The National Assembly has removed and transferred the powers 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 CCB and CCT Amendment Bill yesterday, the National Assembly altered section 18 (2) to enable the National Assembly do the conferment of additional powers on the CCB instead of the president as provided for in the extant Act.
The Bill has stopped the president from enjoying the powers of exempting public officers from investigation and trial. Instead, it gave that power to the National Assembly. Section 18 (1) of the existing Act reads: “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 he considers appropriate for the application of those provisions.”
Also, Section 18(2) of the existing Act provided that: “The president may, by order, confer on the Bureau such additional powers as may appear to him to be necessary to enable it to discharge more effectively the functions conferred upon it under this act.”
However, the National Assembly snatched this power from the president while considering the report of its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on a Bill for an Act to Amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap. C15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and other related Matters. The Bill was, however, passed amidst controversy among senators of the Senate Unity Forum (SUF) and members of the Like Minds group.
The Bill, initiated and first passed by the House of Representatives, was transmitted to the Senate for concurrence in May. With the concurrence of the Senate with the House, the Bill will be pushed to the president for assent.
If the amendment is signed into law by the President, the CCB and CCT, which are currently under the direct supervision of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SSG), will now be reporting to the National Assembly. The transfer of regulatory authority would enable cases of exception, including conferment of additional powers under the proposed Act, to be handled by the National Assembly instead of the president.
The Senate further reduced the tenure of chairman and members from serving until they are 70, to a term of five years. The first term of five years in office is, however, subject to renewal for one more term only, making a total of 10 years in all. The new provision reads: “The chairman and members shall serve for a term of five years subject to renewal for one further term.”
Section 20 (4) of the proposed Act made it mandatory that the appointment of the chairman and members of the CCT be subjected to the confirmation of the Senate. Another important amendment effected to the CCT/CCB Act is 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 to make a written admission of such breach or non-compliance and where such is done, there shall be no reference to the tribunal.
However, after presenting the report of the committee by its chairman, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, some members of the rival Senate Unity Forum (SUF), rose to oppose the passage of the bill, arguing that it would create negative impression in the minds of the public because of the current trial of the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, at the CCT. Senators Ahmad Lawan, Barnabas Gemade, Kabiru Marafa and Abdul- lahi Adamu, all of the SUF, strongly opposed its passage and suggested that it should be withdrawn.
However, when it was put to voice vote by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, majority of the senators approved that the chamber should go ahead with the clause-by-clause consideration, resulting in its eventual passage. In his contribution, Senator Ahmed Lawan said: “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 don’t have to tarry to pass it.
“Sir, 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, and then we will make this a better bill only when we convince ourselves that what we are trying to do is not for our sake.
“If 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 centuries and we legislate dispassionately not for ourselves.” But Senator Shehu Sanni, while contributing, urged the Senate to go on with the consideration, stressing that the legislation was not targeted at any person or group of persons, but for the benefit of the present and future Nigerians. “We have already moved to discuss this bill. Laws are not made for individuals and for a specific period of time.
They are made for posterity, for future generations. We will all someday stand to account for the laws we make in this Chamber and I believe it will be suspicious of Nigerians to start this process now and midway we simply stop it. “There is no controversy in it; what is right is right, what is wrong is wrong.
We are not making laws for the convenience and comfort of somebody whether in or out of government. As far as I am concerned, I believe that since we have wisdom to table this, we should have the courage to see it through,” Sani said. Ekweremadu had to intervene to restore peace. He, however, cautioned Lawan against describing the amendment of the Bill as self-serving. “Ekweremadu said: “For the purposes of the public, I think we need to put this in proper perspective.
This bill came as a House bill and like other House bills we concurred, but in reference to this, we decided to send it to the committee so that they can have another look at it. We would have passed it that same day, but we sent it to the committee and it came up this morning.
The question was put as to whether we should consider it and the answer was yes. “So it will be unfair to accuse ourselves here of being unnecessarily hasty. We should not create the impression that there is any haste in reconsidering this bill and we have followed the rules to the latter up to this moment.”
It will be recalled that the Senate introduced a similar bill in April this year and referred it to the Committee on Ethics, but it was suspended because of the public outcry as a result of Saraki’s trial at the CCT. It is however, not certain if President Muhammadu Buhari will assent to the Bill when it is finally transmitted to him because of the controversy trailing the legislation.