ON a day the Court of Appeal in Abuja was deciding the fate of the Senate President Bukola Saraki in the appeal against his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Senate hit the gavel hard on another matter also involving the CCT.
The Red Chamber, which concurred to a bill already passed by the House of Representatives in May, brought the control of the Code of Conduct Bureau and its Tribunal under the National Assembly.
It was a contentious matter, but it is also one which the Senate knew will not remain under the table for long.
The move was first kick-started in April 2016 when Senator Peter Nwaoboshi sponsored a bill seeking to effect changes in the CCB/CCT Act. The senator had said that certain provisions of the Acts needed legislative intervention to conform to today’s realities. One of his objections was that the CCB/CCT, with quasi-judicial powers, was located in the executive arm of government rather than directly in the judiciary or the legislature.
But Senator Nwabaoshi was made to beat a retreat in view of what was called the mood of the nation at the time. He withdrew the bill and waited to fight another day.
On Thursday, however, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions submitted a report on the bill forwarded to the Senate by the House of Representatives, seeking a concurrence. He said that the committee had done a ‘critical examination of the bill preparatory to concurrence of the Senate.’
He agreed that the political situation in the country forced the initial sponsor in the Senate, Senator Nwaoboshi to withdraw the bill when it was first introduced to the Senate.
The Senator listed the objectives of the bill to include the proposal to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap.C15 Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 by Altering the tenure of the office of the chairman and members; proposal to amend entry age of the chairman and members by pegging the tenures of office; plan to transfer the power of control over the agency to the National Assembly instead of the President as well as the plan to further elaborate the provisions of the bill.
Just as it was viewed in April, some Senators viewed the attempt to proceed with the amendment as a ploy to get back at the executive in view of the trial of the Senate President at the CCT.
But the debate of the bill clearly showed a division between the Like Minds Senators and the Senate Unity Forum. The Unity Forum is the group that received the backing of the All Progressives Congress (APC) hierarchy ahead of the election of Senate’s presiding officers in June 2015, while the Like Minds Senators are largely the supporters of Saraki. There are the Non-Aligned, who are however largely members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The tricky thing about the battle in the Senate is that anytime there is a clash between the SUF and Like Minds, the Non-Aligned usually side the Like Minds.
On Thursday, the roforofo panned out the same way. Members of the Unity Forum tried all the tricks they could muster to deflate the amendment of the CCB/CCT Act but it was apparent they could not muster the number to withstand the Like Minds who were supported by the Non-Aligned.
The Senate brushed aside the advice of its leader, Senator Ali Ndume and the leader of Senate Unity Forum, Senator Ahmed Lawan and passed the amendments to CCT Act.
While Ndume made spirited efforts to stave off the amendment, Senator Lawan put in a last ditch effort when he said: “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 have to tarry to pass it.
“We will be doing ourselves and this National Assembly a better service if we step down this thing and move on to some other things that will make this a better bill only. We should go ahead only when we have convinced ourselves that what we are trying to do is not for our sake.”
In passing the bill, the Senate made some statements. It reinforced Section 3(D) of the Act, which now makes it mandatory for the Code of Conduct to get a written statement from anyone perceived of committing any infraction along the line of the Act, failure of which the allegation dies a natural death. The lawmakers also changed the security of tenure of the chairman and members of the CCT, by approving a term of five years renewable only once.
The ball will now relocate to the court of President Muhammadu Buhari to either assent to the bill or veto it. If he vetoes the bill, then the determination of the National Assembly will once again be put to test as to whether they can muster the number to override his veto.