President Muhammadu Buhari has taken plenty of flak for his resolve to fully implement the Executive Order 6 he signed into law recently.
The Presidency confirmed that a number of enforcement procedures were already in place by which the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and other security agencies had placed no fewer than 50 high-profile persons directly affected by EO6 on watch-list and restricted them from leaving the county pending the determination of their cases.
The mandate came following the instant judicial affirmation of the order’s constitutionality and legality by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, of the Abuja Division of Federal High Court, last Wednesday.
The ruling held that Executive Order 6 was within the powers of the President, as granted by the Constitution, to issue executive orders for the execution of policies by the executive arm of government, provided such orders respect the principles of separation of powers.
The judge noted that Executive Order 6 did not violate the rights of citizens to own property rather it was informed by Buhari’s willingness to save suspected property from being dissipated.
Justice Ojukwu, however, cautioned that the powers given to the attorney general of the federation under the Executive Order 6 must be exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
The judge held that although the Order seemed to give the AGF discretion as to when to seek permission of the court to seize any suspected property, it must at all times, obtain a court order before seizing any asset. Such application, the court held, could be made ex-parte.
The Presidency, in a statement signed by Mr. Garba Shehu, senior special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on media and publicity, Garba Shehu said: “The financial transactions of these persons of interest are being monitored by relevant agencies to ensure that assets are not dissipated and such persons do not interfere with, nor howsoever corrupt investigation and litigation processes.
“It is instructive to note that EO6 was specifically directed to relevant law enforcement agencies to ensure that all assets within a minimum value of N50m or equivalent, subject to investigation or litigation are protected from dissipation by employing all available lawful means, pending final determination of any corruption-related matter.
“The Buhari administration reassures all well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians of its commitment to the fight against corruption, in accordance with 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the general principles of the Rule of Law.
“Accordingly, this administration will uphold the rule of law in all its actions and the right of citizens would be protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.
“We, therefore, enjoin all Nigerians to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities towards ensuring a successful implementation of EO6, which is a paradigm-changing policy of the Federal Government in the fight against corruption,” the statement stated.
Reacting to the enforcement of the order, the national publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said in a statement in Abuja that “this wicked and draconian step is clearly targeted at members of the opposition parties, perceived enemies of President Muhammadu Buhari, well-meaning Nigerians, including members of the business community, religious leaders, former political leaders and traditional rulers, who are perceived to be averse to President Buhari’s re-election bid.\
“This decree is a direct clampdown on our democratic order and an overthrow of rights of our citizenry as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended). We hope this is not a ploy to harm certain eminent Nigerians under the guise of resisting travel restrictions.
“The whole world can now see how fascism is fast taking over our democracy and judicial system and how the Buhari administration, by fiat, has directly ordered that citizens be secretly trailed, their movements and financial transactions restricted by government agencies without recourse to due process of the law.
“While the PDP notes that the Buhari Presidency has gone into panic mode since the popular emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential candidate and the spontaneous jubilation his emergence has evoked across the country, the party maintains that the resort to total clampdown on the opposition and our supporters will be totally unacceptable.
“The Buhari Presidency has gone into panic mode since the popular emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as PDP presidential candidate and the spontaneous jubilation his emergence has evoked across the country,” he said.
The former minister of aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, in his reaction said: “The banning of 50 prominent Nigerians who are all members of the opposition from travelling out of the country by Buhari’s Executive Order and the power to confiscate their assets even though they have not been empowered to do so by a court of law, or convicted of any offence is utterly shameful and condemnable. It is nothing less than a descent into fascism and a violation of the fundamental human rights and civil liberties of the individuals that have been directly affected and the Nigerian people.
“It is also a usurpation of the role of the Judiciary. Buhari is so desperate to remain in power that he has now resorted to attempting to muzzle and intimidate the opposition. He forgets that he is not God and that he will soon leave power. I condemn his lawless and desperate ways in the strongest terms. Only dictators behave in this way and Buhari has proved to be the most brutal and callous of them all in the history of our nation. I challenge him to do his worse and enjoy the short time that he has left in office. Sadists never last. Soon it will all be over and he will account for his evil ways and brought to justice.”
Similarly, a pro-democracy and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) said the president’s action is “primitive resort to political witch-hunt and vendetta.”
In a statement by its national coordinator, Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA criticized the president for the erroneous interpretation of the ruling of the Federal High Court, which validated his power to make general policy frameworks on the fight against corruption subject to the order of the competent court of law.
It said the court couldn’t have unilaterally overrule or nullify the relevant sections of the Constitution, which are directly related to the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms such as right to freedom of movement; Civil liberties (Section 35(1) and other constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing and the constitutional presumption of innocence, as clearly provided for in the extant constitution which remains the supreme law of Nigeria.
A lawyer, Mr. Chris Okeke, disagreed with the position of the court on the constitutionality of Executive Order 6, insisting that it failed to align with Justice Ojukwu’s position.
“My take on the Presidential Order is, taken together with the provisions of the Constitution on the presumption of innocence; I fail to find alignment with judgment of the Federal High Court.
“I have read the Presidential Order on offshore assets, and particularly Switzerland was mentioned. The inescapable questions include whether Switzerland and indeed, any other country for that matter will cooperate with you in that direction. Where your demand conflicts with the domestic laws and interests of the cooperating country, who do you expect they will go with?
“Again, as it affects our domestic laws, it needs to be pointed out that the President’s Executive Order is not a legislation, it is not an Act of the National Assembly either.
“Being none of above, the order cannot in anyway abridge the rights, and or derogate from constitutionally guaranteed rights of Nigerians under any guise or name.
“That they are called taxation is not an excuse. Meanwhile, I expect the Supreme Court of Nigeria to clear the air here in due course.
“Put differently, I expect the judgment of the Federal High Court to be challenged on appeal pronto. In the meanwhile, the Federal High Court judgment in question has not justified the essence and beauty of constitutionalism in Nigeria.
“The president can intervene only to the extent allowed by the Constitution and laws of the land,” he insisted.
Additional report from The Guardian