Last week, the federal government announced that 50 persons were barred from travelling abroad following a directive from the president to fully implement Executive Order 6. Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to implement the order in “full force” following its affirmation by a court.
Shehu said, “To this end, a number of enforcement procedures are currently in place by which the Nigeria Immigration Service and other security agencies have placed no fewer than 50 high profile persons directly affected by EO6 on watch-list and restricted them from leaving the country, pending the determination of their cases. Also, the financial transactions of these persons of interest are being monitored by the relevant agencies to ensure that the assets are not dissipated and such persons do not interfere with, nor howsoever corrupt the investigation and litigation processes.”
He added, “EO6 was specifically directed to relevant law enforcement agencies 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”.
EO6 has received accolades and knocks in equal measure. The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] said the government was targeting a certain group of persons. PDP described the order as “draconian” and said it was “targeted at members of opposition parties, business community, religious leaders, former political leaders and traditional rulers perceived to be averse to President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid.” It also likened EO6 to a ‘decree’, saying it was a direct clampdown on the country’s democratic order.
We fully support government’s efforts to fight corruption and rid this country of unwholesome practices. It is however important to do so transparently in order to avoid speculations and possible abuse. Government ought to have followed on this announcement with the release of the names of persons affected by the travel restrictions. Though some newspapers came up with a list based on known court cases, government disowned the list. It also said, curiously, that it will not name the persons involved.
That was a mistake. Something as serious as restricting the movement of citizens cannot be shrouded in secrecy no matter how good intentioned it is. Apart from the fact that political motives could be adduced to it, shrouding the list in secrecy could give room for abuse and impunity. If the names had been released, Nigerians would have been able to tell if the people on it deserve to be there or if there were some who deserved spots on the list but were not captured. That would have also tackled PDP’s allegation that the action was targeted at the opposition. In this election season, measures like this are easily suspect.
It is also curious if executive agencies can block a citizen from leaving the country because he/she is standing trial. Usually, this is a court’s prerogative. When a person is standing trial for corruption, the court either remands the person in prison or it seizes his/her passport as part of bail conditions. In either case the person cannot travel out of the country. It is therefore unnecessary for executive authorities to prevent a corruption suspect from traveling; what they should do is to charge the person to court.
Even though government said EO8 was recently validated by a court, that may not be the end of it because it may be challenged up to the Supreme Court. It is true that many of the corruption cases involving VIPs have been on-going for almost 10 years. Rather than place the suspects on a travel ban, government should expedite action on the cases so that they can be concluded and people found guilty are punished accordingly. Though it said that suspects use their assets to stall court cases, it is not impossible to find ways, with the judiciary’s cooperation, to speed up the trial of these cases.