By Jude Ndukwe
Since President Muhammad Buhari signed the Executive Order 6 which primarily seeks to bar some politically exposed persons undergoing trial for one corruption case or the other, from travelling outside the country which in the seeming wisdom of the presidency ensures such people do not have access to their properties outside the country suspected to be proceeds of corruption and use same to frustrate their cases in court, Nigerians have been sharply divided over the matter.
Just like many Nigerians have said, the Executive Order even though affirmed by a judge is needless and an unnecessary waste of time and resources of State because even the judge in affirming the order reiterated the need for it to operate within the ambit of the constitution.
It is also unnecessary because some corruption related cases have been successfully concluded one way or the other without any executive order “giving bite” to the fight against corruption as Buhari’s government would want us to believe.
For example, Senator Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison over corruption issues. It is the same with Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State. In the same vein, some other cases have also been decided against the government and in favour of suspects. (It is instructive to quickly point out here that these two high profile cases that have led to convictions were initiated by PDP governments contrary to the current administration’s sing song that PDP never fought corruption). What this means is that rather than release an executive order which infringes on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians in order to fight corruption, government and its agencies should be humble enough to admit that the gross failure of fight against corruption is caused by its overzealousness, indiscretion, media trial of suspects, avoidable drama, insincerity, undue harassment, severe and several gross abuses of suspects’ rights, one-sided nature of the fight, improper and inconclusive investigations, injudicious prosecution, flagrant disobedience of court orders among others.
It is not enough for government to dismissively ask those affected by an executive order that is considered poorly thought out and draconian to go to court and challenge it when Buhari’s government is well known for its penchant to disobey the courts, disrespect the judiciary and undermine its powers.
A government that has had six court orders including one from ECOWAS Court asking it to release former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki, rtd, on bail even with very stringent conditions including seizure of his international passport that would have enabled him to travel outside the country, cannot be trusted with the issuance of arbitrary orders.
Although the case of Sheikh El Zakzaky is not corruption related, it nevertheless serves as a mirror into the mindset of those who execute the law and policies of government. After having also been granted bail several times by courts of competent jurisdiction, Zakzaky and his wife have remained in illegal detention of government for close to three years now. This is despite the fact that agents of government are suspected to have killed his sons in a military operation against the Shiites in December of 2015, in Zaria, that also saw to the suspected murder of hundreds of innocent Nigerians, a brutal crime for which no one has been brought to justice up till now!
The discriminatory and indiscriminate prosecution of suspects by the Buhari administration is exemplified by its prosecution of Elder Godsday Orubebe, the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, which eventually turned out to be nothing but an exercise in vengeful persecution. After several months of media trial and maligning the PDP chieftain, dragging him to court like a common criminal in the name of fight against corruption, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, wrote to the court on December 16, 2016, through a letter to the Chairman of the ICPC, with Ref No. DPPA/MNDA/345/16, confirming that the N1,965,576,153.46 for which Orubebe was being prosecuted “had not been expended, but awaiting further contract decisions and directives from the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs.”
That is how vindictive this government is. How could you have charged a man to court in the first place on the allegation that he diverted the whopping sum of N1.97bn only for the same government to turn around to say that the sum was still at the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs unexpended? If this is not sheer wickedness fuelled by hate and persecution of opposition personalities including dissenting voices, then one wonders what else it could be.
It is for actions as this that Nigerians have come to believe that every step taken by this administration in the fight against corruption is nothing but an attempt to further muzzle the opposition and cripple it with the intention of reducing Nigeria to a one party state.
This is why the executive order in question is not only viewed with suspicion by well meaning Nigerians and has been adjudged as another instrument to further promote the undemocratic agenda of the current administration but also as an avenue to assert that President Buhari is unquestionable, he can do and undo!
Another curious aspect of the whole controversy is that the executive order which targets a specific number of people was released without the names meant to have been barred from travelling. This raises another question on the genuineness of the order. It leaves the citizens guessing and makes a further mockery of the whole system. Such a haphazardly crafted order is neither open nor transparent as would be expected of instruments in a democratic dispensation.
The danger in this is that the president can just wake up some day and sign any executive order that would be in violation of the people’s rights. Any law or order of government that is targeted at only few and selected members of society is inconsistent with the constitution. Any law made should be for the good governance of the people; it specifies also punitive measures for those who fall foul of the law no matter how highly placed they are even if they belong to the same party as the president.
The executive order, as long as it affects the fundamental human rights of any citizen, becomes an usurpation of the functions of the legislature which is the body constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of law making. It is against the pristine spirit of separation of powers and checks and balances in a democratic presidential system of government as we practise in Nigeria for that Order to be unleashed.
It is a dangerous precedent to allow the president sneak in obnoxious laws into our legal system through the backdoor in the name of an executive order no matter how genuine his reasons might be. Such actions are a very conspicuous signal that we are descending into full blown fascism.
It is even more worrisome that those affected by the executive order are citizens who have already been dragged to court over the same corruption cases for which the Order was made and whose properties are already being temporarily forfeited to government pending the final determination of their cases. The executive order therefore becomes an attempt by the executive to help itself in cases that are already in court in which it also has great interest. The Order is a judicial overreach and a legislative overkill.
Another factor that might have led the executive to sign the executive order might be to weaken the plans of opposition parties to pile pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari through the international community on the need for him to ensure a free, fair and credible general elections in 2019. Since Buhari took over power, he has shown more respect to the voice of the international community than he has shown to Nigerians locally. He might have envisaged that opposition elements might want to use the international community to ask for a free and fair election which the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has shown great cause for Nigerians to doubt their true independence. Already, some opposition figures have started imploring the international community to impress it on Buhari to not only make sure that the electoral process is credible but that he also hands over power when he loses without hesitation.
All these put together, make the Executive Order 6 of President Muhammadu Buhari exactly what it is: an unnecessary irritant and a product of fascism.