A recent attempt by the Senate to amend two crucial laws of the land, especially now that its president, Bukola Saraki, is being tried under the same set of laws for corruption related charges, is curious and would breed nothing but chaos. Davidson Iriekpen writes
Obviously because one of its own is standing trial before it, the Senate has moved to amend two critical laws in the country – Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015. While the CCB/CCT was last amended in 2004, the ACJA was enacted last year and signed into law by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, is currently standing trial at the CCT, following a 13-count charge leveled against him over alleged false and anticipatory asset declaration during his tenure as the Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011.
Before the latest attempt by the senate to amend the two laws, Saraki had instituted series of suits at the Federal High Court, where he had challenged the constitution of the CCT to try his case. He also challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him. The senate president pursued the suits to the Supreme Court but lost.
The two bills which got accelerated hearing in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly, when the bills came up for debate are meant to seriously whittle down the powers of CCB/CCT and ACJA.
For the CCB/CCT, the bill to amend it is seeking to delete from it, a list of judicial institutions with the jurisdiction to adjudicate on criminal matters. The bill is also seeking to transfer the control of CCT and CCB from the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) to the National Assembly or the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).
The first bill tagged: “Code of Conduct Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2016,” was sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North). In his lead debate, Nwaboshi said the bill was conceived to save Nigerians and Nigeria from overzealous politicians, who will always use CCT to go after perceived enemies and settle some differences. He added that the process was ensure that anyone, who appears before the CCT was given a fair hearing.
“The amendment of Section 3 of the CCB and CCT is to give every public officer appearing before the bureau fair hearing as provided for under Section 36 (2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution,” he said.
Specifically, the amendments proposed in the bill are: “The functions of the bureau shall be to (a) receive assets declarations by officers in accordance with the provisions of this Act; (b) take and retain custody of such assets declarations; and (c) examine the assets declarations and ensure that they comply with the requirements of this Act and of any law for the time being in force if otherwise the bureau shall invite the public officer concerned and take down his statement in writing;
“(d) receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of this Act and where the Bureau having regard to any statement taken or to be taken after such subsequent complaint is made, considers it necessary to do so, investigate the complaint and where appropriate, refer such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal established by section 20 of this Act and the constitution in accordance with the provisions of Sections 20 to 25 of this Act.”
Also up for amendment by the senate is the ACJA. When the bill was put to a voice vote, senators unanimously voted in favour of its passage and immediately referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics and Judiciary.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Isah Misau (Bauchi Central), seeks to remove CCT from the list of courts saddled with powers to initiate criminal proceedings against accused persons.
Highlighting the exclusion of CCT among courts with powers to initiate criminal proceedings, the bill states that “the provisions of this Act shall not apply to a court martial and such other courts or tribunals not being courts created and listed under Section 6(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.”
Though Ekweremadu, who presided over the session explained that the amendments of the two laws are not intended to influence the trial of Saraki at the CCT, observers feel that he was being economical with the truth.
While many are anxiously waiting to see how the amendment would favour the embattled senate president, tongues are already wagging in some quarters with many feeling that the amendments are instigated to provide an escape route for him. To them, the only amendment that makes sense is that which removes the CCB from the office of the SGF, adding that the other two, according to them are for selfish reasons.
People are therefore asking the senate some salient questions like, why should a law be made because of an individual? At what point did the lawmakers realise that the CCB/CCT and ACJ Acts are defective? Is false declaration of assets not a ploy to steal public funds? Is the offence not corruption. So why should it be treated separately from others prosecuted at the conventional court?
Analysts therefore believe that what is currently playing out in the senate is not different from what happened in 2008, when the Court of Appeal thwarted the effort of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arraign former Governor of the Delta State, James Ibori for corruption in Kaduna, which is outside his state.
Recall that while delivering judgment in the appeal filed by Ibori, the court robbed the Federal High Court of its ‘one jurisdiction status’ to try any case committed against the federal government in any part of the country. The appellate court in its judgment, asked the Chief Judge of the court to reassign the case to where Ibori committed the offence.
This made the Federal High Court to be built in Asaba within three months and after about two sittings, the case was dismissed and Ibori was discharged. The decision of the Court of Appeal later became a reference for other former governors and suspects, who are today tried outside their states and who want their cases to be transferred to their home states for obvious reasons.
Following this, analysts are of the view that allowing the senators to have their way now with the current amendments would spell doom for the fight against corruption in the country. They argued that knowing the penchant Nigerians have for taking advantage of any loophole in the country’s laws, the war against corruption is as good as dead.
For instance, a public affairs analyst, Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu, faulted the timing, objective and speed given to the bills by the senators, contending that attempts to amend the two laws is nothing but a mockery of the country’s constitution. He said it was unfortunate that despite the current difficulties that Nigerians are facing, the senators decided to turn their chambers to a national house of comedy.
Uduchukwu lamented that at a time Nigerians were expecting the senators to give priority to drafting and sponsoring bills that will make positive impact on the economy especially on the prevailing forex crises, the lawmakers have decided to embark on a wild goose chase, sponsoring and allowing a bill that seeks to weaken and frustrate the activities of CCB/CCT and other institutions established to discourage corruption and prosecute individuals suspected to have made false asset declaration.
“The Senate claims that the bill is meant to give opportunity to the accused to defend his or herself at the Bureau before prosecution. This is ridiculous! It is ridiculous because during every prosecution, suspects are given adequate opportunity to defend themselves with the assistance of lawyers. So, the Senate should bear in mind that the bill is not only a failure on arrival but an abuse of court process and an insult to our justice system.
“If suspects should be allowed to defend themselves before prosecution, then there is no need approaching the court. Since our constitution grants a suspect the right to be deemed innocent until proved guilty by the court, why is the Senate pushing such bill?
“Such bill is nothing but a mockery of our constitution and by sponsoring and allowing it to pass through the second reading, the Senate just exhibited some atom of fear of possible prosecution and conviction by the courts. This is because any innocent suspect won’t be trying to avoid or frustrate his or her prosecution rather such suspect will always be willing and anxious to open his or her defence in court.
“Moreover, why sponsoring and hurrying the passage of such controversial bill at a time when the Senate president is facing prosecution at the same code of conduct tribunal? That alone puts the integrity of the Bill to question. In a sane clime, the Senate President should resign in order to have more time for his defence in court but over here in Nigeria, instead of resigning, our own distinguished Senate President decided to give his support for the amendment of the Acts that serves as backbone to his trial and having lost in several attempts to escape trial, Senate President Bukola Saraki now sits down to support the weakening of his trial through some Acts of amendments.
“Furthermore, by embarking on the amendments of the CCB/CCT and ACJA at same time especially at a time when the Senate president is facing trial, and by allowing the CCB/CCT amendment bill to pass through the second reading within forty-eight hours of its introduction, the senate is simply telling Nigerians that it is afraid that the Senate President will speedily (be convicted) receive justice because with the current provisions of the ACJA, there is no more room for lawyers or judges to prolong or frustrate trials.”
On his part, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), condemned the move by the senate to amend the laws. He said the commencement of the amendment of the Act has exposed the intention of the country’s legislators to encourage corrupt practices and shield corrupt leaders from prosecution.
Sagay said the move by the senators has exposed the level of lack of moral integrity on the part of the members of the red chamber. “It’s a surprise to me, because I really don’t know that our mentality has degenerated to such a level of self-service that the people, who were sent to the National Assembly to make laws for the benefit of all Nigerians, have started a process that will allow a complete crisis, an Act that corruption cannot be prosecuted.
“To me, this is the highest level of shameless misconduct by the generality of the members of the red chamber. Obviously, there is no limit to the level of disgusting things they can do.”
Also human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, described the proposed amendment of the CCB/T Act and the ACJ Act as an ill-wind that would blow no good to those behind it. He said the proposed amendments amounts to a conflict of interest because it was being proposed because of one man.
He, however, pointed out that even if the amendments succeeds, by virtue of the provisions of the constitution, it would not have a retroactive effect, adding that it would not have any effect on cases already pending in court.
Falana said: “Any amendment of the law under the constitution cannot and will not have retrospective effect. The amendment will not have any effect on pending cases in court. The excuse being advanced for the devilish agenda is jejune because the CCT, whose members are screened for appointment by the Senate, cannot be said to be under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
“The proposed amendment also amounts to a conflict of interest because you cannot, because of one man, amend the law of the land. It will amount to an exercise in futility.”
Though Ekweremadu, who presided over the session explained that the amendments of the two laws are not intended to influence the trial of Saraki at the CCT, observers feel that he was being economical with the truth…While many are anxiously waiting to see how the amendment would favour the embattled senate president, tongues are already wagging in some quarters with many feeling that the amendments are instigated to provide an escape route for him