By Jide Ajani
Apparently cognisant of the gale of criticism that continues to trail the alleged lack of due process in the fight against corruption and, specifically, in a move to strengthen the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a new Standard Operational Procedure, SOP, for the agency.
This is in accordance with Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
This came after the members of the Bureau Executive Council, BEC, its “supreme governing and decision making authority,” submitted a robust SOP proposal to Buhari, through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, as required by the Constitution.
Separately, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, asked the Church to join the anti-graft crusade.
Buhari’s move was in a bid to strengthen the CCB internal structure and working mechanisms.
The SOP has already been gazetted.
This is the first time such an SOP is being presented to a President.
Sunday Vanguard learnt from Aso Rock Presidential Villa sources that, previously, effort, in this direction had always been sabotaged by civil servants, whose perception of the agency is not different from a routine ministry, contrary to the operational structure stipulated in the Constitution.
But after a careful vetting by the Attorney General, the Ministry of Justice and the legal team in the Presidency, a process which lasted over three months, the SOP was approved by Buhari on Friday, December 23, 2016, and gazetted as Code of Conduct Bureau Standard Operational Procedure, 2017, on January 27, 2017.
The main features of the 15-page SOP include, but are not limited to, the following:
Strengthening the autonomy of CCB as the only anti-corruption agency that does not report to any senior government official or department including the President except to the court;
Clear cut procedure on assets investigation and tracking;
The power of CCB to initiate or terminate investigation without interference by any government official or agency;
The power to hire and fire any of its staff; and Devolution of activities to the state offices of CCB among others.
Aso Rock sources disclosed that the CCB directors’ resistance to any form of reform, meant to enhance the efficiency of the agency in delivering its mandate, compelled the BEC to approach the Attorney General of the Federation for interpretation of Section 160 of the Constitution.
The Bureau has enormous constitutional power to function as a watchdog over the conduct and behaviour of all public officers, ministries, department and agencies of government at all levels.
The Constitution provides CCB with two important instruments to fight public sector corruption:
The code of conduct for public officials; and The asset declaration mechanism.
The expectation of the Constitution is that the agency will deploy these two key integrity and legal tools to promote ethics and integrity among public officials, in such a way as to prevent illicit accumulation of materials at the expense of the public arising from conflict of interest and bribery.
But, unfortunately, the CCB has, until recently, not been able to live up to the expectation of the Constitution since it was created in 1999.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand by sources at the Presidency that this lack of operational procedure, proper working structure and the over bureaucratisation of the agency can be traced to the activities of some senior civil servants that have dominated the agency.
It was in an attempt to restore the agency’s constitutional authority, and free it from the shackles of civil service bureaucracy, that the late President Umar Yar’Adua became the first President to constitute the Bureau, in accordance with the Constitution and bringing in credible professionals with track record to transform it.
But with this latest approval of a new SOP,
Buhari, thus, becomes the first to empower the agency and make it independent to carry out its constitutional mandate.
This, sources insist, is in tandem with the President’s anti-corruption policy of strengthening anti-graft agencies.
Obasanjo tasks the Church
Meanwhile, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, advocated spiritual approach to the anti-corruption crusade in the country calling on the church to use its influence against the menace.
Obasanjo spoke in Abeokuta at the 2017 Convention Lecture of the Victory Life Bible Church International.
He spoke on the theme: “The Role of the Church in the Fight Against Corruption in Nigeria.”
The former president described the church as an important and influential institution with a pivotal role in curbing and eradicating corruption.
He said the anti-corruption war in Nigeria was “a fight for the soul of the nation.”
Obasanjo said successive governments in Nigeria had tried to contain corruption through enactment of laws and enforcement of integrity systems with a slow pace of success.
The elder statesman, however, stressed that the anti-corruption crusade must first be fought within the church through ridding itself of the menace before extending it to the larger society.