Updated: February 28, 2021
The travel ban on 50 high profile Nigerians announced by the presidency on Saturday, ahead of a difficult election President Muhammadu Buhari may struggle to win in February, is ‘arbitrary, repressive and illegal’, Nigerian activists toldon Sunday.
In a statement, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a rights group that loves to quote international law and the United Nations human rights conventions, said the ban through an Executive Order by President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator, breaches constitutional rights and the country’s international obligations.
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SERAP said the ban was “without any legal basis and a judicial authorisation”, and goes against “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 The ban should be immediately lifted and the order rescinded.”
Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu on Saturday announced the travel ban of 50 high-profile Nigerians, saying President Buhari had placed them on a watchlist due to massive corruption.
The Presidential Executive Order Number 6 banned the unnamed individuals from travelling outside the country.
The presidency said the ban was pending the determination of their corruption cases and was to ensure that all assets within a minimum value of N50 million or equivalent were not dissipated or tampered with.
But opposition members quickly pointed out that the 50 persons banned from traveling out were all members of the opposition plotting Mr Buhari’s defeat in February.
Why it matters: Nigerians go to the polls in February to elect a new President, and opposition has been rising against Mr Buhari, a retired Major General who promised to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria, bolster the economy and crush Boko Haram. But so far, he does not seem to have succeeded. Unemployment is at an all time high, Boko Haram this week killed 18 soldiers in the northeast, and corruption is shooting through the roof, including from government officials. With all of that, allies have abandoned him, including former heads of state, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of reps, and endorsed former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Many are predicting that Mr Buhari would be defeated. And now, just four months to the election, he seems to be remembering the war against corruption, and is going after opposition members with an executive order banning them from leaving the country.
SERAP in a statement on Sunday by its deputy director Timothy Adewale said: “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.”
“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.”
The activists added: “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.”