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Reps strip president of powers to order assets forfeiture

The House of Representatives has passed for second reading a bill seeking to strip the president of the 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 passed at the plenary of the House yesterday, is sponsored by the deputy speaker, Hon. Ahmed 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.” Presenting the bill, 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 and 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’.

He said: “It is noted that the discretion of the president to order the forfeiture of property of an accused person can 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.” According to Wase, “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.

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