President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, breached the provisions of the constitution in the recent reconstitution of the Board of Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), PREMIUM TIMES can report.
The duo also showed disregard for court processes by ignoring the pending suits on the dissolution of the former Board of CCB at the Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court (NIC).
Mr. Buhari had, on November 29, forwarded the names of 10 nominees and copies of their curriculum vitae to the Senate for confirmation.
The nominees and their states of origin are Muhammad Isah (Jigawa State, North West) who will serve as chairman; Murtala Kankia (Katsina, North West); Emmanuel Attah (Rivers, South-South); Danjuma Sado (Edo, South-South); and Ubolo Okpanachi (Kogi, North Central).
The others are Ken Madaki Alkali (Nasarawa, North Central); S.F. Ogundare (Oyo, South West); Ganiyu Hamzat (Ogun, South West); Sa’ad Abubakar (Gombe, North East); and Vincent Nwanli (Ebonyi South East).
The president, in the letter to the Senate requested it to expeditiously confirm the nominees, whose appointment he said was made in compliance with section 541 of the 1999 Constitution as amended and in pursuant to sections 1 (2) and (3) of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act LFN, 2004.
The nominees who are currently awaiting screening by the Senate are to replace Sam Saba (Chairman) from Niger State; Christy Ekoja (Benue); Chris Nwadinobi (Abia); Ibrahim Manzo (Jigawa); Ademola Adebo (Ondo); Stephen Bekefula (Bayelsa), all of who were controversially disengaged in June.
The new appointees, if confirmed, will also replace two others –who retired from office after attaining 70 years – and another one who never reported when they were appointed in 2010.
The appointment of the 10 new members of CCB was earlier made in June by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president, when Mr. Buhari was on sick leave in the United Kingdom.
A statement by Mohammed Nakorji, an assistant director (Press) in the SGF office on June 12, said both the chairman and members-designate would serve for the first term of five years when their appointment is eventually confirmed.
The former board was disengaged on June 14 via a single letter addressed to Mr. Saba.
Entitled “Notification of Disengagement as Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau,” with reference number SGF.19/S24C.3/Vol/192, the letter said, “I write to inform you that the Acting President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, in consideration of the expiration of your tenure on 30th April, 2017 has directed that you disengage as the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“The six (6) members whose tenure also expired after the statutory two (2) terms are also disengaged accordingly. Consequently, I am to request you to handover to the most senior officer in the Bureau pending the reconstitution of the Board of the Bureau.
“May I have the honour to convey the Acting President’s appreciation to you and the members for your service to the Nation during your tenures, as well as wish you all God’s guidance and best of luck in your future endeavours.”
But PREMIUM TIMES investigation showed that the government erred in the sack of the board members, not only by violating the provisions of the constitution in relation to their disengagement but also in disregard of the court process.
For instance, it was discovered that at the time they were removed from office, none of the six members of the Board had attained the mandatory age of 70 years stipulated by the Constitution for their disengagement from service.
Besides, the constitution is silent on the specific number of years members of the CCB Board are to put in thereby invalidating the claim in their disengagement letter that their tenure “expired after the statutory two (2) terms.”
According to the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the Constitution:
“This Code of Conduct Bureau shall comprise the following members –
(a) a Chairman
(b) nine other members
“Each of whom at the time of appointment shall not be less than fifty years of age and subject to the provisions of sections 157 of this Constitution shall vacate his office on attaining the age of seventy years.”
In other words, CCB board members are to leave office only when they reach the age of 70. However, should the Nigerian president choose to remove them from office before then, the constitution was specific on how they can be removed.
Section 157 (1) of the Constitution provides that “Subject to the provisions of the subsection (3) of this section, a person holding any of the offices to which this section applies may only be removed from that office by the president acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any cause) or for misconduct.
(2) This section applies to the office of the chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Bureau etc.
These provisions, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, were made to ensure the members of the board are immune from political pressure and interference from any sitting presidency and ensure the independence of the crucial anti-graft agency, the only one expressly mentioned in the constitution.
Our findings show that none of these constitutional provisions was adhered to by the Buhari administration. Apart from the issue of age, at no time did the Senate advise the president to remove any of the members.
Yet, against all known procedures in public service, the sack of the chairman and the five members was contained in a single letter addressed to the chairman (Mr. Saba) rather than to the individual members who were employed individually. No disengagement letter was given to the other board members as individuals.
HOW THEY WERE APPOINTED
Our investigation revealed after the outgoing CCB members were nominated by former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who could not formalise their appointment before his death in 2010. The succeeding administration of Goodluck Jonathan issued separate letters of engagement to them.
Even in 2014 when their appointment was renewed by the Jonathan administration because they had not reached 70 years, they were also issued separate letters of engagement signed by the then SGF, Pius Anyim.
Similarly shocking is that Mr. Buhari forwarded the names of the new nominees in November to the Senate for confirmation despite subsisting suits on the removal of the members of the former Board in both the Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court (NIC).
The embattled former members of the CCB had, through their counsel, Chukwuma Ekomaru, filed an appeal at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal in May challenging an earlier judgement by the Federal High Court that the tenure of the chairman and members of the CCB was five years.
Justice Binta Nyako had delivered the judgement in a case instituted by two non-governmental organisations, Kingdom Human Rights Foundation International and Save Nigerian Group, challenging the Bureau’s chairman and the board members over their tenure.
Both the president and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, were joined as respondents in the suit.
They had also challenged their sack at NIC, which on August 29, issued a restraining order directing all parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the matter.
The matter which came up last Thursday has been adjourned to January 11.
PREMIUM TIMES findings indicated that all the court papers were served on the government through Mr. Malami who on each occasion refused to enter an appeal.
LETTERS TO PRESIDENT, OSINBAJO
Apart from ignoring the constitutional provisions and the court process, Mr. Buhari also disregarded a letter of appeal written him on September 11 by the board members of the CCB to intervene in the matter.
In the six-page correspondence, the sacked members did not only plead for reinstatement but also asked the president “to direct that all CCB matters regarding the CCB Board should be settled out of court considering the sensitivity of the nature of the functions of the CCB and the need to move expeditiously, yet in accord with good conscience, the war against corruption, ineptitude and immorality in the conduct of government business.”
They also asked the president to “direct that a new chairman and 4 new members be appointed to complete the number as provided by Part 1 Schedule 3 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
In other words, as expected by the constitution and practised by previous administrations, vacancies as a result of resignation (by age, death or personal reasons) should be filled by the Buhari administration.
The embattled board members also wrote twice through Mr. Ekomaru to Mr. Osinbajo, pleading for his intervention.
In the first letter dated June 15, Mr. Ekomaru referred the then acting president to the SGF statement announcing the appointment of the new board members and reminded him about the pending appeal filed by the sacked five members on May 3 following the April 28 judgement delivered by Mrs. Nyako of the Federal High Court.
The lawyer, who availed Mr. Osinbajo with the court documents, further told the then acting president, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, that both the president (Buhari) and the AGF were served with the court documents because they were respondents in the case.
“We humbly state that it (appointment of new Board members) is putting the Court of Appeal in a state of helplessness and rending the appeal totally regulatory, for the process of appointing new Chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Bureau to commence while the appeal is pending,” Mr. Ekomaru said.
Insisting that the appointment of new members to the CCB Board was “untidy and hasty” Mr. Ekomaru prayed the acting president to “respect the pendency of this matter at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division.”
In the second letter dated June 16, the lawyer said “the disengagement letter is contrary and inconsistent with the letter of appointment of our clients.”
The lawyers referred Mr. Osinbajo to the provisions of the constitution, notably paragraph 1, Part 1A of the Third Schedule of the constitution, section 157 of the constitution which specify the appointment and removal, respectively, of the members of the CCB.
The counsel also drew Mr. Osinbajo’s attention to the Vote and Proceeding of the Senate confirming their appointment.
Mr. Ekomaru recalled that the letter of disengagement of the five members stated that their tenure expired on April 30, 2017 after the statutory two terms and that their letter of appointment took effect on April 30, 2010.
He therefore argued that “assuming without conceding that our clients are entitled to two terms of five years, we state, with all humility that the tenure of office of our clients are still subsisting as the said tenure will expire on 30th April, 2020.”
He added, “It is urgent and very apt that we point out this obvious error in calculation so that it can be rectified by withdrawing the above mentioned letter of disengagement.
“Your Excellency, we know it is human to err and that is why we have taken this early step to plead that our clients’ petition be considered.
“It will be most regrettable if this matter results in litigation when in fact immediate steps can be taken to address the embarrassment and inconveniences caused by the letter of disengagement issued to our clients.
“Our Clients plead that you reconsider their case as they are employees whose employment are with a statutory flavor.”
Mr. Osinbajo, in a letter dated July 11 signed by the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Ade Ipaye, acknowledged receipt of the letters and that the issues raised were “receiving consideration.”
“I am directed by His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Acting President, Federal Republic of Nigeria to acknowledge receipt of your letters dated 15 June and 16 June 2017 on the above stated subject and inform that issues raised therein are receiving necessary consideration,” the letter said.
Truly so. In another letter to Mr. Malami on June 15, the then acting president asked the minister to take necessary action on the matter.
The letter entitled “Re: Removal of the Chairman and Members of the Code of Conduct Bureau,” and signed by the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Ade Ipaye, reads “I am directed by His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Acting President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, to forward the attached letters Reference A and B) from Chief Chukwuma Ekomaru, SAN, on the above subject for your necessary action.”
SEEK SENATE’S ACTION
Mr. Ekomaru also petitioned the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, on the matter in two letters dated June 15.
In the letter to which he attached court documents and appointment letters, the lawyer gave a detailed explanation as he did in the ones to Mr. Osinbajo.
He asked the senate president “to draw the attention of Mr. Acting President to the suit at the Court of appeal, Abuja Division and the powers of the Senate as stipulated under Section 157 of the 1999 Constitution on the removal of Members of the Code of Conduct Bureau.”
Not done, the sacked CCB board members approached the NIC to challenge their appointment.
Similarly, upon hearing of the submission of the new nominees by the president to the Senate, J.U.K Igwe, one of the three lawyers to the CCB members at NIC (the others are Ahmed Raji and Onyechi Ikpeazu), petitioned the Senate President on November 30 urging him that “In the interest of rule of law and justice, that the confirmation of the 10 nominees to the Board of the Code of Conduct Bureau be stayed by the Senate pending the final outcome of the decision of the National Industrial Court on the matter.”
It is however not clear if the Senate will act on the president’s request to confirm the new nominees when it resumes plenary on Tuesday or bow to the petitions.
The rules of the upper legislative chamber forbids it from discussing any matter before the court.
When contacted, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Sam Anyanwu, said he would not comment on the matter because it was in court.
“I will not comment on such matter because the matter is in court and it would amount to subjudice,” Mr. Anyanwu told PREMIUM TIMES by phone.
NEW POLITICAL NOMINEES
The CCB is central to anti-corruption efforts not just because it is listed in the constitution, but also because all public officials are mandated to submit the asset declaration forms to it.
It is for this reason that the constitution tried to make its board members immune from political pressure by guaranteeing them tenure of office until they reach 70.
However, the new nominees for the CCB are believed to be not only linked to current government officials but also card carrying members of the ruling APC.
A source in the presidency informed this newspaper that most of the new nominees from the north are Mr. Malami’s personal friends.
It was gathered that the chairman-designate, Mr. Isah, works in Mr. Malami’s law firm in Kano and has indeed represented the minister at some official functions since his (Malami) appointment in 2015.
It was further learnt that against the spirit of the constitution, many of the new nominees are members of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC.
According to our source, the nominee from Kogi was the state’s accountant general while the Ogun nominee is a former member of the House of Representatives.
Although the reason for the choice of the nominees is not known, there are allegations that some top government functionaries are desperate to hijack the Bureau to hunt perceived political enemies.
But another source in CCB hinted that the sacked members are independent-minded and were not popular within the system because of some reforms they introduced during their tenure.
Part of the reform the CCB members were said to have introduced is known as “Standard Operational Procedure (SOP)” to ensure the 29-year-old Bureau’s efficiency in the fight against corruption.
The SOP, our source claimed spells out guidelines for the operations of the agency.
According to the Official Gazette of the Federal Republic of Nigeria dated January 30, 2017, the SOP, “was established to prevent and control abuse of office, illegitimate and unbridled acquisition of wealth by public officials through dedicated enforcement of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and other anti-corruption provisions of the constitution.”
It also states, among other things, that the SOP, “will enable the CCB to key into Government’s anti-corruption programme through the implementation of the provision of the Constitution, the Act and other relevant international instruments, including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPACC) and the ECOWAS Protocol on the Fight Against Corruption Act of which Nigeria is signatory.”
This newspaper gathered that some senior directors of the CCB led by the Acting Secretary, A.F. Kolawole, after a meeting on April 3, wrote a letter addressed to Mr. Saba, opposing the SOP.
In the three-page letter, signed by 21 of them, the staff demanded that its implementation be stood down “following observed inconsistencies with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), subsisting Acts passed by the National Assembly e.g. Procurement Act, Annual Appropriation Acts etc, Policy Directive of Government on Public Service Rules, Financial Regulations and other related Statues and Regulations.”
The staff prayed that it was their view that CCB-SOP should not “take over the power of the Attorney General of the Federation in instituting proceedings or discontinuing cases in established Courts and Tribunals.”
Mr. Malami could not be reached to comment on this story as he failed to pick repeated calls to his mobile telephone on Thursday.
The minister did not also respond to a text message requesting him to react to the allegations.
Presidential spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, could not be reached to comment on this story on Thursday.
While Mr. Adesina’s mobile telephone was switched off, Mr. Shehu did not pick calls to his phone.
Similarly, calls to Laolu Akande, the spokesperson to Mr. Osinbajo, did not go through.
PAST LEGAL BREACHES
This is not the first time the president would be accused of breaching the law in his appointments.
Earlier this year, Mr. Buhari had named Dikko Abdulrahman as new DG of National Pension Commission (PENCOM) to replace Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, whose tenure was truncated midway. The tenure of the PENCOM DG is five years subject to renewal.
Mrs. Anohu-Amazu, who hails from Anambra State in the South-east geo-political zone, had spent only two years and five months before her removal.
The appointment of Mr. Abdulrahman who hails from the North-west zone, was reportedly in breach of the PENCOM Reform Act, 2014.
According to Section 21 (2) of the Act, “In the event of a vacancy (for the chairman, DG or other members of the board), the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure.”