The House of Representatives has taken further steps to strip the president of powers to order the forfeiture of moveable and immovable assets, and to vest such powers on the courts as it passed for second reading a bill that seeks to Amend the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) Act 2004 to grant discretionary powers to the judge of a High Court, to order the forfeiture of assets of affected persons.
The sponsor of the bill and deputy speaker of the House, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, in his lead debate yesterday, said the discretionary power currently granted to the president by the Principal Act will be replaced by that of a High Court Judge to make it to be in line with the spirit of the Constitution adding that such powers can be abused by the President.
Wase also said that the provision for forfeiture in the laws is gearedtowards ensuring that persons found guilty of offences do not benefit from the proceeds of those offences.
He further added 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.
The deputy speaker noted 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.
Wase equally 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.
According to him, 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 observed that such breach can only be determined by the Judge of a Court, and should not 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.