If the amendment to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act (CCB/CCT Act) in the Senate on Thursday secures the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari, the president will henceforth have little control over the CCB and CCT. Omololu Ogunmade reports
The Senate caught the public unawares during the week when it succeeded in amending the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (CCB/CCT Act) months after it initially suspended the move.
The move to amend the Act began in April this year at the height of the anger which accompanied the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged false declaration of assets when he served as the Governor of Kwara State in 2003.
The Senate was provoked by Saraki’s trial, which they described as nothing but a deliberate move to get rid of its presiding officer for daring to emerge as President of the Senate against the wishes of his party on June 9, 2015. The amendment was meant to place both the CCB and CCT under the control of the National Assembly, instead of the president of the country.
Not done yet, the Senate also at the time moved to amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 by initiating another amendment bill.
The first amendment bill, sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North), and entitled: “Code of Conduct Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2016,” had scaled second reading on April 14 in an unusual manner, barely two days after it was initiated on April 12.
The second bill, sponsored by Senator Isah Misau (Bauchi Central) and tagged: “A bill for and Act to Amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and Other Related Matters,” sought to remove the CCT from the list of courts statutorily empowered to initiate criminal proceedings against accused persons.
Whereas the debate on the second bill had been slated for April 20, intensive criticisms of the amendment moves stalled the plan, as both the general public and civil society groups described both amendments as ill-timed, ill-conceived and ill-motivated. Critics of the amendments described the move as irresponsible and a deliberate attempt to frustrate the on-going trial of Saraki at the CCT by the Senate’s attempt to whittle down CCB and CCT powers.
Despite the Senate’s defence that the amendments would not influence Saraki’s trial because it would not take retroactive effect, critics lambasted the legislative institution, describing the amendment processes as curious and in bad faith.
Under such intense pressure, the Senate was forced to put off the amendment moves after a rowdy two-and-a-half-hour executive session, presided over by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, on April 20. After reverting to the plenary on that day, Ekweremadu announced that following an exhaustive deliberation at the executive session, the Senate had resolved to suspend further amendments to both CCB/CCT Act and ACJA.
With the suspension, an air of relief swept through the polity, but unknown to the general public that the legislative chamber was only being clever, as it seemed to only devise another means of executing the act. This it did by allegedly passing the bill to the House of Representatives to kick-start the process because no one was standing trial before the CCT in the House. Against this background, no attention was concentrated on the amendment process in the House of Representatives until it was passed in May and eventually sent to the Senate for concurrence. Thus, the bill returned to the Senate as a House bill.
Even while the bill returned to the Senate and was eventually assigned to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for further legislation, it didn’t generate public attention, as it was no longer viewed as Senate bill, until the concurrence was finally passed on Thursday.
Thus, the National Assembly caught the public unawares by the passage of the amendments. By the passage, the National Assembly has succeeded in amending Section 18(1,2) of the extant law by transferring the president’s regulatory power over the bureau and tribunal to itself.
The passage of the bill on Thursday followed the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions presented by the committee chairman, Senator Samuel Anyanwu.
The parliament also reintroduced a provision which authorises the CCB to invite anyone found culpable in asset declaration to make necessary correction as against being charged to the tribunal for trial. This provision had earlier been expunged from the extant law.
The tradition before 2015 amendments to the Act, which was initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, was that the CCB would invite any public officer whose asset declaration was found to be lopsided and incongruous to make necessary corrections. This provision did not provide any room for prosecution of anyone found culpable before his invitation.
But this provision was deleted in the last amendment and, thus, paved the way for Saraki, former Niger Delta Minister, Godsay Orubebe, among others, to be charged to CCT without any initial invitation for correction by the CCB.
The new amendment contained in Section 3 (e) of the bill passed on Thursday, provides that “upon complaint(s) of any breach or where it appears to the Bureau that there is a breach of the provisions of this Act, the person concerned shall be given particulars of such non-compliance or breaches to explain before any reference to the tribunal.”
The Senate also amended Section 1(4) of the current CCB/CCT Act which stipulates that the chairman of the CCB and members shall vacate their seats upon attaining the retirement age of 70.
The new amendment now prescribes renewable five-year tenure for the chairman and members of the Bureau following their appointments by the president and subject to Senate confirmation. “The chairman and members shall serve for a term of five years subject to renewal for one term only,” the new amendment states.
However, the Senate rejected an amendment to Section 4(2) of the extant law which had also sought to transfer the power of appointment and discipline of chairman and members of the CCB to the National Assembly.
Section 4(2) of the Act which the committee had amended to become the exclusive preserve of the National Assembly states that “the power to appoint members of staff of the Bureau and to exercise disciplinary control over them shall vest in the Bureau and shall be exercisable in accordance with the provisions of rules and regulations as may from time to be made by the president.”
But this amendment was rejected by the parliament. If the Senate had accepted this amendment, the National Assembly would have stripped the president of the power of appointment and disciplinary control over the CCB.
The Senate also rejected amendment to Section 1(2b) of the CCB/CCT Act which provides that anyone who shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman of CCB, must have attained 50 years of age. The amendment prescribed by the committee had reduced the age of eligibility for appointment for CCB chairmanship from 50 to 30 years but this amendment was rejected while the provision of 50 years as contained in the extant Act was retained.
But the Senate succeeded in stripping the president of the powers of total control over the CCB by amending Section 18(1,2) of the CCB/CCT Act and simultaneously transferring such powers to the National Assembly.
Section 18(1,2) of the extant Act provides thus: “The president may by order exempt any cadre of public officers from the provisions of the 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 president may by order confer on the Bureau such additional powers as may appear to it to be necessary to enable it discharge more effectively the functions conferred upon it under this Act.”
The “president” in the above provisions has now been substituted with “National Assembly” which implies that the National Assembly will now determine the power of the CCB. Also in the amendment, the National Assembly will now determine who should be exempted from asset declaration.
Whereas Section 20(4) of the current CCB/CCT Act authorises the president to appoint the chairman of the CCT based on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the new amendment now makes such recommendation and appointment invalid unless it is approved by the Senate.
Also Section 20(2) of the extant Act which states that members of the tribunal shall consist of the chairman and two other members has been amended to provide that “the tribunal shall consist of a chairman and four others and three of the five shall form a quorum.”
However, the amendment retains the retirement age for CCT Chairman at 70 as contained in Section 22(1).
With the passage of the bill on October 27, the National Assembly will constitute a conference committee to harmonise the differences in both bills passed by the House and the Senate. Thereafter, the bill will be sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
But the question is, will the president be excited to sign a bill which strips him of his regulatory powers and control over the bureau and tribunal?
This is more so when Jonathan refused to sign the fourth alteration to the 1999 Constitution in view of amendments to Section 9 which he said had stripped the president of the power to sign any amendment to the constitution before it becomes operative. Will this case be different? Only time can tell.