The federal government yesterday justified the recent signing of Executive Order 006 by President Muhammadu Buhari, saying it remains a potent tool in the ongoing war against corruption in the country.
The executive order had been a subject of fierce debate at the National Assembly where the lawmakers are proposing to strip the president of his power on asset forfeiture and bestow it on a High Court judge who is to use his discretion to decide whether or not to order the forfeiture.
LEADERSHIP recalls that legislators elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House of Representatives had stormed out of the Green Chamber last week in protest against a motion to suspend executive order 006 recently signed by President Buhari.
The House resolved that President Buhari should suspend implementation of the Executive Order in view of its controversial nature, which conflicts with relevant provisions of the law.
The lawmakers also invited the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and chairman of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, Kefas Magaji, to appear before it with a comprehensive list of all subsidiary legislation in Nigeria published in the Federal Gazette within two weeks.
The lawmakers were divided along party lines in support of and against the motion during debate at plenary, just as the session became rowdy when some members openly declared allegiance to the reformed All Progressives Congress (R-APC) during the debate.
But addressing a press conference to shed more light on the rationale behind the executive order in Lagos yesterday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said with the signing on July 5, 2018 of the Presidential Executive Order Number oo6 of 2018, President Buhari has declared a national emergency on corruption.
He noted that those opposed to it should save their energy and go to court, as the Buhari Administration is not ready to be intimidated by their antics.
The minister specifically said, "This Executive Order will immediately affect 155 high profile corruption cases. The aggregate value of funds involved in these ongoing cases is N595,409,838,452.25K. This is a huge amount by any standard.
"It is higher than the N500 billion allotted to the Administration's Social Investment Programme in the 2018 budget and the N344 billion allocated for the construction and rehabilitation of roads nationwide in the 2018 budget."
Mohammed noted that the executive order is the most potent weapon against corruption by the President Buhari led administration, even as he lamented that despite its merits certain individual have chosen to oppose and describe it as unconstitutional, dictatorial and amounting to the usurpation of the powers of the legislature and the judiciary.
He said, "The truth is that having realized the potency of the Order in giving muscle to the fight against corruption - which by the way is one of the three cardinal programmes of our Administration - the corrupt and their cohorts have become jittery. They have every reason to be. Henceforth, it won't be business as usual.
"This Administration considers the war against corruption a must-win for Nigeria. In the words of the President, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will sooner or later kill Nigeria. That is why the President has declared a national emergency on corruption.
"Some are wondering: Why is the President signing this Executive Order at this time? The President himself answered the question at the signing of the Order: 'It has thus become necessary to re-kit and re-tool our arsenal to be able to effectively tackle corruption's perilous counter-attack against the Nigerian State. Accordingly, the Federal Government of Nigeria has declared a national emergency to deal with that crisis'.
"The President said the Administration, in line with its anti-corruption strategy, seeks to ensure that justice is not defeated or compromised by persons involved in a case or complaint of corruption. He said the viability and continuous well-being of the nation face enormous threat from corruption, pointing out that, while there are many reasons why Nigeria has been struggling; regrettably, the most unfortunate cause of great disparity between Nigeria's wealth and its poverty is endemic corruption.
"Now, is Executive Order Number 6 unconstitutional, as those opposed to it have claimed? The answer is no. It is not unconstitutional. The President has the power, under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution as amended - which extends to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution, all Laws made by the National Assembly (including but not limited to Section 15(5) of the Constitution) - to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.
"Besides, President Buhari is not the first democratically elected President to issue Executive Order. Former Presidents Shehu Shagari and Olusegun Obasanjo issued Executive Orders. In 1980, then President Shagari issued an Executive Order to modify the Public Order Act. This was unsuccessfully challenged in court by then Governors of Ogun and Borno States. In 1999, then President Obasanjo issued Executive Orders to abolish the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and to proclaim May 29 as Democracy Day".
Explaining further, the minister recalled that when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo acted as president, he issued executive orders for the Ease of Doing Business and for the expeditious issuance of international passports in all our embassies.
Wondering why no one had questioned the constitutionality of such orders issued by Osinbajo then, Mohammed said, "For those who claim that the Executive Order Number 6 is dictatorial, it is clear they have not even read it. Section 3 (i) of the Order, states that any Person who alleges that his rights have been violated, are being or are likely to be contravened by any of the provision of this Executive Order may apply to a competent Court in his jurisdiction for redress.
"It is also important to state that past and present Presidents of the United States, after which our presidential system of government was fashioned, have been issuing Executive Orders since the time of the country's first President, George Washington.
"According to Wikipedia, American Presidents have used Executive Orders to direct a range of activities, including putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II; prohibiting racial discrimination in housing; pardoning Vietnam War draft evaders; giving federal workers the right to bargain collectively; keeping the federal workplace drug free; and sending U.S. troops to Bosnia".
He also recalled that George Washington as president of the United States from 1789 to 1797 issued 8 executive orders, Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) issued 3,522 executive orders, Barack Obama (2009-2017) issued 275 in eight years, Bill Clinton (1993-2001) 364 and the current President Donald Trump, 80 so far.
"Recently, the US Supreme Court upheld, 5-4, President Trump's indefinite ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, That ban was the result of an Executive Order. Executive Order Number 6 is constitutional. Anyone who feels otherwise can seek redress in court", he added.
Accordingly, the minister declared that the Presidential Executive Order Number oo6 is constitutional, maintaining that President Buhari issued the order in accordance with the powers vested in him under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution
He said, "The Executive Order Number 6 restricts dealings in suspicious assets subject to investigation or inquiry bordering on corruption in order to preserve such assets from dissipation, and to deprive alleged criminals of the proceeds of their illicit activities which can otherwise be employed to allure, pervert and/or intimidate the investigative and judicial processes.
"The corrupt and their allies are mortally afraid of Executive Order Number 6 because it will ensure that justice is done, and done expeditiously. Those opposed to it should save their energy and go to court. The Administration cannot and will not be intimidated by their antics.
"As Africa marks the African Anti-Corruption Day (July 11) 2018, the African Union's Champion on Anti-Corruption, President Muhammadu Buhari, has shown uncommon courage and leadership by unveiling Nigeria's most potent tool against corruption, Executive Order Number 6 of 2018."
Mohammed appealed to all Nigerians to support the administration's efforts to tackle the cankerworm of corruption and free national resources for national development.