By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—An Abuja- based legal practitioner and rights activist, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, has asked Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, to disqualify herself from handling a fresh suit seeking to strike down President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order 6.
The Presidential Executive Order permits the Federal Government to confiscate assets belonging to persons facing corruption related charges.
The Federal Government had, on the strength of a recent judgement by Justice Ojukwu, banned 50 high-profile Nigerians facing corruption charges from travelling outside the country, pending the conclusion of their trial.
Ajulo, who is a counsel in the fresh suit lodged against President Buhari by one Oyewole Adekunle, adduced reasons Justice Ojukwu should withdraw from adjudicating over the matter, based on her earlier judgement in a sister case.
In a letter dated October 12 and addressed to Justice Ojukwu, Ajulo insisted that she was not qualified to hear the fresh suit since she had already made her position on the matter known.
The plaintiff’s lawyer argued that it would be in the interest of justice for another judge to be allowed to weigh the facts of the fresh suit and give judicial interpretation to legal issues surrounding the Presidential Executive Order 6.
The letter, a copy of which was sighted by Vanguard yesterday, read: “Consequent upon your Lordship’s judgement delivered on October 11, 2018 in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/740/2018, being a sister case to the applicant’s, which subject matter touches on the constitutionality/legality or otherwise of the Executive Order 006 of 2018 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“It is our considered view that your lordship clearly disclosed your standpoint and perspective on the same subject.
“Hence, we, hereby, humbly request that your lordship withdraw from deciding the above captioned suit and return the case file to the Chief Judge for re-assignment.
“We firmly believe in my lord’s ability to do justice always, however, the circumstance of the applicant’s suit has necessitated that the subject matter of the suit be determined by another judge so as to give opportunity to another perspective on the subject matter.”
It will be recalled that Justice Ojukwu had in her judgment on a suit filed by two rights activists, Mr Ikenga Ugochinyere and Kenneth Udeze, held that President Buhari did not act beyond the powers available to him under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, by issuing Orders that would enhance the implementation of Executive policies.
She maintained that such Executive Order remained valid, as long as it does not affect the functions of other arms of the government, or offend the doctrine of separation of powers.
Justice Ojukwu, however, warned that the Order, which empowers the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, to take steps, in liaison with relevant investigative agencies, to temporarily seize property linked with corruption pending investigation and conclusion of trial, must be executed with strict adherence to provisions of the constitution.
While dismissing the suit, the Judge noted that the Presidential Executive Order was issued as a policy directive for the implementation of provisions of extant laws.
She said there was nothing to prove that the Order stripped any aggrieved citizen about its enforcement, his right to approach the court for redress.
Noting that the Order seemed to have accorded the AGF with the discretion to decide when to seek court’s permission to seize any suspected property, Justice Ojukwu stressed that the AGF must at all times, first obtain a court order before confiscating any asset.
She held that such application for judicial leave to seize assets of suspected corrupt persons could be made ex-parte.
Besides, the Judge said she was of the view that the Executive Order No. 6 did not violate the right of citizens to own property, but was informed by the President’s willingness to preserve suspected property from being dissipated while investigation or trial is ongoing.
The plaintiffs had in their suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/740/2018, prayed the court to among other things, determine whether by the combined effects of sections 5, 36 and 43 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, President Buhari had the powers to issue or implement such order.
They urged the court to equally determine whether having regard to the aforementioned sections of the Constitution, the act or conduct of the President in issuing the order which intends to interfere with ownership, and disposition of assets or properties of the persons listed at the First Schedule, is constitutional.
They also urged the court to determine whether having regards to the sections, the President could validly exercise his constitutional powers by deliberately undermining the rights of any citizen to fair hearing.
Upon determination of the questions, the Plaintiffs sought a declaration that President Buhari lacked the powers to issue executive order No.6 as it was not connected with the execution and maintenance of the constitution.
They equally sought “A declaration that the act or conduct of the President in issuing the order interfere with, or encroach into the ownership, or otherwise of the assets or properties of any person without such person being found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, is unconstitutional, null and void.
“A declaration that the president cannot validly exercise his constitutional powers by deliberately undermining, limiting and/or inhibiting the entrenched constitutional rights of any citizen of Nigeria to fair hearing vide the issuance of the Order”.
More so, the Plaintiffs applied for an order of court setting aside and/or nullifying the provisions of the Executive Order No. 6 for being unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
Similarly, they sought an order of injunction restraining the Defendants from enforcing or giving any or further effect to the order.
Cited as Defendants in the matter were President Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN.
President Buhari had on July 5, 2018, issued the Presidential Executive Order, which he said would not only enhance the anti-corruption drive of his administration, but also boost his effort to recover stolen assets.