NLC, others attack Senate over move to amend CCT Act
The move by the Senate to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act has attracted wide-spread condemnation from eminent groups and prominent individuals.
One of the proposed amendments to the Act setting up the CCB/CCT was to bar the CCT from trying criminal cases.
The first amendment bill, which was sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaboshi (PDP Delta North) and entitled, 'Code of Conduct Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2016', which was first laid before the Senate on Tuesday, had, by Thursday, already passed the second reading.
The second bill, which is being sponsored by Senator Isah Misau (APC Bauchi Central) and tagged, 'A bill for an Act to amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and other related matters', seeks to remove the CCT from the list of courts statutorily empowered to initiate criminal proceedings against accused persons.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, is currently being tried by the tribunal for false and anticipatory asset declaration during his eight-year tenure as the Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011.
On Sunday, the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Transition Monitoring Group and Friends in the Gap Advocacy Initiative described the move by the federal legislators as dangerous and self-serving.
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, to ensure that the House did not concur with the Senate anticipated amendments.
A former Chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, also joined others to condemn the action of the Senate.
The NLC in describing the move by the Senate as dangerous, said while the intention of the Senate appeared noble, the timing was wrong.
The President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, in a statement on Sunday, said it was rather curious that it took the Senate the ongoing trial of its President, Saraki, to realise the stated 'errors' in the Act.
He said, 'However, we at the Nigeria Labour Congress hold the view that the noble intention of the Senate notwithstanding, the timing is suspect and fraught with danger. It is quite intriguing that it took the trial of the Senate President for the Senate to discover these flaws in the law(s).
'Putting it bluntly, in spite of the spirited defence by the Deputy Senate President to the contrary, not a few believe that this legislative move is a desperate attempt to scuttle the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, at CCT.'
Wabba stressed that while it was true that legislative amendments were the constitutional responsibility of the National Assembly, and also proper to have legislation to guarantee fair trial since corruption cases could be triggered by other reasons, the timing was wrong.
He added, 'On our part, we do not think the privileges of the Senate President extend to exemptions from civil or criminal trials. At the moment, only the President and his deputy, the governor and the deputy enjoy this rare privilege.
'Thus, what the Senate is trying to do is no more than a legislative ambush.'
He stated that there should be equality of all Nigerians before the law, stressing that the ongoing campaign against corruption should not be selective.
Wabba said the amendment should not be allowed to go through as it would set a bad precedent in the society.
Also, the TMG described the amendment being carried out by the Senate as a manifestation of legislative rascality.
It believed that the move was meant to protect him from the long arm of the law.
The TMG, in a statement by its Chairman, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, on Sunday in Abuja, said the proposed amendment was an abuse of legislative power, stressing that 'this latest manifestation of legislative rascality goes to show the level of desperation and the despicable extent to which these so-called legislators are willing to descend in the discredited venture of helping their tainted leader escape justice.'
The group added, 'While it is true that the legislature is empowered by the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to make laws for the good governance of the nation, it is immoral and unacceptable to deploy legislative powers to further personal ends.
'As far as we are concerned, Saraki's trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is his personal business. It is therefore a vexatious affront to the sensibilities of the Nigerian people that the weight of the entire legislature would be brought to bear in this disturbing attempt at giving him political rehabilitation.'
The TMG frowned on what it called the gangster approach to legislative business by the Senate and commended the symbolic gesture of legislators who had tried to distance themselves from 'this show of shame.'
The statement read, 'This is the time for the long suffering people of Nigeria to raise their voices. They must condemn the continuous criminalisation of key institutions of the State by a set of conspirators.
'TMG calls on Nigerian students, market women, artisans, employed and unemployed youths to use this opportunity to send a clear message to Saraki and his minions that corruption and the personalisation of state institutions for the benefit of a morally-deficient few is no longer acceptable.'
The Friends in the Gap Advocacy Initiative, on its part, described as ill-timed and ill-motivated the amendments currently being proposed by the Senate to whittle down the powers of the of the CCB and CCT.
It alleged that the lawmakers were carrying out the exercise as part of their plot to frustrate the current trial of Saraki at the CCT.
But the FGAI, in a statement on Sunday and signed by its Executive Director, George Oji, said the speed at which the Senate wanted to conclude the amendment process raised very worrisome suspicion.
The amendments, the group argued, failed all known basic moral tests.
It added that the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights, which would handle the public hearing, was given just two weeks to conclude its work and report back to the Senate.
The statement read, 'It is expected that when debate on the second bill commences this week, the process will not assume no less an accelerated approach.
'Clearly, the intention of the two bills is to whittle down the powers of both the CCB and CCT. No doubt, coming at a time like this, when the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is currently facing trial before the CCT over allegations of false asset declaration and money laundering, the action of the Senate raises a lot of suspicion about the sincerity of the lawmakers that the amendment has nothing to do with the Senate President's trial.
'Considering their antecedent in lawmaking, it will be hard put for the senate to explain to Nigerians that the amendment is not self-serving. It is wrong to legislate in anger. Legislation must not only be altruistic but futuristic.
'It is unfortunate that the Senate has not accorded the same kind of urgency it is currently doing in the amendment of the CCB and CCT Act to timely initiation of legislation to support the Buhari administration's resolve in stamping out corruption in the country.
'Nigerians expect the National Assembly, which is dominated by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, to be in the same front seat to drive the current war against corruption with the executive.
'What the senators have unfortunately demonstrated so far is that they are not in sync with the executive in the current war against corruption.'
In his own move on Sunday, Falana urged the House of Representatives not to lend its support to the ongoing process by the upper chamber to amend the CCB/CCT Act.
In his letter, dated April 15, 2016, addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, Falana described the proposed amendment by the Senate as illegal and self-serving.
A copy of the letter titled, 'Re: Proposed Amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act by the National Assembly', was sent to the Senate President.
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, a copy of which was made available to one of our correspondents on Sunday, 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 there of.'
Falana explained that going by the constitutional provision prohibiting the enactment of any law with retroactive effect, the Senate ought to know that the amendment would have no effect on Saraki's trial.
He added, '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.
'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 recalled that though, the House of Representatives had yet to commence deliberations on the bill for the amendment of the Act, the Senate passed it for the second reading last week, barely 48 hours after its presentation by its sponsor, Nwaoboshi.
He urged the House to persuade the Senate to terminate further proceedings on the bill, predicting that it (the bill) would be caught by the same fate which befell the amendment of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000 in 2003.
Falana said, '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.'
In his own reaction, Ubani described the proposed amendment as sacrilegious.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, Ubani urged the House of Representatives 'to distance itself from this shameful amendment'.
While he urged Nigerians to resist the move by the Senate, the legal practitioner added, 'Should the House of Representatives support it and toe the same line with the Senate, the President should decline assent.
'It is incomprehensible and sacrilegious that the so called honourable members of the National Assembly, starting with the Senate, are in an indecent haste to amend the CCB and CCT Act to remove false declaration and under declaration of assets from the realms of crime and make it a civil wrong that will only attract a kid-glove treatment.
'To say one is ashamed of this move is an understatement. Where on earth, if not in Nigeria, do people, who brand themselves honourable members, amend a law to encourage corruption and corrupt practices among the political elite?
'Further information we gathered is that after amending the above mentioned Act, they will also tinker with the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015, the law that has made tremendous improvement in our criminal law justice system that is known for slow process.
'The idea we gathered is to remove the Code of Conduct Tribunal from trying criminal cases of falsification, under declaration and intentional omission of assets by the political class before and after public service. What a godless move?
'We must all rise to resist this move; it is obvious that some crop of legislators in the House do not mean well for this country.
'Everyone agrees that corruption has bedridden Nigeria and that all efforts must be mobilised to stamp it out of our system, why then do our lawmakers derive pleasure in turning the hands of clock backward for our nation?' Punch