By: Eze Onyekpere
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is the second leg of the bureaucracy of the Nigerian Assets and Liabilities Declaration Framework. It is the enforcement arm with judicial powers to sanction persons who breach the constitutional Code of Conduct. In paragraph 15 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, it is stated that: “There shall be established a tribunal to be known as Code of Conduct Tribunal which shall consist of a chairman and two other members”. This provision has serious implications for the constitutional regime of ethics in government under the assets and liabilities declaration framework.
The first challenge is that there is just a chairman and two other persons; that is, just three persons to attend to and adjudicate all matters arising from the declaration of assets and liabilities of all public officer numbering over five million persons across the length and breadth of Nigeria. By Part 2 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, every public officer from the cleaner in the local government to the President of the Federal Republic is required to declare his assets and liabilities. How can a three-person CCT attend to all disputes arising from over five million declarations? It is an impossible assignment. Will the CCT sit only in Abuja, the federal capital or will it rotate its sitting in the states where persons charged before it come from? If it sits only in Abuja, it will mean that persons brought before it who live outside the federal capital will have to incur enormous costs on transport and accommodation to attend proceedings. If the CCT sits outside Abuja, it is going to cost the treasury a lot for estacode, transport, accommodation and logistics of moving the CCT members out of their Abuja location.
Therefore, the constitutional provision establishing just one CCT for the Federation is overdue for amendment. The amendment should establish a CCT with a chairman and such number of members, not less than one hundred and eleven members as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. The one hundred and eleven number recommendation is based on a CCT of three members per state and the federal capital territory. The CCT will operate like the Court of Appeal in divisions.
The second challenge is on the quality of composition, in terms of the qualification required for membership of the CCT. The Constitution requires that the chairman of the CCT shall be a person who has held or is qualified to hold office as a judge of a superior court of record in Nigeria. For the other members, there is no requirement for such a qualification. Essentially, there is no minimum educational or professional qualification or cognate experience expected from prospective members of the CCT. This appears to be a very big lacuna considering that these other members of the panel are part of the decision-making process in the CCT. It is imperative in determining the appropriateness of the qualification of other members of the CCT to look at the punishment or the powers exercisable by the CCT in the performance of its constitutional duties. Schedule 5, paragraph 18 (2) of the Constitution states that the punishment which the CCT may impose shall include vacation of office or seat in the legislative house, as the case may be; disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years; and seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office. It is pertinent to note that for all elective positions in Nigeria, there is a general disqualification criterion, which is; within a period of less than ten years before the date of an election he has been found guilty of contravention of the Code of Conduct. See the Constitution – S.66 (1) (e) for National Assembly; S,107 (1) (d) for State House of Assembly; 137 (1) (e) for President and 182 (1) (e) for Governors.
Furthermore, by the Third Schedule to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (CCBTA) and its Rules of Procedure, Rules 2, 13 and 17, the CCT has powers to issue search warrants, witness summons and bench warrants. It is clear that the intention of the legislature is to make the proceedings of the CCT a criminal proceeding to be regulated by criminal procedure. The Supreme Court in the case of Ahmed vs. Ahmed [(2013) 15 NWLR (Pt.1377) 274] held that the CCT has been established with exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct per paragraph 15 (1) of the Constitution. This provision has expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular Courts in respect of such violation. The CCT to the exclusion of other Courts is also empowered to impose the punishment as specified in subsection (2)(a)(b) of Paragraph 18.
Also, by paragraphs (18 (3) and (6) of the Fifth Schedule Part 1, sanctions imposed by the CCT shall be without prejudice to penalties that may be imposed by any law where the conduct is also a criminal offence and a public officer sanctioned by the CCT cannot plead that he has been tried and punished before, if he is further prosecuted and punished for a criminal offence by a Court of law. Furthermore, the prerogative of mercy does not apply to any punishment imposed by the CCT while it applies to sanctions imposed by other Courts including the Supreme Court.
From the foregoing, it is clear that CCT has far reaching powers and what it exercises is a judicial power, a quasi-criminal jurisdiction or limited jurisdiction that imposes binding decisions with far reaching implications for the rights and obligations of citizens. Therefore, the exercise of judicial powers should be left with persons learned in the law and trained in the art of adjudication. It is the recommendation that the qualification of the chairman and other members should be the same so that justice can be dispensed by properly qualified persons. This recommendation is further supported by the fact that appeals lie from the CCT straight to the Court of Appeal and this seems to suggest that the CCT is for the purposes of the Code of Conduct rated as being at par with the High Courts.