Court okays executive order to seize corrupt persons’ property

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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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