As the battle for Nigeria’s top office heats up, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is standing for re-election in the country’s 2019 presidential election, has placed 50 high-profile Nigerians on travel restrictions, invoking his Presidential Executive Order (PEO), No. 6 of 2018.
The Order signed on 5 July, 2018 sets out to address “the Preservation of Suspicious Assets Connected with Corruption and Other Relevant Offences.”
A statement by the presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu, said the travel ban on the 50 unnamed Nigerians is in line with the Order which seeks to ensure “that all assets within a minimum value of N50 million or equivalent, subject to investigation or litigation are protected from dissipation by employing all available lawful means, pending the final determination of any corruption-related matter.”
The government through its agencies is also monitoring the financial transactions of these persons of interest to ensure the assets are not dissipated and that such persons do not interfere with investigation and litigation processes, the statement said.
Nigeria’s main opposition party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose presidential flag bearer Atiku Abubakar is seen as a threat to President Buhari has reacted to the Order describing it as “the height of autocracy, despotism, fascism and a plot to railroad Nigeria into a Banana republic.”
Human rights lawyer, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu had also in July described PEO No. 6 as “a squalid attempt at a power grab or an untheorised act of constitutional vandalism in defiance of the separation of powers in the 1999 Constitution. It’s not worth the paper on which it is written”.
While the PDP and its supporters will see the move as one of the tools by the Buhari administration to clamp down on the opposition in a bid to remain in power beyond 2019, others will claim that only those who are guilty of corrupt practices will be concerned about the new order.
In an analysis, law firm, Banwo & Ighodalo noted that with the level of corruption in the country, “it is axiomatic that any well-meaning Government would be mindful of eradicating corrupt practices by all means possible”. However, it advised caution, noting that anti-corruption policies not executed through legal and constitutional means may bring unintended consequences which may stifle both domestic and foreign investments.
Claims against MTN Group Ltd. in Nigeria has raised questions in the international investing community with many worrying about the safety of investments in the country. The PEO No. 6 will further raise such fears, as the right to own private property without the fear of possible confiscation may now be infringed on. Also, private capital follows open economies where the rule of law reigns supreme.
Further analysing the Order, Banwo & Ighodalo noted: “Looking at the wide definitions given to the words “assets” and “entity”, it is also axiomatic that implementation of the Order would be of great interest to investors and development partners around the world and could either enhance or inhibit the progress already recorded under the Government’s Ease of Doing Business initiatives.”
The law firm, therefore, opined that any attempt to restrict dealings in suspicious assets of persons in Nigeria must be unquestionably rooted in law to avoid sending the wrong signals.
The PDP’s Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan told local newspaper ThisDay that the party would officially respond to the move. He called on all democrats regardless of party affiliation to rise against the ban.