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Reps move to strip President of power to order forfeiture of assets

Tony Akowe, Abuja

The House of Representatives on Thursday took steps to strip the President of powers to order the forfeiture of moveable and immovable assets and to vest such powers on the nation’s courts.

The House passed for second reading a Bill that seeks to Amend of the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) Act Cap. C43, Laws of the- Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to give discretionary powers to the Judge of a High Court, to order forfeiture of assets of affected persons.

Leading a debate on the general principles of the bill sponsor of the bill and Deputy Speaker of the House, Rep. Ahmed Idris Wase said the discretionary power previously granted to the President by the Principal Act will be replaced by that of a High Court Judge to bring it in line with the spirit of the Constitution as such powers can be abused by the President.

According to Wase, the provision for forfeiture in the Laws is geared towards ensuring that persons found guilty of offenses do not benefit from the proceeds of those offences, adding that the doctrine of forfeiture is regulated by several legal regime captured in various Laws such as The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, LFN, 2004; Foreign Exchange Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provision Act, Cap F34 LFN, 2004, Financial Malpractices in Bank Act, Cap F2, 2004, EFCC Act, Cap E4, 2004 among others.

He stressed that section 9 of the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) Act, which was first enacted in 1971 contains a provision which deals with the subject of forfeiture that vest the discretion to order forfeiture of movable and immovable properties on the President of the Federal Republic.

According to him, considering that the Constitution guarantees right to movable and immovable property as a Fundamental Right under Chapter IV, Section 44, a person cannot be deprived of such rights except in circumstances stipulated by the Constitution, stressing that Section 9 of the Principal Act runs foul of the spirit of the Nigerian constitution.

The Deputy Speaker argued that the provision which vest in the President the power to order forfeiture of property (both movable or immovable) is not in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), hence the need for its amendment.

He maintained that Section 44 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantees the fundamental right of individuals to movable and immovable properties which shall not be deprived except in specified circumstances which include the ‘imposition of penalties or forfeiture for the breach of any Law whether under any civil process or after conviction for an offence.

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According to the Deputy Speaker, such breach can only be determined by the Judge of a Court and should never be at the discretion of the President, insisting that the discretion of the President to order the forfeiture of property of an accused person can be subjected to executive abuses and recklessness.

He maintained that Section 9 in the Principal Act does not provide any mechanism (whether legal or administrative) through which the President may exercise this power, saying “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.”