OrderPaperToday – The House of Representatives on Thursday passed for second reading a bill seeking to strip the president of powers to order for forfeiture of assets of accused persons.
It consequently sought to grant discretionary powers to the Judge of a High Court, to order forfeiture of assets of affected persons.
The bill, which was considered and passed by the House during plenary session, is sponsored by the deputy speaker, Mr. Ahmed Idris Wase, and is titled “a bill for an act to amend the currency conversion (freezing orders) act cap. C.43, 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 and for related matters.”
In his lead debate, the deputy speaker said “it is noteworthy that the provision for forfeiture in our laws is geared towards ensuring that persons found guilty of offenses do not benefit from the proceeds of those offences”.
He said the discretionary power previously granted to the president by the Principal Act is hereby being replaced by that of a High Court Judge to bring it in line with the spirit of the Constitution.
Wase argued that the provision, which vest in the president the power to order forfeiture of property (both movable or immovable) “is not in spirit with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and hence the need for its amendment.
“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’. (S. 44 (2) (c)”.
He further noted that the discretion of the president to order the forfeiture of property of an accused person could be subjected to executive abuses and recklessness. “Section 9 in the Principal Act does not provide any mechanism (whether legal or administrative) through which the President may exercise this power. 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”.
Again, Wase reiterated that, “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) specifies the conditions under which a person can be deprived of movable or immovable properties and that is: ‘under any civil or after conviction for an offence’ after a fair trial.
“The president cannot therefore usurp the powers of the Courts for such will run foul of the doctrine of Separation of Powers”
He argued that “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. Section 19 of the EFCC Act, for instance provides: A person convicted of an offence under this Act shall forfeit to the federal government:
“All the assets and properties which may or are the subject of an interim order of the Court after an attachment by the Commission as specified in section 25 of this Act;…
“The Court in imposing a sentence on any person under this section, shall order, in addition to any other sentence imposed pursuant to section II of this Act, that the person forfeit to the federal government all properties described in subsection (I) of this section.’
According to the deputy speaker, “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 and unilaterally order the forfeiture of properties of persons without recourse to any judicial mechanism. This cannot be allowed to exit in a democracy.”