Coalition of civil societies in the country have come together to ambush the Senate on the ongoing amendments to the Act establishibg Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal.
In a press conference in Abuja, the coalition said the amendments were fraudulent and aimed at clipping the wings of the Tribunal, and had to be halted immediately.
The Bill, which seeks amendment 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 last week, and coming at a time the Senate President, Bukola Saraki is facing a 13 count charge before the Tribunal, is seen by many as an attempt to aid Saraki to evade justice at the Tribunal.
Since the amendments were proposed in the Upper Chamber, two weeks ago, it has attracted criticisms from Nigerians.
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), which came together in Abuja on Monday include, Partners for Electoral Reform, Transition Monitoring Network, Convener of Protest to Power Forum and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, among others. Their sole aim is to stop the amendments.
The Senior Programme Officer of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Kolawole Banwo, who spoke on behalf of the CSOs, said the events leading to Saraki’s trial at the CCT, as well as the negative result of various reports against him, in recent times, were reason enough for the Senate President to step down and allow the course of justice prevail, rather than ‘sit tight’ and ‘attempt to frustrate his trial’.
They said the attempts by the upper legislative chamber to amend the Act at a time its President was undergoing trial at the CCT amounted to abuse and misuse of power.
“It is clear that these underhand moves in the Senate are aimed at whittling down the powers of the agencies with a view to helping the Senate President escape Justice”, the organisations said.
“It will be recalled that in the course of the ongoing trial of Mr. Saraki at the CCT, mind blowing revelations have emerged about how the Senate President had been receiving double salaries, long after he ceased to be Governor of Kwara State.”
“He is also alleged to have breached the law by keeping secrete foreign accounts in offshore tax heavens, as confirmed in the leaked Panama papers.
“These are weighty allegations which ordinarily should have compelled Mr. Saraki to step down and use the judicial process to clear his name”, the coalition said
The organisations noted that the way many of the Senators follow Saraki to the Tribunal anytime his trial was holding, Mr. Saraki had shown a sign of disdain and contempt for Nigerians.
They said, “Mr. Saraki shows disdain and contempt to Nigerian and the rule of law by closing down the Senate and carrying a majority of Senators to the Tribunal, whenever he is arraigned.
“We condemn the irresponsibility of Senators who have abandoned work on so many critical bills to concentrate on the amendment of the CCT Act.”
The CSOs said like every other public officer, the Senate President should conform to the Code of Conduct, as stipulated by section 172 of the Constitution.
They described the attempt by the Senate to strip the Tribunal of its powers as an “outright betrayal of public trust, total disregard for administration of justice and Utmost conflict of Interest.”
Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chairman the Partners for Electoral Reform, said the proposed amendment posed a threat to the current democratic dispensation.
“We can say this is the greatest threat posed to the Fourth Republic,” Nwagwu said.
“If we get away with this, it means that every other law in the Fiscal Responsibility Act can also be amended in order to excuse the Federal Government.
“Every other law can be amended to suit personal gains, and this we condemn. We stand against it and indicate that we will join Nigerians to resist the passage of this bill.”
Nwagwu said the honourable thing for Saraki to do was to withdraw the bill and that it could be revisited after his tribunal.
Also speaking, the National Coordinator of the Transition Monitoring Network, Aaron Ogundiwin, said it was the legal responsibility of civil groups to collaborate with Nigerians to bring their leaders to accountability.
He said the fight against corruption was a fight for Nigeria’s survival.
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 Obiagwu.
“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 draws 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.
This is as human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has urged 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, 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 said.