Why Code of Conduct Tribunal is ‘toothless bulldog’ — Group

Danladi Umar, the Chairman of the tribunal
Danladi Umar, the Chairman of the tribunal

The Code of Conduct Tribunal is operating with a flawed enabling legal framework, making it unable to perform within the required operational level, a rights group, Access to Justice, has said.

The group said the appropriation of “too much powers” by the chairman of the tribunal was one of the factors responsible for the poor performance of the tribunal.

Speaking at a public presentation of a report “The Bump on a Log: Why the Code of Conduct Tribunal Malfunctions and How it can be Reformed” in Lagos, the executive director of the group, Joseph Otteh, said the tribunal lacks institutional independence and functions under the presidency.

“The constitution and Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act do not make adequate provisions on how the tribunal should be administered.

“The tribunal lacks institutional independence and functions under the presidency. There is no effective oversight body, mechanism or system in place to monitor how its constitutionally allocated powers are exercised,” he said.

The Code of Conduct Tribunal was established in 1989 as an adjudicatory body created to strengthen integrity in public service.

Some of the powers of the CCT include vacation of office or seat in any legislative house, as the case may be; and disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from the holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years.

The CCT also has powers to seize and forfeit to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.

The group however faulted the foregoing provisions as no judicial body has such powers as CCT.

“No other judicial body or authority has quite the same powers and authority to punish breaches of the Code of Conduct Act as the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

“The tragedy, though, is that in spite of its extraordinary powers and strategic importance to the fight against corruption, the tribunal has largely been a toothless bulldog that has hardly barked at corruption, or, probably, even blinked at it.

“Since its establishment in 1989, the tribunal has had a well-documented history of poor performance, there is very little the tribunal has accomplished or can show for in terms of its mandate,” Mr. Otteh said.

The report noted that between 2010 and 2014, the CCT received N2.6 billion as budgetary votes and appropriation and, yet, had added “little or nothing of significance to the fight against corruption.”

Also in the report, Access to Justice expressed a deep concern that too much power is concentrated on the chairman of the CCT – powers that ought to belong to its board of three members.

“Mr. Danladi Umar has run the organization like a personal fiefdom – a place where he is the dictator-in-charge – such that those who do not grovel to him or who try to warn him off his transgressions enter his black book and are vilified and targeted afterwards,” he said.‎

The CCT came under public spotlight in September last year after the Code of Conduct Bureau slammed a 13 count charge of false assets declaration and corruption on Bukola Saraki, the Senate president.

‎The charges came months after Danladi Umar, the CCT chairman, was allegedly enmeshed in corrupt practices.

In July, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission docked Mr. Umar’s personal assistant, Ali Gambo, before an FCT High Court on charges of conspiracy, bribery, and abuse of office.

Mr. Gambo’s arrest and subsequent arraignment followed a petition that he received N1.8 million bribe on behalf of Mr. Umar, ostensibly to quash a case before the CCT.

‎The Access to Justice’s report called‎ for legislative and constitutional reforms to strengthen the institutional and administrative framework of the tribunal.

“The Code of Conduct Tribunal should no longer operate as an agency or institution under the executive branch of government,” stated the report.

“Its role and functions are judicial. As such, it should be established under the judicial branch of government and be supervised by judicial bodies like the National Judicial Council or the Federal Judicial Service Commission.

“Amendments should make clearer demarcation and allocation of powers between the members of the Board of the Tribunal (that is, the Chairman and two members),” he said.

The report also stated that it was no longer tenable for Mr. Umar to continue in office as the chairman of the tribunal.

“The allegations against him have brought public ridicule and embarrassment, which has done incalculable harm to the image of the tribunal and the Judiciary in Nigeria,” the report said.

“Mr. Danladi Umar needs to make way for the CCT to become a useful institutional asset in Nigeria’s fight against corruption.

“Amendments should remove limitations in the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

“The reform should allow the tribunal adjudicate over cases brought by other anti-corruption agencies against public officers and not just from the Code of Conduct Bureau.

“The tribunal should not be tied to the apron strings of the Code of Conduct Bureau,” Mr. Otteh added.

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