THE preferment of a thirteen count charge against Dr. Bukola Saraki, “ the Senate President” by the Code of Conduct Bureau before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and his consequent filing of a Suit at the Federal High Court Abuja seeking to restrain the Code of Conduct Tribunal from proceeding with his arraignment and trial has brought the issue of the status of the Code of Conduct Tribunal under the Constitution to the front burner of legal and political discourse in the Country.
The fact that the Federal High Court directed that the CCB and CCT be put on notice and that the were to come before the Federal High Court on Monday, 21st of September, 2015 to show cause why a restraining should not be made did not help matters. That directive added fuel to the fire of the controversy.
What then is the status of the CCT? Is it, as it has been argued, an inferior tribunal to the Federal High Court or a High Court of a State? Can the said Courts exercise supervisory or appellate jurisdiction over the CCT? Does the exclusive jurisdiction granted the Federal High Court in Section 251 enable or empower the Federal High Court to exercise a power of judicial review or appellate power over the CCT?
Our answers to the above query is short and simple. The Federal High Court has no appellate or supervisory jurisdiction over the CCT. The CCT, albeit styled a tribunal, performs the function of a Court. It tries defendants in a criminal trial. It finds persons so tried guilty or not guilty and it convicts and sentences like any superior court of record. It can also enforce its decisions. Similarly, the Election Tribunal ( governorship, legislative houses or presidential), though styled a tribunal is a court.
It tries causes and gives decisions. Surely, just as no high court can restrain an election tribunal from treating an election petition or rule on the incompetence of a petition filed before an election tribunal, so also no high court properly can restrain the CCT from performing its constitutional and judicial duty. The CCT is not an administrative tribunal. It is a judicial tribunal vested with judicial powers,
Paragraph 15, 17 and 18 of the 5th Schedule to the Constitution that provides for the Code of Conduct Tribunal are very apt and clear in the definition of the establishment of the CCT, appointment of its members, and its powers Paragraph 15 provides as follows:
“(1) There shall be established a tribunal to be known as Code of Conduct Tribunal which shall consist of a Chairman and two other persons; (2) The Chairman shall be a person who has held or is qualified to hold office as a Judge of a Court of record in Nigeria and shall receive such remuneration as may be prescribed by law;
(3) The Chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal shall be appointed by the President in accordance with the recommendation of the National Judicial Council; and (4) The National Assembly may by law confer on the Code of Conduct Tribunal such additional powers as may appear to it to necessary to enable it more effectively to discharge the functions conferred on it in this Schedule.”
Paragraph 17 provides as follows:
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this paragraph, a person holding the office of Chairman or member of the Code of Conduct Tribunal shall vacate his office when he attains the age of seventy years; (2) A person who has held office as Chairman or member of the Code of Conduct Tribunal for a period of not less than ten years shall, if he retires at the age of seventy years, be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to his last annual salary in addition to other retirement benefits to which he may be entitled;
(3) A person holding the office of Chairman or member of the Code of Conduct Tribunal shall not be removed from his office or appointment by the President except upon an address supported by two-thirds majority of each House of the National Assembly praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office in question (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body) or for misconduct or for contravention of this Code; and (4) A person holding the office of Chairman or member of the Code of Conduct Tribunal shall not be removed from office before retiring age save in accordance with the provisions of this Code.”
And Paragraph 18 provides thus
“ (1) Where the Code of Conduct Tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravention of any of the provisions of this Code it shall impose upon that officer any of the punishments specified under sub-paragraph (2) of this paragraph and such other punishment as may be prescribed by the National Assembly; (2) The punishment which the Code of Conduct Tribunal may impose shall include any of the following -(a) vacation of office or seat in any legislative house, as the case may be;
(b) disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from the holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years; and(c) seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office; ; (3) The sanctions mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) hereof shall be without prejudice to the penalties that may be imposed by any law where the conduct is also a criminal offence;
(4) Where the Code of Conduct Tribunal gives a decision as to whether or not a person is guilty of a contravention of any of the provisions of this Code, an appeal shall lie as of right from such decision or from any punishment imposed on such person to the Court of Appeal at the instance of any party to the proceedings; (5) Any right of appeal to the Court of Appeal from the decisions of the Code of Conduct Tribunal conferred by sub-paragraph
(4) hereof shall be exercised in accordance with the provisions of an Act of the National Assembly and rules of court for the time being in force regulating the powers, practice and procedure of the Court of Appeal; (6) Nothing in this paragraph shall prejudice the prosecution of a public officer punished under this paragraph or preclude such officer from being prosecuted or punished for an offence in a court of law; and (7) The provisions of this Constitution relating to prerogative of mercy shall not apply to any punishment imposed in accordance with the provisions of this paragraph.”
From the above provisions of the 5th Schedule, it is luminously clear that the CCT is a sui generis Court or Tribunal. It is a special court of its own kind. The Chairman and members of the CCT are appointed by the President, based on the recommendation of the NJC. If they are not judicial officers that can rank with judicial officers presiding over a court of first instance ( Federal High Court or State High Court), why will they be recommended by the NJC for appointment.
Does the NJC recommend magistrates for appointments? And on qualification for appointment, the members of the CCT must be serving judges or qualified as lawyers to be serving judges of the High Court, et cetera. Whereas under Section 292 of the Constitution the CJN and other heads of Courts in Nigeria may be removed on ground of misconduct, et cetera by the President or Governor supported by a 2/3 majority address of the Senate, acting alone or a house of assembly, as the case may be, the judges of the CCT can only be removed from office by a 2/3 majority resolution of the two Houses ( Chambers) of the National Assembly. And appeals from its decision lies to the Court of Appeal, like it is the case with a high court.
The CCT is a “superiour court of record” or “ a superior tribunal of record”. Section 6(5)(j) of the 1999 Constitution says so. Those who argue to the contrary relies on Section 6(5)(a-i ), which provides a list of superior court of record in Nigeria to reach this erroneous conclusion. When the whole provisions in Section 6 of the Constitution are read together, as they should be read in consonance with the liberal rule of interpreting the provisions of the Constitution, in order to avoid “stultifying narrowness”, this view will become evident. Section 6 ( 1,2,3,5) of the 1999 Constitution, provides that:
“(1) The judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation. (2) The judicial powers of a State shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as provided by this Constitution, for a State. (3) The courts to which this section relates, established by this Constitution for the Federation and for the States, specified in subsection
(5) (a) to (1) of this section, shall be the only superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a State, each court shall have all the powers of a superior court of record.