Home Exclusive Travel ban on 50 high-profile Nigerians illegal, repressive’, says SERAP

Travel ban on 50 high-profile Nigerians illegal, repressive’, says SERAP

by Our Reporter
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has said that
“The order banning 50 alleged high-profile corrupt Nigerians from
travelling abroad without any legal basis and a judicial authorisation is
clearly arbitrary, repressive and illegal, as it 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.”

The organization said: “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be immediately lifted and the order rescinded.”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 yesterday announced 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 today signed 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.”

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

“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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