Court Upholds President’s Power to Issue Executive Order

Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court Thursday dismissed a suit challenging the validity of Presidential Executive Order 6, which seeks to temporarily seize assets linked to corruption and related offences.

The judgement effectively validated the power of the president to issue executive orders that are now eight in number.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on July 5, this year issued the order aimed at preserving assets linked with corruption and other related offences.

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, who dismissed the suit filed by two lawyers for lacking in merit, held that the Presidential Executive Order was valid and does not breach the principle of separation of powers.

The Presidential Executive Order empowers the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to take steps, in liaison with relevant investigative agencies, to temporarily seize assets linked with corruption, pending the investigation and conclusion of trial to preserve such assets.

However, the two lawyers, Ikenga Ugochinyere and Kenneth Udeze, had approached the court to void the Presidential Executive Order on the grounds that it violates the rights of citizens to own property.

Delivering judgment yesterday on the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/740/2018, Justice Ojukwu, held that it was within the powers of the president, as granted by the Constitution, to issue Executive Orders for the execution of Executive policies, as long as such orders do not offend the doctrine of separation of powers.

The court in addition, held that the Executive Order 6 did not violate the right of citizens to own property, but was informed by the president’s willingness to preserve suspected property from being dissipated.

The judge, however, held that the powers given to the AGF under the Executive Order 6 must be exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

Justice Ojukwu, who noted that the order seemed to give the AGF the discretion on when to seek court’s permission to seize any suspected property, said the AGF must, at all times, obtain a court order before seizing any asset.

The judge added that such application for the court’s permission to seize any suspected asset could be made ex-parte.

In the suit, which has President Muhammadu Buhari and the AGF as defendants, the plaintiffs contended that by the provisions of sections 5, 36 and 43 of the Constitution, the President lacked the power to issue the Executive Order.

They argued that by issuing the Executive Order, the president allegedly encroached on the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizens to own properties, a right to which persons, who are standing trial or being investigated, but yet to be convicted, are also entitled.

The plaintiffs added that by virtue of the provisions of sections 5, 36 and 43 of the Constitution, the president lacked the power to issue such an order “on matters not connected with the ‘execution and maintenance of the Constitution, all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time, being power to make laws.”

They urged the court to restrain both defendants from enforcing it and prayed for a declaration that “the act or conduct of the president in issuing the order interfere with, or encroach into the ownership, or otherwise of the assets or properties of any person without such person being found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, is unconstitutional, null and void.

The plaintiffs equally want a declaration “that the president cannot validly exercise his constitutional powers by deliberately undermining, limiting and/or inhibiting the entrenched constitutional rights of any citizen of Nigeria to fair hearing vide the issuance of the Order.”

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