Five times Buhari fell short of the law

In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari took office and swore to, at all times, upload the laws of the nation. However, over the course of his presidency, Buhari has not always kept his promise. As the nation prepares earnestly to draw the curtain on this administration, here are five key instances where Buhari fell short of the law.

1. Not holding constitutionally required meetings

After a robust campaign focused on promises of swift change to the ills that plagued the nation, many expected that once in office, Buhari would appoint ministers and other key officials swiftly so that work would begin. However, this didn’t happen for six months. Although section 147(1) of the Constitution provides that “there shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President”, it does not stipulate any timeline within which the President is required to do so, and so the delay in appointments is in itself not illegal. However, section 148 (2) also states that the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and ministers for the purpose of determining the direction of domestic and foreign policies of government and coordinating the activities of the President, the Vice President and the ministers in the discharge of their executive responsibilities. For six months after Buhari was sworn in, these constitutionally mandated meetings were not conducted and the administration of the various sectors of the nation was put on hold.

2. Instituting a cabinet that does not reflect federal character

When the President finally instituted a cabinet, it contravened sections 147(3) and 14(3) of the constitution. Section 147(3) states that “any appointment by the President shall be in conformity with the provisions of section 14(3) of this Constitution: Provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such state”. Section 14(3) provides that, “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”. Following Buhari’s appointments, concerns were raised about the high proportion of Northerners among the appointees, with 75% being from the North. Buhari argued that while he would adhere to the constitutional requirement of appointing ministers from across the country, he would select “people who will work closely with me” based on their loyalty and trustworthiness rather than their ethnicity. However, this raised further questions as to why individuals from other ethnic groups were not considered as trustworthy or loyal as their northern counterparts.

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3. The suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen

In what was described as a carefully planned onslaught, on January 25, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, ordered the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, and immediately named Tanko Muhammad as the Acting Chief Justice. Onnoghen, who was accused of not declaring his assets in totality, claimed the allegation was false. The petition on “suspected financial crimes and breaches of the Code of Conduct Bureau requirements” against Onnoghen was lodged by an NGO under the aegis of the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative.

Nevertheless, the process of suspension was flawed and lacking in due process. Paragraph 18 Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution provides that where the Code of Conduct Tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravention of any of the provisions of the code it shall impose upon that officer any of the following punishments – “vacation of office or seat in any legislative house, as the case may be; disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from the holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years; and seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.”

Similarly, section 23 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act provides that where the tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravening any of the provisions of this Act, it shall impose upon that officer any of the following punishments – “vacation of office or any elective or nominated office, as the case may be; disqualification from holding any public office (whether elective or not) for a period not exceeding ten years; and seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office”.

The suspension of Onnoghen was carried out on the advice of the tribunal, which has the judicial powers to sanction public servants who breach the Code of Conduct. However, it was given before the Tribunal concluded its findings. The tribunal is only empowered to punish or impose a penalty after a public officer has been found guilty of an offence. The President’s decision to suspend Onnoghen was not based on the outcome of the CCT proceedings, but on the allegations against him.

Finally, Onnoghen was not given the opportunity to appeal the decision of the CCT, a further violation of his right to a fair trial. Section 23 (4) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act “Where the Tribunal gives a decision as to whether or not a person is guilty of a contravention of any of the provisions of this Act, an appeal shall lie as of right from such decision or from any punishment imposed on such person to the Court of Appeal at the instance of any party to the proceedings”.
Onnoghen’s removal was carried out in a flawed and unfair manner and was a clear infringement of Onnoghen’s constitutional rights and an overstep of the executive into judicial proceedings.

4. The making of Executive Order No 6 of 2018 (on Preservation of Suspicious Assets and related Schedules)

The President disregarded the principle of separation of powers at various times, a principle tenet of an effective democracy. A prime example is the implementation of the contentious Executive Order No 6 (on the Preservation of Suspicious Assets and related Schedules). This executive legislation permitted security agencies to seize the assets of individuals under trial or investigation without obtaining court orders. The Order aims to safeguard assets suspected of being linked to corruption and other related crimes by prohibiting any transactions involving them until a court of competent jurisdiction has made a final decision on any corruption cases against the assets’ owners. The focus of the Order is on current or former government officials, politicians, and those with political connections in Nigeria. Despite this, Executive Order 6 (EO6 encountered criticisms from various parties. Some accuse the President of overstepping his authority by claiming judicial powers, contrary to the Constitution, while others argue that existing laws already address the matters the Order aims to address, rendering EO6 unnecessary, as usually, the laws of various anti-graft agencies stipulate that only the appropriate courts of law can make an order of forfeiture on such assets.

5. The appointment of Julie Okah-Donli

In 2017, Julie Okah-Donli’s appointment as the Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) by the president was seen as a violation of the principle of merit-based appointments. Section 8(1) of the NAPTIP Act 2015 mandates that the head of the agency should be picked from the directorate cadre in the public service or its equivalent in any of the law enforcement agencies. To many, Okah-Donli lacked the necessary qualifications for the role, leading to concerns about her ability to effectively lead the agency.

The controversy surrounding Okah-Donli’s appointment raised concerns about the independence of NAPTIP and the ability of the agency to effectively carry out its mandate to combat human trafficking. But this law was breached twice as President Buhari axed Julie Okah-Donli as NAPTIP’s director-general months before the end of her four-year tenure and appointed Mrs Sulaiman-Ibrahim, who also lacked the necessary qualification.

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