SENATORS passed yesterday the controversial amendment to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
The thrust of the bill is to relocate the power to exercise authority over the Bureau from the President to the National Assembly.
It was an emotional session in which senators spoke on top of their voices.
Senate Leader Mohammed Ali Ndume moved that the consideration of the report of the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee, which considered the bill, should be suspended.
Senator Barnabas Gemade (Benue North East) seconded the motion.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided, put the motion to voice vote. It was defeated twice.
But some senators insisted that the consideration of the report should be suspended to allow them take a second look at the provisions of the bill.
Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) 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 hurry to pass it.
“We will be doing ourselves and this National Assembly a better service if we step down this thing, move on with some other things that 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 maybe centuries and we legislate dispassionately, not for ourselves. Mr. chairman, I feel very passionate about this that whatever we feel about any situation that we are in, let’s make sure that that thing doesn’t get into us when we legislate for the sake of our people.”
But Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) insisted that since they had the courage to begin the consideration of the report, it should be concluded.
Sani said: “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 some day 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.”
Sensing confusion, Ndume interjected: “Before we put this on the order paper, actually it originated from what the chairman said because it is a House bill, which is before us for concurrence and because of the little considerations we referred it to the committee as he rightly said and if we look at it there is the need for us to do certain things to this Act.
“For example, the age and the number of the members that constitute the Tribunal and that is something that needs to be amended.
“But I observed now after I moved the motion and it was supported that we should resolve to the committee of the whole to consider the report. I observed that emotions are coming up, which is human, and that is why I personally again stood up to say if this is the case ,we will decide whether to stand it down and then resolve and take a look at it again.”
Ekweremadu added: “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 whether we should consider it and the answer was yes. So, we didn’t just consider it because we wanted to consider it. The question was properly put whether we should resolve to committee of the whole to consider it and everybody said yes.
“Now we are taking it clause by clause but we have not jumped to any particular clause. Sometimes we take two or three clauses but here because of the sensitive nature of this we are taking it clause by clause and we are even bending over backwards to reconsider issues.
So it will be unfair to us to accuse ourselves here of being unnecessarily hasty and that is not fair to this Senate. So, please if the Leader wants to change his mind about reconsidering the bill I don’t have problem with it. But we should not create the impression that there is any haste in reconsidering this bill and we have followed the rules to the letter up to this moment.”
The bill originated from the House of Representatives. After passage, it was referred to the Senate for concurrence.
It was first introduced in the Senate in April, 2016 by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and suddenly withdrawn following massive public outcry that the bill was self-serving and meant to weaken the powers of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal.
The House of Representatives also introduced in April 2016 and passed in May, 2016
The passage of the bill followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, which did “critical examination of the bill preparatory to concurrence of the Senate.”
Committee chairman Samuel Anyanwu explained that the political situation of the time when the bill was first introduced in the Senate was not conducive for its continued processing and it was suspended.
Anyanwu listed objectives of the bill, among which is to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap.C15 Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 by:
Altering the tenure of the office of the Chairman and Members of the Bureau; Amend entry age of the Chairman and Members of the Bureau; Relocating the power to exercise authority over the Bureau from Mr. President to the National Assembly, Extending power of the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute to private legal practitioners to enable the Bureau prosecute its cases; and Making certain provisions clearer and more elaborate.
Section 1(2)(b), which sought to reduce the entry age of the chairman and members of the Bureau from 50 years to 30 years was rejected by the Senate.
The upper chamber retained 50 years as the entry age of the chairman and members of the Bureau.
Section 1(4), which sought to reduce the tenure of the Chairman and members from serving until they are 70 to a term of five years, subject to renewal for one further term only, making a total of 10 years in all was passed.
Also passed was Section 3(d), which sought 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 make a written admission of such breach or non compliance, and where such is done, there shall be no reference to the Tribunal.
The lawmakers however turned down Section 4(2), which sought to transfer the power to make rules and regulations for the Bureau from the President to the National Assembly.
The rejected Section 4(2) seems to be in conflict with Section 18(1) and (2) where the lawmakers accepted that the powers assigned the President will now be performed by the National Assembly.
The Senate resolved that “Section 18(1)(2) under “Exemption” is amended by substituting ‘President’ with the ‘National Assembly’ and to substitute in sub section 1 ‘him’ with ‘it’.
The Senate amended Section 18 by adding new sub section 3 thus: “Failure to comply with sub section 2 above shall constitute misconduct.”
Section 18 (1) in the Principal Act states “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 it considers appropriate for the application of those provisions.”
The principal Act in Section 18(2) states “The President may by order confer on the Bureau such additional powers as may appear to it to be necessary to enable it to discharge more effectively the functions conferred upon it under this Act.”
With the amendment, the National Assembly will now perform the function in Section 18 (2) instead of the President, which implies that the National Assembly will determine those to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Section 18 (1) specifically sought to enable cases of exemption under the Act to be handled by the National Assembly instead of the President while 18(2) will enable the National Assembly do the conferment of additional powers (if need be) on the Bureau instead of the President.
The Senate introduced Section 20 (2) to ensure that a minimum of three members of the Tribunal sit at all times.
The appointment of Tribunal members by the President is subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
Section 24(2), which sought to enable the Attorney General of the Federation prosecute cases with private legal practitioners as he may find suitable, was adopted.
Section 24(5) was introduced to make the provisions of the Evidence Act, 2011 applicable to the Tribunal where crime is an issue.
Senators who opposed the amendment include Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West) and Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North),
Abdullahi said: “To remove a whole President who has equally been elected by the country is wrong. You cannot approbate and reprobate this substitution of the President with the National Assembly, is wrong. We can hold the President responsible, we are the only institution that can even remove the President in this country under the Constitution. So the President is under our oversight, for us to intrude into the job of the President and adjudicate, I think it is taking this thing too far. Let us be dispassionate about this matter.”
Before the consideration of the report, Senator Anyanwu said all the 13 members of the committee signed the report.
He noted that three members signed before the report was mass produced. He said that later all the members endorsed the report.