The ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution presents itself as a veritable platform to amend grey areas in the legislation establishing the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal. The enabling Act establishing the CCB/CCT in 1991 was also recognised as Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption agency in the creation of the 1999 Constitution. However, the constitution on its own provided some gaps that further weakened the CCB/CCT. The first is that the Constitution establishes the Code of Conduct Bureau and it comprises a chairman and nine other members: each of whom at the time of appointment, shall not be less than 50 years of age and subject to the provisions of Section 157 of this Constitution shall vacate his office on attaining the age of 70 years.
It is observed that, beyond these qualifications, there is no other qualification in terms of academic background or cognate experience provided for the chairman and members of the Bureau. Considering the specialised work they are called upon to do and their description in both the Constitution and the Act as the Bureau, while others who work with them are described as staff of the Bureau, it is imperative that a proper cognate experience be required as qualification to occupy the position of a chairman or member of the Bureau. Otherwise, members of the Bureau will come into their positions hoping to learn on the job.
Secondly, by the combined reading of S.155 (1) (c) and S.156 (3) of the Constitution, membership of the Bureau is for a period of five years from the date of appointment subject to an option to renew the appointment but there is a qualification for membership provided in S.156 of the Constitution. The Constitution therefore provides very detailed character and integrity related qualifications for membership of the Bureau. But these qualifications still do not amount to unimpeachable integrity as provided for in the CCBTA. The Constitution has virtually nothing in terms of academic and cognate experience qualification.
Thirdly, the Bureau is mandated by the Constitution to receive declarations by public officers made under paragraph 12 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to this Constitution. But the Constitution was silent on the process of submitting the declaration by declarants and the Bureau’s method of receiving the declaration of assets and liabilities.
However, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act in S.15 (1) prescribes that declarations be submitted in a written form. It also gives the Bureau the power to determine the means to which these declarations would be submitted. It wouldn’t be out of place if the ongoing amendment of the constitution takes cognisance of the digital age and power of information technology to also prescribe online declaration and submission of assets, since this will create ease of compliance to the prescribed law on asset declaration.
Fourthly, the Code of Conduct Bureau is mandated by S. 3 (c) Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution to: retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe
This provision is divided into two parts. The first is that the Constitution has created a right of access to declared assets and liabilities of public officers for citizens of Nigeria. The second part is the process and procedure of exercising the right which will be defined (such terms and conditions) by the National Assembly.
The ongoing constitution amendment provides Nigerians with an opportunity to once again affirm the right of access to declaration of assets forms by either amending the constitution to contain the guidelines for the accessibility of assets declared or rather recognising existing legislation by the National Assembly such as the Freedom of Information Act as the prescribed guideline.
Programme Officer (Good Governance)
Centre for Social Justice, Abuja
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