John Ameh, Abuja

The House of Representatives on Thursday opposed the setting up of special presidential investigative panels by the Federal Government to investigate various matters, saying that the development usurped the powers of existing anti-corruption agencies and the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal.

The House resolved to probe the operations of such panels, particularly the seeming duplication of the functions of anti-graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission.

The resolution followed a motion moved by the Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Mr. Kingsley Chinda.

For instance, he said the SPIPs, which were inaugurated using the provisions of the Public Property Special Provisions Act, 2004, could invite Nigerians to fill asset declaration documents, a duty reserved for the CCB.

China noted, “The said panel is alleged to have received petitions from Nigerians and its mode of operation is to proceed to invite citizens to fill asset declaration forms, which is by law the exclusive mandate of the Code of Conduct Bureau under the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act CAP T 15, LFN 2004.

“Following the activities of the panel, the Attorney General of the Federation has received several complaints from the general public on the need to take an in-depth look at the law, viz-a viz the various anti-corruption agencies that are now established, particularly the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”

Chinda further told the House that the Public Property Act, having predated the CCB and other anti-corruption agencies’ laws, should no longer form the basis on which the government would conduct such investigations.

The lawmaker added, “The Public Property (Special Provision) Act, codified as CAP R4 LFN, 2004, predates the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act CAP T15 LFN 2004. Whereas the Act commenced 31st Dec, 1983, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act commenced on 1st January, 19991, (eight years later).

“The Public Property (Special Provision) Act CAP R4 LFN 2004 is a spent law by virtue of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, CAP T15 LFN 2004.

“The functions specified by the Act to be performed through panels established by the President are now performed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which serves as a special court headed by a qualified judge of a superior court of record in Nigeria to try the offences regarding the breach of the code of conduct of public officers.

“Besides, the Code of Conduct Act being a newer law on the subject matter, has made specific provisions on the matter.

“It is trite law that the court will construe a later act as repealing an earlier one if the two provisions cannot stand together or if they both make the same provisions dealing with a similar subject matter as established in Trade Bank Plc Vs. Lagos Island Local Government (2003) FWLR (Pt 161) 1734.”

He added, “Special presidential investigation panels (SPIP) ought not to have been set up in view of the existence of such institutions as the EFCC, ICPC and especially the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal, both created by law and supported by the 1999 Constitution.”

Chinda also reminded the House that the SPIPs would further add to the cost of governance by drawing funds to do the same work that the anti-corruption agencies and the CCB/CCT were already doing.

The House, which was presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, did not allow debate on the motion on the grounds that it was “investigative.”

The House resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to conduct the investigation within four weeks.

Meanwhile, the House, in a separate resolution, cautioned the Judiciary against interfering with the work of the National Assembly as an independent arm of government.

It resolved to write the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to draw his attention to such interferences and the “urgent need” for him to caution judicial officers against granting “questionable injunctions” stopping the National Assembly from working.

The House passed the resolution after the Chairman, Committee on Justice, Mr. Razak Atunwa, brought a complaint to the floor on how an Abuja Federal High Court restrained his committee from conducting a public hearing on the hijab controversy involving a law graduate, Amasa Firdaus.

The University of Ilorin graduate was due to be called to the Bar on December 12, 2017.

However, the Nigerian Law School stopped her after she insisted on wearing the hijab, as against the traditional wig worn by lawyers.

Firdaus had been quoted as saying that she opted to wear the Islamic head scarf to challenge the status quo.

The House later intervened to douse tension by passing a resolution to conduct a public hearing on the issue.

But, as the committee planned to open the public hearing at the National Assembly, the court’s restraining order was served on the committee.

On Thursday, Atunwa made a formal report of the incident to the House.

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