The Senate, Wednesday, suspended further debate on the bill seeking the amendment of the law establishing the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The suspension of the debate was announced after a closed session that lasted over two hours presided by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.
Deputy Senate President, who announced resolutions at the closed session also said that they resolved to suspend the consideration of the bill which seeks the amendment of the Code of Conduct Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, without giving reasons.
Controversies have trailed the move to amend the Act establishing CCT/CCB, since it was introduced two weeks ago.
It was gathered the suspension is not unconnected to the mammoth of voices that spoke against the amendment.
The bill, which seeks amendment of the Act to remove the Code of Conduct Tribunal from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Presidency, according the Senate, was to ensure fair hearing for accused persons, as well as remove the powers of the Code of Conduct Tribunal from adjudicating on criminal matters.
The bill, which passed second reading, Thursday last week, that is coming at a time the Senate President, Bukola Saraki was facing a 13 count charge before the Tribunal, was seen by many as an attempt to aid Saraki to evade justice at the Tribunal.
Last Friday the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) petitioned Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights asking him to “use your good offices and position to urgently request the National Assembly of Nigeria, specifically the Senate, to withdraw amendments”.
SERAP believes if the amendments are allowed to be passed into law, they would seriously weaken the act, undermine the fight against corruption in the country, exacerbate extreme poverty and violations of internationally recognized human rights.
The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), also came together in Abuja on Monday and went against the amendment.
Such civil Society as the Partners for Electoral Reform, Transition Monitoring Network, Convener of Protest to Power Forum and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, among others, all spoke against the bill.
Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chairman the Partners for Electoral Reform, said the proposed amendment posed a threat to the current democratic dispensation.
The Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) also condemned the move by the National Assembly to amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (ACJ Act),describing it as self-service and contrary to paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, the group said the purpose of the amendment was to exclude the Code of Conduct Tribunal from the application of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
“It is clearly a move by the leadership of the Senate to frustrate at all cost the trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the Tribunal,” said Mr. Obiagwu, a lawyer.
“The desperation with which the Senate President and his supporters are throwing tantrums and seeking to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, simply for the purpose of seeking ways to frustrate his trial of the Tribunal, raises the impression that he is guilty of the offence charged and they are only working to stop his trial.
“By amending the ACJ Act, the Senate will end up frustrating the good intentions of the Act simply because of the pursuit to stop Mr. Saraki’s trial.”
“The bill to amend the ACJ Act, titled ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and other related matters, 2016 (SB.249)’, sponsored by Isah Misau (APC, Bauchi Central) passed through second reading on Thursday April 14, 2016.
“Also on the same day, the Senate adopted through second reading the ‘Bill to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act,’ all geared towards ensuring that the Senate President’s trial for false declaration of his assets at the Tribunal is derailed at all cost,” said Obiagwu.
“By removing the application of the ACJ Act from courts other than the Federal and State High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme, which are the only courts with criminal jurisdiction listed under section 6(5) of the Constitution, the proposed amendment will narrow the application of this very laudable legislation, and restrict its application to many courts and tribunals,” Obiagwu said.
“LEDAP drew the attention of the National Assembly to their oath of office, and that they are elected by the people to make laws for ‘order and good government of Nigeria’ and not for self-serving interests.
“By pursing the amendment of the Acts in this manner, the legislators are simply abusing the privilege of law making. Furthermore, the amendments violate paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers enshrined in Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, which stipulates that ‘A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.’”
LEDAP called on the Senate to withdraw the bill to amend the ACJ Act 2015, and that of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, and allow justice to take its course at the Tribunal.
“The law presumes Mr. Saraki innocent until his guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution.
“By embarking on desperate actions to frustrate the trial and the Tribunal, Mr. Saraki is sending the message to Nigerians and the world that he is guilty and cannot stand to face justice.
“Under our constitutional democracy, no person no matter how highly placed, is above the law, and the National Assembly cannot amend the law just to suit the whims and caprices of one man”, Obiagwu added.
Femi Falana (SAN) also lend his voice sgainst the Bill by telling the House of Representatives not to lend its support to the amendment.
In his letter dated April 15, 2016, addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Falana described the proposed amendment by the Upper legislative chamber as illegal and self serving.
The letter titled, ‘Re: Proposed Amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Tribunal Act by the National Assembly’, was copied the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
Falana said going by the nature of the CCB/T Act which is a duplication of provisions of the Constitution, the amendment could not be valid without amending the Constitution.
He said in the letter to Dogara that the ongoing process at the Senate was in violation of section 4(2) of the Constitution.
He said the constitutional provision only empowered the National Assembly to make laws “for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof.”
He said, “In the light of the authoritative pronouncement of the Supreme Court on lack of legislative powers on the part of the National Assembly to enact laws which have similar provisions to those of the Constitution section 3 of the Act has become a duplication of the relevant constitutional provision.
“Consequently, its proposed amendment is illegal and unconstitutional. In other words, without amending the relevant provisions of the Constitution the proposed amendment of the Act is an exercise in futility.
“As the proposed amendment cannot alter, enlarge or curtail the relevant provisions of the Constitution the Senate ought not to continue to waste precious time and resources on the illegal exercise”, Falana had said.