Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The House of Representatives, on Thursday, passed for second reading a bill seeking to strip the President of powers to order the forfeiture of moveable and immovable assets of persons suspected to have committed an offence.
The proposed legislation entitled ” currency conversion (freezing order) amendment bill” is sponsored by the deputy speaker, Idris Wase.
The bill, if eventually passed into law, will give discretionary to a judge of a High Court to order forfeiture of assets of affected persons.
Wase, in his lead debate, said the amendment is aimed at removing the discretionary powers ranted to the President in the Principal Act and vest same in a High Court Judge, as such powers could be abused by the President.
He explained that Section 44 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantees the fundamental right of individuals to own movable and immovable properties and that no individual should be deprived of that right, except in circumstances stipulated by the constitution.
According to him, such circumstances through which an individual may be deprived from of the right to own property should be determined by a High Court and not the President.
The deputy speaker further argued that Section 9 in the Principal Act does not provide any mechanism (whether legal or administrative) through which the President may exercise this power.
He noted that “Instead, the power is left solely at the discretion of the President. In a country that has witnessed reckless abuse of political and administrative powers, it will be dangerous to allow such unchecked arrogation of powers to determine the forfeiture of a person’s properties.
“Such discretion to be exercised by the President can be contrary to the natural doctrine of fair trial as it amounts to the executive being a prosecutor and a ‘Judge’ in its own case. This negates the spirit of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which specifies the conditions under which a person can be deprived of movable or immovable properties. The President cannot, therefore, usurp the powers of the Courts for such will run foul of the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
“It is noteworthy that the provisions in Section 9 is in contradiction with the provisions of other Laws dealing with forfeiture which vest the power to make forfeiture orders in a Law Court and not in the President. It is therefore important to bring the Currency Conversion (Freezing Order) Act in line with these other Laws.
“Vesting in the President the power to make forfeiture order smack of the era of military dictatorship where the Head of State and Head of the Supreme Military Council can unilaterally order the forfeiture of properties of persons without recourse to any judicial mechanism. This cannot be allowed to exit in a Democracy. I, therefore, urge you all to support this amendment bill.”