Court okays ex­ec­u­tive or­der to seize cor­rupt per­sons’ prop­erty

• Warns AGF on ar­bi­trary use of pres­i­dent’s di­rec­tive • Lawyers seek to up­turn verdict in ap­peal court

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - FRONT PAGE - From Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja

THE Fed­eral High Court, Abuja yes­ter­day held that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 6 was in line with the con­sti­tu­tion of the Fed­eral

Repub­lic of Nige­ria.

In a judg­ment de­liv­ered by Jus­tice Ijeoma Ojukwu, the court held that it 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 fur­ther stated that the Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 6 did not vi­o­late the right of cit­i­zens to own prop­erty. Rather, it was in­formed by the Pres­i­dent Buhari’s will­ing­ness to save sus­pected prop­erty from be­ing dis­si­pated.

Pres­i­dent Buhari re­cently signed the con­tro­ver­sial Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 6, which em­pow­ers the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion (AGF) to li­aise with rel­e­vant in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies to tem­po­rar­ily seize prop­erty linked with cor­rup­tion pend­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and con­clu­sion of trial, to pre­vent the dis­si­pa­tion of such as­sets. But two lawyers - Ikenga Ugochinyere and Ken­neth Udeze (plain­tiffs), ap­proached the court, chal­leng­ing the or­der, which they ar­gued, vi­o­lated peo­ples’ rights to own prop­erty and de­nied fair hear­ing to own­ers of any prop­erty against which the or­der was ex­e­cuted.

The suit has Pres­i­dent Buhari and the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion (AGF) as de­fen­dants.

The plain­tiffs con­tended that by the pro­vi­sions of sec­tions 5, 36 and 43 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent lacked the power to is­sue the ex­ec­u­tive or­der. They ar­gued fur­ther that by is­su­ing the ex­ec­u­tive or­der, the pres­i­dent al­legedly en­croached on the con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right of cit­i­zens to own prop­erty, a right to which per­sons, who are stand­ing trial or be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, but are yet to be convicted, are also en­ti­tled. The plain­tiffs added that by virtue of the pro­vi­sions of Sec­tions 5, 36 and 43 of the con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent lacked the power to is­sue such an or­der “on mat­ters not con­nected with the ex­e­cu­tion and main­te­nance of the con­sti­tu­tion, all laws made by the Na­tional As­sem­bly and to all mat­ters with re­spect to which the Na­tional As­sem­bly has, for the time, be­ing power to make laws.”

They con­se­quently urged the court to re­strain both de­fen­dants from en­forc­ing it and prayed for a dec­la­ra­tion that “the act or con­duct of the pres­i­dent in is­su­ing the or­der in­ter­feres with, or en­croaches into the own­er­ship, or oth­er­wise of the as­sets or prop­erty of any per­son with­out such per­son be­ing found guilty by a court of com­pe­tent ju­ris­dic­tion, and it is un­con­sti­tu­tional, null and void.”

But Jus­tice Ojukwu in yes­ter­day’s judg­ment viewed the is­sue dif­fer­ently as she in­sisted that the or­der was con­sti­tu­tional. Jus­tice Ojukwu, how­ever, cau­tioned that the pow­ers given to the AGF 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 an ap­pli­ca­tion, the court held, could be made ex-parte. But the plain­tiffs said they were not sat­is­fied with the judge­ment.

They have unan­i­mously vowed to ap­peal the judg­ment, stress­ing that it was strange, lack­ing in le­gal ba­sis and would be eas­ily up­turned on ap­peal. Ugochinyere in a swift re­ac­tion yes­ter­day, in­sisted that he had in­structed his coun­sel to im­me­di­ately ap­peal the judg­ment .

Ugochinyere who is the chair­man, Ac­tion Peo­ple’s Party (APP), added that he was still con­vinced that the im­ple­men­ta­tion of such a pol­icy would be abused by the pres­i­dent to witch-hunt his per­ceived po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies “We are head­ing to ap­peal to deal a fa­tal blow to this at­tempt to re-en­act the 1983 in­glo­ri­ous de­crees”, they said.

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