Jurisdiction of Code of Conduct Tribunal
Indeed, these are interesting times. Recent events in our country including public declaration of assets by the president and the vice president and the controversy surrounding the proposed arraignment of the senate President before the Code of Conduct Tribunal may have forced a closer examination and appraisal of the relevant stipulations on the Code of Conduct for public officers, if for no other reason than the quest for public information and enlightenment.
However, as a law officer, I will warn myself not to comment on the merits or otherwise of any of the pending cases in court. This approach is in line with ethics and demands of professionalism.
The preliminary point to be made is that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is statutory being a creation of the constitution. The seriousness of the provisions on Code of Conduct for public officers is underscored by the fact that it is incorporated into the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) under the 5th Schedule Part I. there is also a special legislation enacted for this by virtue of Chapter C15 Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, No. 1 of 1989 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 with commencement date of 1st January 1991 which is an act to provide for the establishment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal to deal with complaints of corruption by public servants for the breaches of its provisions.
The Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, GCON, in a paper titled “Strengthening the Code of Conduct Bureau” argued as follows: “The Code of Conduct for Public Officers is a component of the Nigerian anti-corruption and transparency framework. It is perhaps the first formal legislation creating offences and sanctions for official corruption and other acts in breach of the prescribed ethics for public officers. Of considerable significance is the fact that the entire code of conduct regime under Nigerian Law is provided for in the Constitution.
The Constitution provides for the Code of Conduct itself, the categories of public officers who are subject to its provisions, the Code of Conduct Bureau, which is to enforce compliance with the Code of Conduct, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal-which is to try cases of infraction of the Code of Conduct. This is both its strength and its weakness. The entrenchment in the Constitution means that it cannot be altered at all as might an Act of the National Assembly .
This also means that amendments to the provisions establishing the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal is not possible by an Act of the National Assembly without an amendment to the Constitution itself. It is in fact unconstitutional to repeat constitutional provisions verbatim in another Law of the Legislature. [A.G Abia State V. A.G Federation (2002) 6 NWLR (Pt. 763) 264 SC.]
However Section 15 (4) of Part 1 of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution to the effect that National Assembly may confer on the Code of Conduct Tribunal such additional power s as may appear necessary to enable it more effectively discharge the functions conferred on it by the Schedule.
It is also noteworthy that some of the provisions in several other anti-corruption legislation overlap the Code of Conduct provisions of the Constitution. ”
Against this background, this analysis will focus on the salient provisions of the Code, namely: “conflict of interest with duty; restrictions on specified officers; prohibition of foreign accounts; retired public officer; certain retired public officers; gifts or benefits in kind; restriction on loans, gifts or benefits to certain public officers; bribery of public officers; abuse of powers; membership of societies; declaration of assets; allegation of breach of code; agents and nominees; exemptions; code of conduct tribunal; staff; tenure of office of chairman and members; powers; interpretation.”
The searchlight shall also cover salient provisions of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and the powers and operational modalities of the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Who is a Public Officer?
The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal regulate the activities of public officers. Who is a public officer? The answer is delivered by the interpretation section of the act which lists the officers in 2nd schedule to the act as follows: “The President of the Federation; the Vice-President of the Federation; the President and Deputy President of the Senate, Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives and of the Houses of Assembly of States, and all members and staff of Legislative Houses; Governors and Deputy Governors of States; Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices of the Supreme Court, President and Justices of the Court of Appeal, all other judicial officers and all staff of courts of law; Attorney-General of the Federation and Attorney-General of each State; Ministers of the Government of the Federation and Commissioners of the Governments of the States; Chief of Defence Staff, Head of the Army, Navy, Air Force and all members of the Armed Forces of the Federation; Inspector-General of Police, Deputy Inspector-General of Police and all members of the Nigeria Police Force and other Government security agencies established by law; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of the Civil Service, Permanent Secretaries, Directors-General and all other persons in the civil service of the Federation or of the States; Ambassadors, High Commissioners and other officers of Nigerian Missions Abroad; Chairman and other members and staff of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal; Chairmen and other members and staff of local government councils; Chairmen and members of the Boards of other government bodies and staff of statutory corporations and of companies in which the Federal or any State Government has controlling interests; All staff of universities, colleges and institutions owned and financed by the Federal or State Governments or local government councils; Chairmen and other members and staff of permanent commissions or councils appointed on full-time basis.”
Restrictions on Public Officers
Every public officer is obliged to forestall conflict of interest with his duties including not to “(a)receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public officer…” the only exception is where the public officer “… is not employed on full time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade but nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.”
There are also restrictions on public officers to maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria including restrictions against acceptance of gifts or benefits in kind. Restrictions on loan, gift or benefit also apply to certain public officers who could not draw facilities except from government or its agencies, a building society mortgage institution or other financial institution recognized by law. Further restrictions include prohibitions against bribery of public officers, abuse of powers and membership of societies incompatible with the functions on dignity of his office.
• Shittu is a Lagos-based attorney and lecturer, University of Lagos