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Penultimate weekend, President Muhammadu Buhari imposed a travel ban on 50 Nigerians who are allegedly facing corruption charges in the country. Although the Presidency is yet to disclose the names of those citizens, there are indications that the ban may have been targeted at political opponents.
This has, therefore, generated heated debate between government protégés and the opposition parties and other Nigerians.
The Presidency, while trying to fend off blows arising from the ban had said, “The very essence of the order is to make for speedy trials and conclusion of graft cases. The order is not political and there is no political motive behind its activation”. Nonetheless, many Nigerians, including human rights activists have vehemently opposed the Executive Order 6 and the ban placed on 50 prominent Nigerians.
According to them, the ban amounts to a replay of Buhari’s Decree No. 2 of 1984 which is the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree and the infamous Decree 4 on Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree used to suppress alternative opinion, throw all persons he did not like their faces into jail and rule maximally until he was over thrown. The Alliance For New Nigeria (ANN) described the order as dictatorial, arguing that there are enough safeguards in the Nigerian Constitution to take care of corruption with the guarantee for freedom of movement for citizens.
The Tide cannot but agree with the sentiments expressed by some Nigerians in condemning the travel ban. Besides, the ban constitutes an infringement on the fundamental human rights of the citizens as enshrined in Section 41 of the Nigerian Constitution on the freedom of movement which provides that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout the country and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from the country or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.
We believe that granting any set of individuals the right to abrogate the freedom of others is simply a throwback to dictatorship, a descent to tyranny and an unequivocal licence to facism.
Section 45 of the Constitution further states inter alia: “Nothing in Sections 37,38,39,40 and 41 of this constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, and public morality or public health, or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.
Clearly, these claw back and derogatory provisions of the constitution provide that any such derogatory action in Section 41 or 45 must scale two hurdles; the first is that the action must be done under a law and the second is that such a law must be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
For the avoidance of doubt, the President is purported to have acted under the provisions of an Executive Order. An Executive Order is not a law and thus, fails the first hurdle of derogation justifiable under law.
Our fears are also hinged on the premise of the disposition of the Buhari’s regime to abuse fundamental rights and freedom and its avowed disobedience to court orders where the President and the Attorney-General of the Federation select the court orders they obey and sit as appellate courts over judgements, including those of the highest court in the land.
Also, coming in the heat of the 2019 elections when the two dominant political parties have elected their presidential candidates and campaigns are about to start, it is imperative to remind President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress of the provision of Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which states that apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.
The war against corruption should not be an excuse for targeting the resources and personnel of the opposition. It should not provide the cover for the abuse of state administrative resources because political parties and candidates are supposed to go into the elections on a level-playing field for the elections to be described as credible, free and fair.
We recall that when the Executive Order under which the President gave himself a right to ride roughshod over the law was unveiled, Nigerians had a huge debate on its constitutionality and legality and well thinking members of society thought that the President would have taken counsel and be properly advised.
While we agree that there is need to rid the country of corruption, we hold that the battle against graft must be fought within the ambit of the law.
Any attempt to execute the so-called ban as a tool for political vendetta is capable of igniting political instability and, therefore, is unacceptable.