‘Amendment of Code of Conduct Tribunal Act can only happen if constitution is amended’
Opinion is divided about the bid to amend the Code of Conduct Act by the National Assembly. While some believe it is in order, others think it is self-serving, judging by the ongoing trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. In this interview with
GERALDINE AKUTU, a Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, shared his views about the amendment and its implications for the judicial sector.
The Senate showed much interest in amending certain sections of the bill to the extent that they were criticised by some Nigerians for the haste. In fact, the bill received accelerated hearing. Asked to express his position on the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Amendment Bill passed by the Senate, Adegboruwa said the amendment is appropriate.
His words: “I generally believe that the amendment of the CCT Bill Act is very appropriate. The reason is because under our constitution, there is supposed to be principle of separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary. As it is presently, the Code of Conduct Tribunal is under the presidency. It does not work well for our democracy for a judicial organ that has the power to put people on trial, sentence people and interpret laws to be under the executive.
It was not a totally wrong move by those who conceived the idea to the extent that it tends to separate the CCT bill from the control of the presidency. I totally support it but the problem with the amendment is that it will benefit members of the National Assembly who are under trial especially the senate president. I support the removal of Code of Conduct Tribunal from The Presidency.”
But the irony of this amendment was that it was happening simultenously with the trial of the Senate President. On this issue, the lawyer said: “There are two issues involved. The first is the issue of democratic doctrine of separation of powers by which the executive, judiciary and the legislature exercise powers independently but interchangeably. In that regard, the executive is to implement policies, the legislature to make laws and perform oversight functions, while the judiciary is to interpret the laws. Our understanding before now used to be that the Code of Conduct Bureau was not a court set up to try people.
It was just to supervise asset declaration form and ensure compliance but with the trial of former Governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, current trial of Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the trial of Dr. Godswill Orubebe, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has assumed the powers of the court, have power to convict people and forfeit properties. What it now means is that the Code of Conduct Bureau is a court to be regarded as part of the judiciary. It is a misnomer for the Presidency which is the head of the executive to be controlling a court, which is part of the judiciary. All courts in Nigeria should be under the judiciary.”
On whether the Senate has the right to pass the bill knowing that Senate president’s case is pending in court and its implications, he said it is unlawful to make laws that gives one immediate benefit. “It is illegal and immoral to make a law that will benefit an individual within that law. If the amendment is not going to affect all the pending cases in the tribunal, I have no problem with that but if it will affect it, then it would be very unfair. Laws made to benefit lawmakers are totally unacceptable.
The implication is that what the senate is currently doing is still within the realm of speculation because CCT is an organ set up under the constitution and for you to amend anything relating to that organ, you have to amend the constitution. So, the senate has not actually amended the CCT Act but has only proposed some amendments. Those amendments has to be passed by the House of Representatives, sent to all the Houses of Assembly of all the states of the federation for them to have a one third who will pass it and then the president will sign it before it becomes a law, otherwise, notwithstanding the amendment made by the senate, we are still going to be working with the existing act until it is properly amended according to law,” he explained.
Usually, bills in Nigeria become laws following presidential assent. Asked if he could advise the president to withhold his assent or sign such amendment into law, Adegboruwa noted that veto powers can be deplored if the president declines assent. His words: “It is of no use because nowadays, there is a new law that allows the Senate to override the veto of the president even though he withholds his assent. It is of no consequence. My take is that the president should assent to the amendment as long as it is not going to affect the pending cases in the tribunal especially that of the Senate President. The amendment is proper in law but the timing is my only challenge.”
On the proposal to grant immunity to principal officers of Nigerian parliaments against criminal prosecution, the human rights lawyer said it would lead to abuse of power. His views: “The proposal to give immunity to principal officers of the National Assembly is uncalled for, abnormal and will lead to abuse of power. The reason why we granted immunity under section 308 of the constitution to the President, Vice president, Governors and deputy governors is because of the nature of their duty. They are the face of the government. Immunity is in order as long as it is limited to the President, Vice president, Governors and deputy governors. Section 308 is not an absolute immunity as people seem to misunderstand it. The Section says that while the president is in office, you may not charge him to court but he can be arrested and tried after his tenure has expired.”
Expressing his thoughts about the current fight against corruption by the federal government, he noted that the anti-graft war is selective and therefore difficult to work. He said: “The anti graft war is not working because it is selective. As we can see, the corruption fight is targeted against opponents. Fighting corruption is not about locking people up. It is the job of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), police and other agencies established by law to fight corruption. I think it is a selective trial. Let corruption be fought according to law. There is no need for media trial and sing-song. Anyone found guilty should be sent to jail and let there be governance.”
He also expressed his view about the revelations in respect of the judicial officers and senior advocates facing trial. According to him, the procedure of arresting the judges was wrong. He said: “I think the procedure was wrong. The DSS should not have carried a sting operation on judicial officers especially at their residence because the house of a judge is an extension of his chamber. Most judges carry their files home to continue their work where they stopped in the office. Even though, I did not agree with the method adopted by invading the house of the judges, I think it has brought out some revelations about the judiciary. We as Nigerians should join hands to cleanse the judicial sector. I never knew there are lawyers who have bank account of judges. It was strange to me that people have been sending money as much as N500,000, N5 million and other amounts to judges to influence judgment. Anyone who is found guilty should be dealt with according to the law.
We support the EFCC and other agencies established to fight corruption. I think the revelations coming out is a good development but it should be done according to the law, holistic and should not be selective. Delay in administration of justice is the cause of corruption in the judiciary. I also think the government should look into the welfare of judges.”