- Matters arising from the controversial policy
The implementation of the Executive Order 6, issued by President Muhammadu Buhari, has generated a lot of controversies. A suit at the Federal High Court challenging its validity, instead of settling the dispute, ricocheted even more controversies. Last week, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Abuja Division of the court declared that the president has constitutional powers to issue Executive Orders, and consequent upon that judgment, the president ordered the restriction of the movement of 50 prominent Nigerians, among other measures.
The judge held: “The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has powers under sections 5 and 315 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to issue Executive Orders on routine administrative matters … in so far as it does not step on the toes of legislative and judicial powers under the constitution.” We agree with the judge that the president has powers to issue Executive Orders. What is under controversy is whether the Executive Order 6 and its implementation have contravened the limits of the President’s powers as provided in the 1999 constitution (as amended).
While in the court of public opinion there is division as to the propriety of the executive order, parties in the suit have threatened to appeal the judgment. From the reports available, the court tried to couch its orders carefully so as not to give the Federal Government a free hand in determining the implementation of the executive order, restricting it from infringing on legislative and judicial powers. However, the Federal Government appears determined to interpret the judgment more expansively.
In that report, the judge held: “It is the further opinion of this court that the honourable Attorney General of the Federation first obtains an order of the court in all circumstances before blocking or freezing or confiscating such funds or assets pending the conclusion of an investigation or legal action.” If the attorney general is under obligation to obtain an order of court, before taking steps in the circumstances listed above, on what basis has it directed security agencies to restrain the movement of the persons listed in the report without first obtaining a court order?
Perhaps it is because the judge had couched her order to the attorney general to first obtain a court order in the circumstance, as an opinion that made the president to ignore it when he issued the controversial restriction on the 50 persons named in the executive order? We have no doubt that both the appellants and the general public are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the appeal on this.
The judge also offered what has been regarded by the litigants as a gratuitous suggestion. Again, the public will want to know the opinion of the appellate court on when a court could make a suggestion, recommendation or opinion as part of judgment. In her ruling, the judge held: “It is, however, recommended that an order of the court in that regard includes a period of investigation or subsequent date.”
One of such ruling is when the judge held: “It is the further opinion of this court that the honourable Attorney General of the Federation first obtains an order of the court….” Perhaps the court should have made an explicit binding order. The appellants may also wish to test whether the judge was gratuitous when she held: “What the President has demonstrated by the Executive Order in question is his willingness to ensure the prevention of the dissipation of assets and funds connected with the commission of the offence of corruption and other related offences, until the determination of any corruption-related matter against the person or firm.” Nigerians anxiously await the outcome of the appeal.