The last is yet to be heard on the ongoing amendments to the Act of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and Code of Conduct Bureau by the Senate.
The Bill, which seeks amendments of the Act of Code of Conduct Bureau and 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, is 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, is coming at a time the Senate President, Bukola Saraki is facing a 13 count charge before the Tribunal and is seen by many as an attempt to clip the wings of the Tribunal.
But the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over Thursday session dispelled such sentiments.
But Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) does not believe the Deputy Senate President that the Bill is devoid of sentiments as the non governmental organisation has 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 amendment 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.
In the petition dated 15 April 2016 and signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation expressed “serious concern that the Senate of Nigeria will any moment from now pass amendments to Public Officers Protection Act; Administration of Criminal Justice Act; Code of Conduct Bureau Act and the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act with the political objective of securing a soft-landing for the Senate President Bukola Saraki who is facing corruption charges.”
The petition copied to Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption reads in part: “SERAP considers these amendments to be in bad faith, patently an abuse of legislative powers, politically biased, and demonstrably unjustified in a democratic and representative society governed by the rule of law, and incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments particularly the UN Convention against Corruption, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified.”
SERAP also considers the amendments to amount to “legislative rascality”, as they are not legitimate exercise of legislative power, and if allowed can exacerbate extreme poverty and violations of the right to an adequate standard of living of Nigerians and other human rights.
“The amendments also threaten the injunction that government must be accountable, responsive and open; that public institutions must not only be held to account but must also be governed by high standards of ethics, efficiency and must use public resources in an effective manner.
“SERAP is concerned that while deserving bills have been left to languish at the bottom of their legislative programmes, the Nigerian Senate has fast-tracked the passing of these obnoxious amendments. The drafters of the constitution would not have foreseen that the Senate would use its legislative power to encourage corruption and to undermine rather than advance constitutional guarantees and principles.
“SERAP believes that a good government is one that rules according to the law, not according to the whims or caprice of parliamentarians.”
SERAP notes that the Nigerian constitution 1999 (as amended) grants legislative power to the Senate to “make laws for the peace, order and good government”.
SERAP believes that this power implies that the National Assembly including the Senate will serve as a crucial bastion of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law that are necessary to reduce poverty, establish a corruption-free society, and effective enjoyment of human rights.
“Rather than be inspired by the spirit of public service by initiating legislation that promotes transparency, accountability and human rights, the Senate is legislating to encourage corruption and impunity, serving as both a shield and sword to advance personal agendas. SERAP argues that the state’s obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights inevitably creates a duty to develop effective anti-corruption legislation and not to promote corruption and impunity of perpetrators.
“According to the constitution, all power and authority of Government and its organs is derived from the Constitution. Nigeria also is obligated to observe international human rights obligations in good faith and to take appropriate measures including through legislation to promote, protect and fulfil human rights. The law-making powers which are vested in the National Assembly including the Senate by Section 4 of the constitution are therefore to be exercised in accordance with the constitution and international obligations.
“Similarly, the supremacy of the constitution including on all organs of government, and the sanctity of international human rights obligations imply that the Senate has no power to ignore the conditions of law-making that are imposed by the instrument which itself regulates its power to make law.”
SERAP therefore urges the Special Rapporteur to: 1. Publicly express concerns about the proposed amendments to the laws that will weaken anticorruption agencies, undermine the fight against corruption and thereby exacerbating extreme poverty and violations of human rights; 2. Put pressure on the Senate to withdraw the amendments to the anticorruption laws and to ensure that a climate of legislative impunity and official corruption is not allowed to undermine the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to advance human rights and address extreme poverty; 3. Urge the National Assembly in particular the Senate to promote in its legislative duties transparency and accountability and observe human rights principles, and that the exercise of its legislative power complies with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments; 4. Urge the National Assembly to allow anticorruption agencies in this case the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal to operate without any intimidation, harassment or interference whatsoever “In charge number ABT/01/15, dated September 11 and filed before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr. Saraki is accused of offences ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets to making false declaration of assets in forms he filed before the Code of Conduct Bureau while he was governor of Kwara state.
“The amendments which have passed the second reading just 48 hours after introduction indicate that Section 3 (c) and (d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act will be amended to alter the functions of the bureau. Also, the Code of Conduct Tribunal will no longer be able to try any accused public officer. The amendments also seek to put the anticorruption agencies firmly under the control of the Senate, and to whittle down their powers”, said SERAP.
This is as even human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has urged the House of Representatives not to lend its support to the amendment going on in the Senate.
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, Dr. 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 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.
“Since the Constitution has prohibited the enactment of ex post facto laws in circumstances of this nature the National Assembly ought to know that the ongoing moves to amend the Act cannot have any effect on the celebrated trial of the Senate President.
“Having solemnly sworn to strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution the members of the National Assembly should stop subverting the obligation of the Federal Government to ‘abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.’
“In view of the foregoing, we are compelled to urge the House of Representatives ably led by your good self not to lend its weight to the illegal amendment of the Act”
Falana told the House of Representatives: “You may wish to remind your colleagues in the House that when the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000 was amended in 2003 on account of the investigation of allegations of corrupt practices involving the leadership of the Senate the Federal High Court set aside the amendment as it violated the Constitution.
“As the same fate certainly awaits the Bill to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act it is hoped that the House will persuade the Senate to terminate further debates on it.”
He said though Saraki, who is being prosecuted on the strength of the law sought to be amended, had been staying away from the amendment proceedings, the process was in violation of paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers enshrined in Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
He quoted the provision of the paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers enshrined in Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, as stating, “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.”
Falana described as invalid and inoperative the section 3 of the Act which the sponsor of the bill seeks its amendment.
“With respect, section 3 of the Act is in pari materia with Paragraph 3(e) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution. To that extent, section 3 of the Act is inoperative and invalid in every material particular.”
He stated that as held by the Supreme Court in Attorney-General of Abia v Attorney-General of the Federation (2001), any Act whose provisions are similar to or inconsistent with existing provisions of the Constitution would be null and void.
Contributing to the feabate on the floor of Srnate, Thursday, Senator Yahaya Abbdullahi, (Kebbi North) urged his collragues to be cautious about the timing of the amendment.
He said that although the amendments were apt, the perception of Nigerians, especially with regard to the timing should be taken into consideration.
“What I am against is the timing; we must be wary about public perception about the position of the senate.
“The Nigerian people could perceive this to mean that we did not challenge this Act until now that our principal officer is standing trial.
“I have nothing against the amendment because it brings fairness; if I am being treated the way our principal officer is being treated it would not be good.
“But for the credibility of this Senate I think we should re-examine the timing of this.
“The question of the timing of this bill should be taken into consideration. Nigerian people can easily interpret that since 1991, this Act was not challenged but because our principal officer is being tried, we decided to come up with this amendment”, he had said.