In an unprecedented move, Senate, yesterday, accelerated amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) bills.
The two bills scaled the crucial Second Reading.
This was even as the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki was absent at plenary when the bills were considered. His deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu presided at plenary.
The amendment bill was read for the first time on Tuesday, February 12, 2016. The bill is sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaboshi (PDP, Delta North).
According to Nwaoboshi, the bill, tagged, “Code of Conduct Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2016,” is seeking to transfer the control of both the CCT and CCB from the Office of Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) to National Assembly or the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).
He argued further: “It is clear that the Act does not contemplate criminal trial. So, the usage, Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Code, should not be used as a procedural template in the tribunal.”
Lawmakers, who were predominantly core supporters of Saraki, hailed the proposal and called on the Senate to speedily pass the bill to restructure CCB and CCT for optimal performance.
Senator Dino Melaye said CCT had deviated from its original mandate. He also said it had delved into criminal prosecution.
“The Act has delved into criminal prosecution. Another section I am particularly interested in is that, there must be three judges before the tribunal can sit. As of now, there are only two judges.”
Senators Jibrin Barau from Kano State, Sam Anyanwu from Imo State and Bukar Abba Ibrahim from Yobe State, all spoke in favour of the bill.
While Barau maintained that there was need to shape the country’s laws to ensure fairness in our judicial system, Anyanwu argued that it was the duty of lawmakers to amend laws whenever the need arises. “I am not sure there is any lawmaker that has anything against this bill. Let us just go ahead and put it to a vote,” Abba Ibrahim said.
Senator Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti State said: “We are licensed as Senators to look at laws and see how we can make them better. Right now, we have a situation that is bad and the Act is being used inconclusively.
This bill should go to the committee so that they can act on it.”
But, a lawmaker from Kebbi State, Yaya Abdullahi, opposed the timing of the amendment bill. He warned his colleagues to be mindful of public perception, and added that it could be erroneously interpreted to mean that amendment is hurriedly being muted to frustrate Saraki’s ongoing trial.
“I rise to raise a point of caution. I am against the timing of the amendment. We must look at the perception of the people. Nigerians will question why we are amending this now if not for that our President is facing trial. That is what Nigerians will think. We need to be careful.”
In his closing remarks, Ekweremadu insisted that the amendment bill had nothing to do with Saraki’s trial and maintained that they were not afraid to carry out their functions as lawmakers.
Ekweremadu said: “It appears to me that there is a high level of acceptance of the bill.
I want to say that this bill has nothing to do with the trial of the Senate President. As you are aware, the trial of the Senate President has started. It has absolutely nothing to do with it.
“We are only doing our work as lawmakers. We should not be scared to do our work. By all intent and purpose, we support CCB and CCT.
“But, we must ensure that there is fairness. We are not trying to frustrate the trial.
It has nothing to do with it. We must do our work,” he stated.
After a brief debate, lawmakers unanimously voted in favour of the amendment bill and was subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
The committee is expected to report back to the chamber within two weeks.
In another amendment bill, tagged, “An Act to Amend the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and for Other Related Matters,” the Senate is seeking to remove the CCT from the list of courts that can initiate any criminal trial against an accused person.
The amendment bill, sponsored by Senator Isah Misau from Bauchi state seeks that: “The provisions of this Act shall not apply to a court martial and such other courts or tribunals not being courts created and listed under Section 6(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.”