Restrictions on Nigerian public officers running private businesses may soon be lifted

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Public officers in Nigeria may soon be allowed to legally run other private businesses apart from farming, which is already permitted by law, in the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Bill currently undergoing amendment in the Federal House of Representatives.

The House may also move the control of the CCB and CCT from the Presidency to the National Judicial Council (NJC), with the Federal Judicial Service Commission to recommend who becomes Chairman of the Bureau, subject to the approval of the NJC.

These proposals are contained in the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Bill (2019) sponsored by the lawmaker representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State, Awaji-Inombek Abiante.

The legislator recalled how the Presidency allegedly used the CCB and CCT to hound former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, between 2015 and 2019.

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Abiante said that allowing public servants to farm and not engage in other commercial activities was unfair. According to him, a section of the country is dominated by farmers while other sections are business-oriented.

He stressed that those who had vast knowledge about Information and Communication Technology, which could add value to the economy, had been barred from selling their ideas with the current law.

According to Abiante, the law is already being breached as security operatives and civil servants are usually seen using their personal vehicles as taxis to and fro their workplaces.

The bill, which passed second reading at the House on March 17, particularly seeks to amend Sections 6, 20(4) and 22(3) of the CCB and T Act.

For instance, Section 6 reads, ‘Restrictions on specified officers: Without prejudice to the generality of Section 5 of this Act, a public officer shall not (a) receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public office; or (b) except where he is not employed on a full-time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade; but nothing in this paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming or participating in the management or running of any farm.’

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Abiante, in his lead debate, a copy of which our correspondent obtained on Friday, noted that the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal were established to ‘maintain a high standard of morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability, and impose punishment on erring public officers.’

The lawmaker argued that: ‘Public service, either at the local, state or federal level, can boast of officers with great professional acumen who can use their experience during their free periods to enhance the socio-economic development of this country, but are denied through the restrictions placed on them in consideration of the principal Act.

‘Also, in order to remove political interference in the activities of members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, there is a need to amend the sections that deals with their appointment and removal.’

Abiante explained that the proposed amendment sought to remove ‘the restriction placed on public officers from engaging in any enterprise other than farming and breaking the prison walls of same as well as putting the appointment and removal of the chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal under the jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council.’

He proposed that the existing Section 6 of the Act be deleted and a new Section 6 inserted.

The new section, Abiante said, should read: ‘Restrictions on specified officers: (a) A public officer shall not receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emolument of any other public office.’

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“(b) Subject to Section 5 of the principal Act, a public officer may engage in any enterprise(s), provided there is no conflict of interest.”

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