SAN FRANCISCO, August 22, (THEWILL) – The Executive Order 6, which President Muhammadu Buhari signed on July 5 to seize assets of corrupt persons and institutions, has continued to attract mixed reactions.
It allows the federal government seize assets suspected to have been acquired through corrupt means until the courts determines otherwise.
The Executive Order, according to the President, was intended to protect such assets “from dissipation by employing all lawful or statutory means, including seeking appropriate orders necessary, and shall not be transferred, withdrawn or dealt with in any way.”
While we concede that the president has the right under the Constitution to make executive proclamations to tackle certain issues, we believe that the timing of this order is not favourable for a seamless implementation.
Stakeholders have argued that the President’s acrimonious relations with the legislature on one hand, and the bitter rivalry between the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, could reduce the order to a tool for fighting perceived enemies.
THEWILL believes that using the order to confiscate suspected assets and properties, even on mere suspicion, could lead to abuses. We also believe that implementing the sensitive order in the build-up to the 2019 general elections, will create further chaos in the polity and over heat an already polarized country.
The president’s intention has rightly been misconstrued by a school of thought, which believes that assets confiscation had already been provided for under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, 2004 and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Act, 2000.
For instance, under Section 27 (4) of the EFCC Act, it is stated that the general asset investigation unit of the EFCC shall apply to the court for an interim forfeiture of assets and properties in contention.
Section 24 of the Act, envisages that the anti-graft agencies would rely on documents that have been tendered before it in cases of arrested suspects.
Also, Section 48 (1) of the ICPC Act empowers the chairman of the commission to apply to the court for an order of forfeiture.
THEWILL believes that the Executive Order is a needless duplication of these functions. The president should rather strengthen the anti-graft institutions to achieve the intended aim of the order.
We believe that unilateral seizure of assets of suspected corrupt persons, without resort to court in the first instance, would be precarious for an orderly society.
Concerned watchers have branded President Buhari’s present anti-corruption fight as mainly targeted against perceived enemies of his government. Introducing Executive Order 6 therefore, would receive wider skepticism.
THEWILL is not opposed to the fight against corruption, but bypassing the National Assembly and the judiciary, as a point of first contact in the lawmaking and interpretation process, is tricky in a society like ours where abuse of power is prevalent.
President Buhari must therefore listen to the voice of reason and withdraw the order, to avoid being seen as a dictator.
The argument by proponents of the order that anyone implicated in the corruption net could go to court to reclaim seized assets, does not justify its retention.
The apprehension is further reinforced by the penchant of the Federal Government in disobeying court orders, as had been demonstrated in several pending court cases.
Buhari should dialogue with appropriate organs of government, including the National Assembly to fine-tune all grey areas in the anti-corruption fight and build public trust in the judiciary.