are before the tribunal or something. This is not a permanent situation and when we legislate, we legislate for maybe centuries and we legislate dispassionately and not for ourselves. I feel very passionate about this that whatever we feel about any situation that we are in, let us make sure that that thing does not get into us when we legislate for the sake of our people.”
Attempts by the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume to prevail on his colleagues to suspend the consideration and passage of the bill, proved abortive.
However, analysts are of the view that the proposed bill may spark a clash between the National Assembly, representing the legislature, and jointly led by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and Senate President, Saraki and the executive arm when it is finally presented for the assent of President Buhari.
If anything, they contend that the issue is being personalized by the legislature over the trial of Senator Saraki, which is also being viewed as the handiwork of the executive, hence, the president may withhold his assent, which may likely lead to a face-off, and political horse trading.
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