A prominent Non Governmental organisation- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has described as a primitive resort to political witch-hunt and vendetta the recently announced travel ban placed on 50 unnamed Nigerians undergoing investigation or prosecutions by anti- graft bodies on charges related to corrupt practices.
HURIWA said the Nigerian Constitution in section 36 has clearly indicated that even when a citizen is charged before a competent court of law the said individual is presumed innocent in the eye of the law until contrary determination is reached, just as the Rights group stated categorically that the executive order number 6 which purports to be a policy guideline on the prosecution of suspects accused of hiding foreign located assets does not have the force of a superior law to supersede the clear and binding provisions of the Constitution which unambiguously affirmed the innocence of a crime suspect pending the determination of the prosecutorial activities of a competent court of law recognised in section 6 of the Nigerian Constitution.
HURIWA accused President Muhammadu Buhari of attempting to declare a state of emergency by suspending the Constitution which is what the just issued Presidential statement meant when it authorised the profiling of certain Nigerians not yet convicted and to deny them their Constitutionally protected freedoms even when in the eye of the Supreme law of Nigeria they are as innocent as a White Dove until a contrary determination is reached not in the Presidential court or court of public opinion but in the COMPETENT COURTS OF LAW AS SPECIFIED IN SECTION 6 OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION OF 1999 (AD AMENDED).
HURIWA lampooned President Muhammadu Buhari for the errorneous interpretation of the ruling of the Federal High Court which validated his power to make general policy frameworks on the fight against corruption subject to the order of the competent court of law just as the Rights group reminded President Muhammadu Buhari that the Court couldn’t have unilaterally overruled or nullified the relevant sections of the Constitution which are directly related to the Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms such as right to freedom of movement; Civil liberties (section 35(1))and other constitutional guaranteed right to fair hearing and the Constitutional presumption of innocence as clearly provided for in the extant constitution which remains the supreme law of Nigeria.
HURIWA said: “for the avoidance of doubts, these are the exact provisions of fair hearing protected under 36(1) which affirmed extensively as follows: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.
(2) Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this section, a law shall not be invalidated by reason only that it confers on any government or authority power to determine questions arising in the administration of a law that affects or may affect the civil rights and obligations of any person if such law-
(a) provides for an opportunity for the person whose rights and obligations may be affected to make representations to the administering authority before that authority makes the decision affecting that person; and
(b) contains no provision making the determination of the administering authority final and conclusive.
(3) The proceedings of a court or the proceedings of any tribunal relating to the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section (including the announcement of the decisions of the court or tribunal) shall be held in public.
(4) Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal:
(a) a court or such a tribunal may exclude from its proceedings persons other than the parties thereto or their legal practitioners in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent
as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstances in which publicity would be contrary to the interests of justice;
(b) if in any proceedings before a court or such a tribunal, a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a Commissioner of the Government of a State satisfies the court or tribunal that it would not be in the public interest for any matter to be publicly disclosed, the court or tribunal shall make arrangements for evidence relating to that matter to be heard in private and shall take such other action as may be necessary or expedient to prevent the disclosure of the matter.
(5) Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty:
Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any ,such person the burden of proving particular facts .
(6) Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to-
(a) be informed promptly in the language that he understands and in detail of the nature of the offence;
(b) be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
(c)defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice;
(d) examine, in person or by his legal practitioners, the witnesses called by the prosecution before any court or tribunal and obtain the attendance and carry out
the examination of witnesses to testify on his behalf before the court or tribunal on the same conditions as those applying to the witnesses called by the prosecution; and
(e) have, without payment, the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language used at the trial of the offence.
(7) When any person is tried for any criminal offence, the court or tribunal shall keep a record of the proceedings and the accused person or any person authorised by him in that behalf shall be entitled to obtain copies of the judgment in the case within seven days of the conclusion of the case.
(8) No person shall be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed.
(9) No person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the same ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court.
(10) No person who shows that he has been pardoned for a criminal offence shall again be tried for that offence.
(11) No person who is tried for a criminal offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial.
(12) Subject as otherwise provided by this Constitution, a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law; and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of a law.”
The Rights group therefore dismissed as the greatest manifestation of fascism and a resort to state sponsored witch-hunt of political opponents of the current President Who is desperately seeking a reelection next year February, the policy which purports to place travel embargoes on 50 Nigerians.
“This flagrant affront to the provisions of the constitution guaranteeing freedoms of movement and abuse of personal liberties as enunciated in the recent press release on the directive of President Muhammad Buhari to security agencies to enforce Executive Order 6 is simply an act of executive desperation to haunt perceived political opponents who are currently warming up to mount considerable political challenge to President Buhari. The illegal order which is masquerading as a consequence of a Federal High court’s verdict on Executive order 6 is unconstitutional and is a clear attempt at intimidating political rivals of the All Progressives Congress. This illegality must not stand”.
HURIWA recalled that Media office of President Muhammadu Buhari has just circulated the statement announcing the placement of 50 high-profile Nigerians on travelling restrictions.
The individuals, whose identities were not disclosed, include those whose assets, valued at N50 million and above, are subject of corruption investigation and litigation.
HURIWA recalled that the statement by presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said the measure is part of the implementation of Executive Order Number 6 which seeks 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.”
Mr Shehu added that the financial transactions of these persons of interest are also being monitored by relevant agencies to ensure the assets are not dissipated and that such persons do not interfere with,investigation and litigation processes.
HURIWA quoted PRESIDENT BUHARI as directing the IMPLEMENTATION OF Executive Order 6 IN FULL FORCE by asserting as follows: “Following the instant judicial affirmation of the constitutionality and legality of the Executive Order 6 (EO6), President Muhammadu Buhari has mandated the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice to implement the Order in full force”
HURIWA further stated that the President specifically banned 50 Nigerians from travelling when he affirmed in the press statement thus: “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 county pending the determination of their cases.”
HURIWA condemned what it called the deliberate twisting to suit the executive whims and caprices of President Muhammadu Buhari, the verdict as read out by the Federal High Court on the executive order 6 because the aforementioned press statement from the President failed to acknowledge that the judge ruled that the enforcement of any aspect of the Executive order must be a derivation of a binding order of the competent court of law in line with the unambiguous provisions of the Constitution regarding fair hearing.
HURIWA wondered the interest of the Presidency in introducing a new dimension to the court ruling so as to fully go after political opponents by the same Presidency that has disrespected over a dozen courts orders against the government with specific reference to the court bails granted immediate past National security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki; Leader of Shia Islamic movement Ibrahim Elzakzaky amongst a plethora of other subsisting lawful orders of competent courts of law.
HURIWA has therefore asked the National Assembly to stop President Muhammad Buhari from plunging Nigeria into a full blown dictatorship and restore constitutional democracy to the path of honour and respect for the adherence to the principle of rule of law.