The sponsor of the controversial bill, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, (Delta North) appeared radiant in his red cap as he presented his lead debate.
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, presided in the absence of the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
Debate of the proposed amendment was done in a jiffy with only one Senator, Yahaya Abbdullahi, (Kebbi North) managing to chip in some words of caution about the timing of the bill.
A total of seven Senators, Dino Melaye, (Kogi West), Barau Jibrin (Kano North), Samuel Anyanwu (Imo East), Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe ), Ibrahim Abdullahi Gobir (Sokoto East) and Ekweremadu (Enugu West) supported the bill while Senator Yahaya Abdullahi appeared to have dissented.
Nwaoboshi told his colleagues that he sponsored the amendment bill that was promulgated in 1989 and came into operation in 1991 based on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as it were.
He insisted that it is clear that the Act did not contemplate criminal trial “so the usage of Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Procedure Code should not be used as a procedural template in the Tribunal.”
He promised to provide a comprehensive amendment of the Third Schedule to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Rules of procedure which should be the distinct rule for proceedings in the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
He noted that the 1999 Constitution has two schedules-Third schedule and the Fifth schedules dealing extensively with the Code of Conduct for public officer.
Nwaoboshi noted that the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides: 3 “The Bureau shall have power to: (a) Receive declaration by public officers made under paragraph 12 of part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of this Constitution;
(b) Examine the declaration in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct or any law;
© Retain custody of such declaration and make them available for inspection by citizens of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe;
(d) Ensure compliance with and, where appropriate, enforce the provisions of the Code of Conduct of any law relating thereto;
(e) Receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct or any law in relation thereto, investigate the compliant and, where appropriate, refer such matters to the Code of Conduct Tribunal;
Nwaoboshi urged his colleagues to support the bill.
Senator Melaye in his contribution said that he studied the bill and it is clear to him that the Code of Conduct Act should be amended.
Melaye noted that it has become apparent that the Code of Conduct Tribunal had begun to dive into criminal proceedings and criminal trial which was not the intention of the framers of the Act.
He noted that the Act clearly stated that before trial, the person involved shall be communicated and the person will respond accordingly.
He also said that the Tribunal should have at least three judges even though the Act stipulates five judges “but today the Tribunal has just two judges which is against the spirit and letters of the Act.”
Senator Jibrin on his own said that it remained the duty of the National Assembly to make and amend laws where necessary to ensure that justice is always done.
He added that in doing so, there should be fairness at all times.
Senator Anyanwu reminded his colleagues that the only thing constant in life is change.
He added that the Senate has the duty to amend gray areas of any legislation.
Senator Olujimi said the amendment should be done “as quickly as possible.
Senator Ibrahim also said the amendment should be done as quickly as possible and urged the presiding officer to find out if any senator was against the amendment.
Senator Gobir described that amendment as “timely and important” and asked the Senate to go ahead to effect the amendment.
Abdullahi however cautioned that timing of the presentation of the amendment was not auspicious.
He said, “I want to point a word of caution. The question of the timing of this bill should be taken into consideration. Nigerian people can easily interpret that since 1991, this Act was not challenged but because our principal officer is being tried, we decided to come up with this amendment.”
Abdullahi asked the upper chamber to re-examine whether the timing of the bill is right.
Senator Ekweremadu asked if any senator was against the bill. There was pin drop silence on the floor.
The Deputy Senate President noted that the bill has nothing to do with the proceedings going on in which the Senate President is involved.
He said that Senators are only doing their job as parliamentarians adding that that Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal have come to stay.
He however insisted that in carrying out their function, there must be equity and fairness.
Ekweremadu who said that the Senate is not trying to frustrate anybody or institution, added “we must always do our jobs without fear or favour.”
The bill was referred to the joint committee on Judiciary and Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to report back in two weeks.