Travel ban:Another look

The Federal Government’s decision to put about 50 prominent Nigerians on its watch-list in its resolve to fully implement the Executive Order 6 (EO6) signed by President Muhammadu Buhari has been condemned by well-meaning Nigerians and civil society groups across the country. President Buhari on Saturday ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to implement the EO6 in full force.

Based on the order, the Nigeria Immigration Service and other security agencies have placed travel ban on the affected Nigerians pending the determination of their cases. Buhari’s directive came on the heels of the Wednesday judicial affirmation of the constitutionality and legality of EO6 by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja. The jurist held, among others, that “EO6 was within the powers of the President, as granted by the Constitution, to issue executive orders for theexecution of policies by the executive arm of government, provided such orders respect the principles of separation of powers.”

However, Justice Ojukwu warned that “the powers given to the AGF under the EO6 must be exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” In his reaction, human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said it was an unlawful act. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party believed that the watch-list is targeted at its members. Its spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondiya, said “this ‘decree’ is a direct clampdown on our democratic order and an overthrow of the rights of our citizenry as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”

Similarly, the former Aviation Minister, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, said, “The ban on 50 prominent Nigerians, who are members of the opposition from travelling out of the country by Buhari’s Executive Order and the power to confiscate their assets though they have not been empowered to do so by a court of law or convicted of any offence, are utterly shameful and condemnable.”

Also, the spokesman of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), Mr. Ikenga Ugochinyere said, “the President’s action was the final unveiling of forewarned tyranny”. However, to the National Publicity of the All Progressives Congress, Yekini Nabena, the President’s action was in tandem with the dictates of the law. Other Nigerians and some civil rights groups described the travel ban as the dawn of new dictatorship.

Like all well-meaning Nigerians, we do not support the travel ban on some prominent Nigerians. There is no way it won’t be seen as a weapon to gag the opposition elements and supposed ‘enemies’ of the administration. But if that is not the case, we are also inclined to believing that the travel ban may be the job of fifth columnists who do not wish this administration to succeed. We strongly believe that the timing of the ban, no matter its objective, is inappropriate coming closer to election year.

While we support the government’s anti-corruption war, we also think that in the prosecution of the war, the constitutional rights of the victims will not be undermined. An accused, to us, remains innocent, until the contrary is proved. But government’s travel ban contradicts this legal norm in the country. Clamping travel ban on those being tried for corruption is not necessary in a democracy. It can only obtain in a military regime.

Apart from being against the rule of law, the implementation of the EO6 is equally against the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the grundnorm of the Nigerian legal system, and against everytenets of democracy. For instance, the EO6 is totally against the provisions of sections 4, 5, and 6 of the Constitution, which the President solemnly swore to uphold. Executive Orders, such as the ones issued by American President are targeted against institutions not against individuals as it is the case in Nigeria.

Even in America, the Executive Orders are vehemently criticised as being unconstitutional and undemocratic. The Executive Order 6 bans a group of Nigerians from travelling thereby trampling on their fundamental human rights enshrined in Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

By invoking the EO6, the executive is indirectly usurping the functions of the legislature and the judiciary at the same time. The National Assembly is the only body empowered to make laws for the Federation. The judiciary is the only arm of government empowered to interpret the laws and issue orders that can be enforced.

In view of mounting criticisms trailing the order by many Nigerians and civil rights groups coupled with the fact that the full implementation of the EO6 is perceived as unconstitutional and undemocratic, we urge President Muhammadu Buhari to take a second look at the travel ban and put on hold its implementation. Since the corruption cases for which some Nigerians are placed on travel ban are already in court, let the judiciary handle them expeditiously. The President will without doubt save the polity of unnecessary heat at this period all attention is focused on the 2019 general election.

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