By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Executive Order preventing about 50 high-profile Nigerians from travelling out of the country has been described as illegal and repressive by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
A statement issued by the group disclosed that the move breaches constitutional rights and the country’s international obligations, which protect the rights to freedom of movement, to leave one’s country, to privacy, and to due process of law.
“A travel ban by its nature is an interference with the right to leave one’s country. It is neither necessary nor proportionate to prevent dissipation of stolen assets or stop politically exposed persons (PEPs) from tampering with any such assets. The ban should be immediately lifted and the order rescinded,” the organisation said.
Presidential spokesperson, Mr Garba Shehu, had announced over the weekend the placement of 50 high-profile Nigerians on travel ban, citing the measure as part of the implementation of Presidential Executive Order Number 6.
The unnamed individuals will be banned from travelling outside the country pending the determination of their corruption cases in order to ensure that all assets within a minimum value of N50 million or equivalent, are not dissipated or tampered with.
But SERAP in a statement yesterday signed by its deputy director, Mr Timothy Adewale, noted that, “Rather than performing its declared objective of preventing dissipation of stolen assets, the travel ban would seriously undermine the government’s expressed commitment to combat grand corruption and violate the country’s international human rights obligations.
“The travel ban will play right into the hands of high-profile corrupt officials by feeding into the narrative that the fight against corruption is targeted only at political opponents.”
The statement read in part: “The travel ban and mass surveillance will distract the authorities from taking legitimate action to recover stolen assets, effectively punish high-ranking corrupt officials and portray the government as unwilling to embrace the rule of law in its fight against corruption, thereby making it difficult to obtain the necessary support and cooperation of countries keeping stolen assets.
“The travel ban will also strain the government’s relationships with partner countries, on whom it will inevitably rely for vital asset recovery cooperation, undermining the effort to bring them closer. By alienating these partners, the government could lose access to important information and mutual legal assistance necessary to effectively recover stolen assets and bring corrupt officials to justice.
“Judicial affirmation of the legality of the Executive Order 6 doesn’t grant the government arbitrary powers to impose travel ban on anyone without following due process of law. Rather than imposing a travel ban, the authorities should take advantage of the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption to seek mutual legal assistance with countries where investigations and litigation are ongoing by requesting them to apply preventive measures regarding assets covered by the travel ban.
“The authorities should also widely publish the names of the 50 Nigerians suspected to be involved, and submit those names to the countries/embassies of countries where the stolen assets are stashed. The authorities should issue a risk alert on alleged corrupt assets that are likely to be dissipated or tampered with by the high-profile Nigerians, seeking the cooperation of countries keeping the assets, and reminding them of their international obligations to prevent these Nigerians from tampering with stolen assets that are subject of ongoing investigations and litigation.
“We are concerned with the threats grand corruption and money laundering posed to the effective enjoyment of human rights of Nigerians, and agree with the authorities that grand corruption and impunity of perpetrators must be vigorously combated. But we believe that the fight against corruption will only succeed if it is based on due process of law and respect for human rights.
“If the objective the government seeks to achieve is to ensure stolen assets are not dissipated or that politically exposed persons do not interfere with ongoing investigation and prosecution of corruption cases, the appropriate legal response is for the authorities to pursue orders of temporary forfeiture and mutual legal assistance, and not a travel ban that would achieve nothing but violate citizens’ human rights.
“Nigeria is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which in article 12 guarantees the right of everyone to leave any country, including their own. The government cannot impose restrictions on this right unless any such restrictions are provided by law, are necessary to protect public order, or the rights of others. The travel restrictions on the alleged 50 corrupt Nigerians clearly do not meet these conditions.
“All restrictions on the right to leave must be narrowly interpreted. In General Comment No. 27, the Human Rights Committee stated that any restrictions must not impair the essence of the right and that the relationship of the norm to the exception must not be reversed.
“The travel ban cannot achieve the objective of depriving the 50 Nigerians suspected of corruption of their ill-gotten gains. It is absolutely important that the government is guided by the provisions of Article 31 of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, and which authorises states parties to take preliminary measures to seize, freeze or otherwise immobilise property for the purposes of confiscation/pending investigation and litigation.
“It is always important that the definition and interpretation of the law should be as certain as possible, and this is of particular importance in cases of corruption where citizens’ human rights may be at stake. We do not consider that such reasonable certainty can exist where the executive assumes patently judicial functions.
“The right to leave one’s country includes a positive duty on states such as Nigeria to issue documents – as well as a passive one – to refrain from placing obstacles in the way of an individual seeking to leave.”
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