A senior Nigerian Lawyer and a human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, has condemned the move by the Senate to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Act.
He said the move was “so insensitive, suspicious and opportunistic”.
While giving his opinion on the state of the nation on Sunday, the lawyer said that whoever contemplated the amendment of the CCB/CCT Act at this point in time decided to provoke Nigerians.
“If a trial of the leader of Senate is going on, you cannot privatise law making in our country. Section four of our constitution has empowered the legislators to make laws for the good governance of the country and law and order. It does not say that ‘thou shall make law to satisfy any individual’, which is what is going on.
“The members of the National Assembly took an oath of office and allegiance to make law for the country and not the individual.
“Why don’t you wait for the conclusion of the case to know if you will amend the law?
“When you lock up the Senate in solidarity with an individual who is standing trial, what point are you making? You will turn round to collect money for abandoning your duty,” Mr Falana Stated.
The illegality of it, he said, was that the section being amended had been captured in the constitution, insisting that “when any law is similar to the provision of the constitution, that law is a duplication and generally regarded as inconsistent with the constitution. If they amend the Act will that affect the constitution? It is an exercise in futility”.
He told Channels Television that the same section that the Senate was trying to amend was in the Code of Conduct for Public Officers entrenched in the constitution.
Mr Falana further argued that neither the CCB nor the CCT was domiciled under the office of the Secretary to the government. “It is an independent body budgeted for.”
2016 Budget Delay
On the delay in the completion of work on the 2016 budget, the lawyer said: “It is quite embarrassing that in the fourth month of the year, we are still battling with putting a budget together.
“I do hope that the executive and legislative arms of government will go back to the drawing table and fine tune what has become rather problematic which for me, as I reason once again, from lack of understanding of the constitutional responsibility of the legislature when it comes to budgeting”.
After the budget was returned to President Muhammadu Buhari by the National Assembly which took over three months to scrutinise it, there were reports that some items were removed from the budget while fresh items were introduced by the lawmakers.
Some lawmakers had dismissed the claims, insisting that they had cleaned up the budget which was shabbily put together by the executive.
Giving his opinion on the issue, Mr Falana said: “By virtue of section 81 of the Constitution, ‘the President shall prepare and lay before the National Assembly’ and what the members are required to do by the constitution is to scrutinise the budget to ensure that there are no duplication or any fraudulent insertion of items here and there.
“If, in the course of debating the bill, it is found that there are problems, the National Assembly is required to revert to the Executive. It has no powers, whatsoever, under the constitution, to re-write the budget or insert any new item in the budget.
“When the National Assembly does that, it has made a mockery of the principle deduction of separation of powers.
“If you introduce a new element that means that you are preparing the budget and lay it before yourself which is unconstitutional.
“When they do that, it means that they have usurped the power of the President or the executive”.
“Stop Embarrassing The Nation”
He further stressed that the controversy was totally unnecessary, urging the executive to come up with the budget if it was sure that the controversial Calabar-Lagos Rail Project was in the budget.
“Both arms of government should close the gaps and stop embarrassing the nation. If we cannot write a budget, if it takes you six months to write a budget, when are you going to implement it?”
He said it was okay for the President to scrutinise the budget returned to him, but pointed out that it showed that the executive do not trust the legislature.
“The President has said that he will like to scrutinise what has been sent to him, with a view to finding out whether what has been passed was the document sent to the National Assembly. Even some members of the National Assembly are saying that they are not aware of the details of the budget and that calls for a proper review of the document. Again that is an embarrassment if the executive cannot trust the Legislature that a thorough job could have been done to the budget,” the lawyer insisted.
On the content of the budget, Mr Falana said he had not seen any difference between the current administration’s budget and that of the previous.
“This year’s budget was not in any way different from the previous budget.
“Since 2007 there has been a regular pattern with respect to budgeting in Nigeria and year in year out you can point out the fact that we are rarely not budgeting for the country.
“You take a budget to the National Assembly that the executive knew would not be implemented because the funds are not there. That means you have deceived the nation and that is why you are told: ‘We have only done 30 per cent or 40 per cent implementation’. You are simply admitting that you have violated the law because the Appropriation Act is an existing law of the nation,” he stressed.
The lawyer, however, said that the implementation was a matter of political will, but expressed fears that such will had not been displayed by the current government.
“When you operate a political system that does not place premium on the interest of the people or make them the centre of development, you cannot but have crisis.
“The average Nigerian is asking whether his quality of life is better now than it was last year.
“Young people are looking for jobs in the midst of mass unemployment. People want to travel on our roads without any fear of being attacked by armed robbers. People want to go to the hospital and have treatment. Nigerians want to educate their children and ensure they have a future,” he stressed.
Critics have said that the current administration had no economic direction, a position that Mr Falana disagreed with.
“Those saying that the current government has no economic direction are neo-liberal elements in our midst who would have wanted the regime to remove its hands completely in the business of the country. They say the government has no business in business.
“They have not significantly departed from the economic programme of the past regime,” he also pointed out.
“Height Of Impunity”
On the fight against corruption, Mr Falana said that a lot of impunity was going on in Nigeria, citing the clash between the military and Shiites in Kaduna.
He said: “When you are told in an independent African country that 347 people were killed and buried secretly in a mass grave, that for me is the height of impunity.
“Only a colonial regime can treat its people so contemptuously. You are also told, we just found 55 shallow grave and that out of the 55 people, five of them are from one part of the country or whatever. What point are you trying to make? To insight people to attack themselves? Did you carry out a DNA test?
“You have just been told that over 500 people have been killed by herdsmen who attack farmers and the government is not checking the impunity”.