By Rotimi Faan
THE President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has once again provided further evidence of why many Nigerians continue to view the administration as at once anti-democratic and incompetent. The latest gaffe of this fumbling administration comes via a so-called ‘executive order 6’ or EO6 that the President’s Senior Special Assistance on Media, Garba Shehu, announced last weekend. A salient element of the executive order is the placement of some fifty Nigerians on a security watch list that demands the seizure of their passport and by that the restriction of their movement to Nigeria until cases of financial crime brought against them by the state have been determined.
By the same token, the financial transactions of these individuals are to be monitored in a manner intended to prevent the ‘dissipation’ of the alleged illicit wealth in their possession. The problem immediately observable in this potential misuse of power and one that also points in the direction of the incompetent thinking, if any, that went into the conception of the executive order is that the names of those affected by it were not announced and left to the wild speculation of Nigerians.
There can be nothing more damning of the democratic pretensions of the Buhari administration that many have accused of being a closet dictatorship. By failing to provide a list of those it has put on a watch list of the country’s secret police among other security agencies, Abuja makes that security watch list an open-ended document that is implementable on the caprice of security officials. What this means effectively is that those on this watch list can only determine their status if and when they make an attempt to leave the country by presenting themselves at any of the country’s borders. Anyone stopped at any of our many points of entry or exit is free to imagine that they are on this government’s security watch list just as the agents at these border points could also abridge the movement of any Nigerian and claim they are being denied their right of free movement for being a security risk. Potentially, therefore, the security list could be as elastic as the government or its agents want it to be since they did not release a list of those supposedly under security surveillance.
This is the tactic of a Gestapo regime. In what way could the operation of this executive order be different from the travel ban imposed in 1984 on the late Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero and his royal friend, the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade? A Yoruba proverb has it that an individual already under a cloud of suspicion for stealing or being a thief does not go around dancing with a kid-goat. Why should a President Buhari who is generally perceived as an incorrigible despot, at best a reconditioned democrat, be playing with the fire of placing people under a secret watch list? How does this chime with his democratic credentials, or how does he want to convince anyone that he is not putting on display what many see as his natural authoritarian bent? And all of this at a time when the opposition out to challenge him at the fast approaching 2019 election is increasingly formidable.
Moving beyond the secrecy thrown around the watch list that is the outcome of the executive order, Nigerians also have to wonder what new thing the executive order is meant to achieve that extant court orders were not doing. In order words, the executive order is already under operation in the form of court orders that supported the forfeiture of the passports of those indicted by the executive order. Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation, has by self-admission not travelled out of Nigeria since 2008, one clear decade after his passport was seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The likes of Nenadi Usman, a former Minister of Finance, have periodically had to apply for the release of their passports in order to travel abroad for medical attention. This is leaving out the likes of Sambo Dasuki whose applications for bail as are those for the release of his passport have been serially and contemptibly rejected by the Buhari administration.
What then is the executive order meant to do if not serve as a trap to rope in more Nigerians perceived as opposed to the government in the aftermath of the Peoples Democratic Party’s, PDP, post-convention seeming ascendancy to prominence, as many are beginning to argue? How come this hurriedly drafted list has on display names of dead Nigerians as that of a former chief judge of Enugu? Is this administration so addle-brained that they cannot put together without foolish flaws the names of fifty Nigerians accused of financial crimes and doing damage to the Nigerian economy? What seriousness does it attach to this task if it cannot get right something as rudimentary as the names of alleged economic saboteurs? Yet, another problem with the executive order is the exclusion of prominent supporters of Abuja from the travel watch list. Nigerians have mentioned certain names of erstwhile opposition figures that are now cozy with the All Progressives Congress-led government.
Why are these persons not on this list? Of course, this may sound like a variation of the worn and impoverished argument about the selective investigation of crime by the Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC under Buhari. But the government could do more to appear less partisan in its fight against corruption. A situation where only people perceived as opposed to the government are fit for government sanction can never inspire confidence. In issuing the executive order in question, the presidency claims its action was based on assurances and affirmation from the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, that it was acting within the bounds of legality and constitutionality. The quality of legal advice this administration enjoys from Mr. Malami is increasingly questionable. The man’s knowledge of the law appears one-sided, half-baked and of layman standard. It was this same Malami that advised the President along the line of making that sophomoric statement of putting national security above the imperatives of constitutionality during the recent Nigerian Bar Association Conference.
Where Malami is not encouraging the Buhari government to undermine the rule of law by ignoring court orders, he is providing dubious legal argument to explain away the corrupt activities of government officials caught on the wrong side of the law. Buhari could have had the benefit of better legal minds if he had not allowed purely personal considerations to influence his choice of AGF. Yet, it is the peculiar misfortune of the current government that President Buhari finds it difficult, almost impossible, to sack any erring member of his administration.