Professor Isah Mohammed was on November 7, 2018 appointed the chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). In this interview, he says the prolonged strike by staff of the bureau delayed the filing of charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. He also explains the workings of the bureau and other issues. Excerpts:
The CCB has come under the spotlight in recent days with several definitions of its jurisdiction. To clear all misconceptions, what is the CCB all about?
The bureau is an agency, which is an establishment of the Constitution of 1979 through to the 1999 Constitution as amended, under Section 153. The mandate of the bureau is as prescribed under the Third Schedule of the constitution. It is mandated to administer the declaration of assets by public officers, and keep custody of declarations of assets. It is also mandated to verify such assets as declared by public officers. It is mandated to receive complaints and investigate those complaints and where a public officer is found wanting of non-compliance with the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, such findings of the bureau could be referred to the Code of Conduct Tribunal. This is the mandate of the bureau.
Who is a public officer?
The Third Schedule Part Three of the Fifth Schedule of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act defines who is a public officer. There are about 12 paragraphs describing who is a public officer. We take it in a nutshell, this ranges from the President down to the last civil servant of Grade Level 1. This also includes judicial officers. Insofar as you are in the service of the government of the federation or of a state, or local government, you are a public officer for the purposes of Code of Conduct under the mandate of the bureau.
There are Codes of Ethics under Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule and these are the code of conduct that every public officer must observe. And the bureau is mandated to monitor compliance with those codes of conduct on the public officer. These are actually what the bureau does.
On the CJN, did you at any time monitor and supervise investigation into his asset declaration before the bureau referred him to the CCT?
This issue I think is now in the court and also in the public domain. When we have done, we put it together and file it in court for the determination of the court. This is a matter I want for the time being, and for CCB being a party in that case, to restrict myself from saying much on anything about it.
Are there other public servants that the CCB is investigating to ensure they comply with the regulation on asset declaration?
There are a number of civil servants we are monitoring. We receive complaints and intelligence reports and we work on that and also, we monitor. And so, in any way we gather information about any breach or violation, or non-compliance with the Code of Conduct for Public Officers we take appropriate action in the circumstance of each case.
Can you comment on the delay in filing the CJN’s case because some of the allegations happened some years back and why is it that it is at this time it is coming up?
The timing or whatever, we were inaugurated on November 7th, 2018 and when we came in here the whole bureau was grounded because the workers were on strike and nothing was happening. So, what we did is timely because within the period of two months, we were able to do what you saw.
I don’t think there is any issue of delay, it is where we met something that is where we started. And even before we stabilised the internal problems we were having here, it is something that maybe one would have to consider and also the troubles we take to arrive at where we are today.
Look at the mandate of the bureau and the time limit we arrived here, and you can judge for yourself whether there is any political motive in this whole thing.
Did the bureau thoroughly conduct investigation on them before going to the CCT?
It was thoroughly investigated as required by law. We shouldn’t have gone to court if we know we don’t have a case.
Does your Bureau always wait for an infraction of the law before going into action or take other proactive steps to ensure that public officers declare their assets without going to CCT; must you punish the offender?
The issue of punishment is about the law. It is not about the bureau; the law has set up everything. This law creating CCB is the same law that creates CCT. Both CCB and CCT are a creation of the constitution and created by one single Act of the National Assembly.
The law is clear that if the officer accused admits, then the bureau does not have to take him to CCT. On the issue of whether to take any further step or not, each case has its own circumstance.
How did the petitioner, the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI), have access to those documents on the CJN that has now gone public?
This is not the question for the bureau. It is not our duty to know how it got about those things. We saw them and we acted on them. Simple.
On the welfare of your staff and the strike, how is the situation now?
I am just from the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission and I met with the chairman in relation to that. Ever since I came in, I have been making effort to see how we are going to improve the welfare of the staff. This is very much at my heart and I will never relax until I see that I achieve success on that, I assure you.
How is your relationship with other investigative agencies such as the EFCC and ICPC with the overlaps that occur sometimes?
Our relationship is very cordial. The law is very explicit on our mandates.
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