-Splits CCB chairman’s tenure
-Appeal court rules against Saraki on CCT trial
SENATE was divided yesterday over the amendment of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, as the National Assembly took over power to appoint staff of CCT/ Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, from the presidency. Senate took the decision few minutes after the Court of Appeal dismissed the request by the president of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to stop his trial at the CCT. During consideration of the bill, senators were divided along individual interests. The Senate had previously stepped down the consideration of the bill due to public outcry that followed the move. The bill had already been amended by the House of Representatives and was sent to Senate for concurrence. Section 4 (2) was also amended to substitute the word ‘president’ with ‘the National Assembly’ as the one to appoint members of staff of the bureau and exercise disciplinary control over them. Section 1 (4) was deleted and replaced with: “The chairman and members shall serve for a term of five years subject to renewal for one further term only. “(E) Upon complaint(s) of any breach or where it appears to the bureau that there is a breach of the provision of this Act, any person concerned shall be given particulars of such non-compliance or breaches to explain before any reference to the tribunal Other areas that were amended include Section 18 (1) of the existing Act, which read: “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 he considers appropriate for the application of those provisions while Section 18(2) of the existing Act, provided that the president may by order confer on the bureau such additional powers as may appear to him to be necessary to enable it to discharge more effectively the functions conferred upon it under this act.,” The bill was initiated and first passed by the House of Representatives, which transmitted same to the Senate for concurrence in May 2016. With the concurrence of the Senate yesterday, the bill will be pushed to the president for assent. Also yesterday, the Senate agreed with the House of Representatives that the appointment of chairman of the CCB be based on tenure of two terms of five years each. The bill reduces the tenure of the chairman of the CCB and all members from serving if they have attained 70 years to a term of five years subject to the confirmation of the Senate. “The chairman and members shall serve for a term of five years subject to renewal for one further term.” the bill stated. Section 20 (4) makes it mandatory for the appointment of the chairman and members of the CCT be subjected to the confirmation of the Senate. Another significant amendment on the CCT/CCB Act is 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 noncompliance, and where such is done, there shall be no reference to the Tribunal. However, the passage of the bill witnessed the exchange of unpleasant words on the floor of the upper chamber. As some of the more sensitive clauses in bill were being considered, many senators became betrayed by their emotions and resorted to use of unparliamentary languages. Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, had to intervene to restore peace. He, however, cautioned Senator Ahmed Lawal against describing the amendment of the bill as self-serving. Ekweremadu said, “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 he came up this morning. The question was put as to 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 go to the committee on 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 latter up to this moment,” he said. Senator Lawan (APC, Yobe North) had said that “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 tarry to pass it. We will be doing ourselves and this National Assembly a better service if we step down this thing, move on 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.” According to him, “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.” Many other senators, particularly those of the Unity Forum, a group opposed to the emergence of Saraki’s as Senate President last year, supported Lawan. The situation worsened when the Senate leader, Ali Ndume attempted to withdraw the bill because of outpour of emotions. His motion to withdraw it was seconded by the chairman of the Unity Forum, Senator Banabas Germade. When the question for vote was thrown, the motion was defeated and this did not go down well with the Unity Forum senators, most of whom later gradually left the chamber. Ndume had also tried to caution against removing the powers of the president that enables him to control the CCB, but he attracted serious opposition to the extent that he was described as a sectional leader by a senator from the South-East. Appeal Court rules against Saraki on CCT trial Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, has again declared that the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, has prosecutorial power to try the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on charges of false assets declaration brought against him by the federal government. The court yesterday affirmed the CCT’s jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal filed by Saraki, in which he challenged the legality of his trial before the tribunal. In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Abdul Aboki, the appellate court held that the major issues raised by Saraki to fault his trial at the CCT had been overtaken by events. Four other members of the panel unanimously agreed with the lead judgment delivered by Justice Aboki, who resolved all the eight issues formulated for determination against the appellant. While affirming the earlier ruling of the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar, that his CCT had power to prosecute the Senate president as charged, Justice Aboki held among others that contrary to Saraki’s contention, the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had the power to institute charges against him before the CCT. The Appeal Court also held that under the constitution, the Code of Conduct Bureau was not under any obligation to invite the appellant to enable him to make written admission of breaches in his asset declaration forms before charges could be initiated against him. The court held that the tribunal had rightly departed from its earlier decision in which it discharged former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on account that he was not invited by the CCB to confront him with the allegations levelled against him. Justice Aboki said that the CCT erred in law when it discharged Tinubu on the ground that he was not invited to make written statement before he was charged to court, adding that the CCT had in subsequent judgements after Tinubu’s matter corrected itself. The court also held that the fact that the charges were initiated against Saraki 13 years after the offences were allegedly committed was immaterial and could not be a ground to invalidate the charge. Justice Aboki said that the contention was sentimental and that no court would go into sentimental issues that had no bearing with the law. This was the second time the Appeal Court would deliver judgement on the same subject of jurisdiction of the CCT to try the Senate president. The Court of Appeal had last year ruled against Saraki on the jurisdiction of the CCT and asked him to proceed to face the 16 counts preferred against him. The judgement of the court was validated by the Supreme Court in February this year, prompting the resumption of his trial at the CCT.