The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other stakeholders Tuesday backed the ongoing moves by the National Assembly to amend the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) Act, 2004 to remove the power of the president on assets forfeiture and transfer it to judges of the High Courts.
This is as the Senate resolved to debate allegations of constitutional and human rights violations by the federal government.
Speaking on the bill at a public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Banking and Currency, the bank’s Deputy Director, Mr. Adedeji Lawal, further asked that the bill should be amended to direct the court to forward any forfeiture order to the CBN governor for compliance.
He argued that since the relevant section of the bill had been repealed, the CBN governor ought to be communicated by the court to implement the compliance order.
The committee, however, contended that the courts often would not like any form of meddling in their affairs.
The lawmakers said directing the court on what to do was tantamount to legislative anarchy which must be avoided.
At this point, Lawal, who represented the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, sought to know from the committee, to whom the court order would then be directed if not the CBN governor.
Members insisted that the decision would be left at the discretion of the judge to direct whoever to comply with the ruling.
Nevertheless, Chairman of the committee, Hon. Jones Chukwudi Onyereri (PDP, Imo), assured the deputy director that his concerns had been noted and that the committee would look into the issues at the committee level.
According to him, “Section 9(1) of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the phrase, “The president may in his discretion direct that…”with line 2, which says, “The judge of a High Court may after hearing the parties direct that…”
He said: “That means displacing the authority of the president to direct and moving it to the judge of the High Court. Section 9(2) of the Principal Act is deleted.”
He stated that the bill would be given expedited action so that President Muhammadu Buhari could pass it and pave the way for growth of the economy.
The House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said the move to remove the powers to forfeit assets from the president was to deepen democracy and adhere to the rule of law and separation of powers among the arms of government.
He said the development would further improve the investment environment in the country.
Speaking while declaring the hearing open, he said: “The discretionary powers being sought for the judge of the high court; it’s essential in order to ensure that the course of justice is protected in the Nigeria socio-economic space.
“Currently, the powers for forfeiture is vested in the president which invariably usurps the prerogative of the judiciary to adjudicate and give ruling among others.
“For democracy to be truly deepened, all the three arms of government need to be deepened to effectively perform their constitutional responsibility.”
Essentially, there was no dissenting voice over the bill from all stakeholders present, except for the few observations by Lawal.
The Director General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Mrs. Patience Oniha, restrained herself from speaking to the bill understandably as it concerns the president. But she didn’t oppose it nonetheless.
Other stakeholders present included representatives of the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) and officials from the AFRI-EXIM Bank.
The hearing also considered two other bills, namely, a bill for an Act to establish Factoring Assignment Act, in order to promote availability of capital and credit and to facilitate domestic and international trade and for other related matters; as well as a bill for an Act to repeal the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (Guarantee) Act and for other related matters.