In the past four years, the trial of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and that of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen have brought the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) into the limelight.
With this limelight came special focus on the law establishing the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (CCB&T), the premier anti-corruption law in the country. More so was the focus of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on the fight against corruption.
It was thus considered that more could be achieved if the legal framework of the institutions involved in the fight against corruption were further strengthened by means of reform.
As such, the federal government gave its approval for the Nigerian Law Reform Commission (NLRC) to undertake the reform of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and the related provisions of the Constitution.
Speaking recently at a workshop on this reform, the acting Chairperson of the NLRC, Professor Jummai Audi, noted that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice in a letter dated April 12, 2017, mandated the commission to embark on the review of the composition of the tribunal to enhance the delivery of its mandate.
She noted that the commission observed during the review that aside the composition of the tribunal, there are several other provisions of the constitution of the members in the CCB&T Act that require reform in order to reposition the bureau and the tribunal for greater efficiency.
Prof. Audi added that the alteration of the Constitution was also being proposed in order to strengthen the bureau and the tribunal to provide for proper establishment of the tribunal, enlargement of the members, establishment of the tribunal in states and geo-political zones, and also to enhance the powers and structural operation of the bureau.
The Chairman of tribunal, Danladi Umar, stressed that the reform was long overdue as the provisions have remained the same since it’s promulgation.
He believes that the reform will enhance the performance of CCB and CCT in the fight against corruption, adding that as the only agencies established by the Constitution to fight corruption, the CCB and CCT need their establishing law to be in line with current best practices.
While also harping on the need for the reform, the Chairman of the CCB, Prof. Isa Mohammed, identified public servants as the major culprits in the perpetuation of corrupt practices in the country.
He said though there are collaborators in perpetuating corruption outside the public service, the amount of corruption and it’s magnanimity is mostly within the public service.
He said, “No contractor in Nigeria in terms of works, services and supply of goods can perpetuate anything by his own right because if you are supplying to the government, you have to collaborate with the public officer to perpetuate the needed corruption.”
On what the Bureau is doing to nip this in the bud aside the call for the reform, he said, “Right now, we are trying to pick a category of public officers and monitor their conduct, particularly the political office holders, either elected or appointed. Then the top government functionaries, the career civil servants, from the permanent secretaries and directors. If we are able to do that effectively, definitely we will have some reduction.”
The chief legal officer of the country, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, also believes that the workshop for the reform was timely and could not have been organized at a better time than now “given the critical time the nation is passing through as a result of the corrupt activities of public office holders.”
Represented by Abiodun Aikhomu, Special Assistant to President on Financial Crimes and Contracts Implementation, Malami said it was on the basis of the current administration’s commitment to preventing looting of national treasury and resources that it has become necessary to reform the CCB&T Act.
He added that it was also because of this that proposals for amendment of relevant provisions of the Constitution would be made to further strengthen the CCB and CCT’s ability to tackle the emerging cases of breaches of the provisions of the Act and the Constitution by defaulting public officers.
The representative of the National Assembly, Dr. Richard Bande, who is also the Deputy Chairman House Committee on Justice and Legal Matters, also stressed that the reform is key to nation-building as transparency and accountability usher in good governance, poverty reduction and good standard of living.
Major recommendations for reform
A working paper on the reform of the CCB&T Act identified several defects in the Act and made recommendations to strengthen the Act.
The paper called for the amendment of Section 1(1) of the Act to vest the bureau with legal personality and also suggested that in Section 1(2)(a), the words “unimpeachable integrity” to be deleted and the qualifications for appointment of chairman and members of the bureau to be expressly provided in the Act and the Constitution.
Currently, the Section 1(2)(a) of the Act requires that persons to be appointed as chairman and members of the bureau shall be persons of “unimpeachable integrity” in the Nigerian society without defining the word or providing the qualities or characteristics that would describe such a person as one of unimpeachable integrity.
It also recommended that the age for appointment of members of the bureau should be reduced from 50 to not below the age of 30.
Also, the NLRC recommended the amendment of Section 2 of the Act to change the aims and objectives of the bureau from being hinged on morality.
It further suggested that Section 18 of the Act on the power of the President to exempt any cadre of public officer from the code of conduct should be deleted as it may defeat the fight against corruption.
For the tribunal, the NLRC recommended that a new Section 20(2) of the Act and paragraph 15(1) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution should be amended to increase the number of members of the tribunal.
It also recommended that a provision should be introduced in the Act and the Constitution to vest power on the Chairman of the tribunal to make rules for regulating the practice and procedure for the tribunal as being done by other heads of courts.
It further recommended that the chairman of tribunal should be given power to establish zonal/additional offices and to constitute the tribunal panels to man same for quicker dispensation of justice.