The chairman of Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law, NBA-SPIDEL, Dr Monday Ubani has kicked against what he described as the anti-democratic policies of President Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration, the recent practice direction issued by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the plan by Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, to make drug test compulsory for intending couples.
In a statement on Monday, Dr. Ubani stated that while Buhari’s growing undemocratic policies including the recent ban on Twitter is been addressed through a lawsuit personally filed by him last week, the FHC practice direction which grants the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, the power and right to freeze the Bank account/s and forfeit the property of a prospective Taxpayer and the plan by NDLEA to make a drug test for intending couples, raises a serious cause of concern.
He pointed out that Presiden Buhari and Buba Marwa even though retired military personnel need a reminder that what we are presently operating in Nigeria is civilian democracy and not a military dictatorship where countless decrees and edicts are churned out without any logic.
Ubani also stated that the whims and caprices of officeholders have no place in a democracy, rather people are governed by laws, rules, and regulations adequately prescribed and in clear adherence to the protected rights of the citizens as prescribed by the constitution which is the grundnorm.
Part of the statement reads: “ I am of the candid opinion that Nigerians are feeling suffocated and imperiled with several restrictive measures being churned out limiting their civic space by the current administration. I feel alarmed and forced to voice out my view on this before we are completely drowned by these retrogressive and anti-democratic policies and pronouncements of the present officials of the government in Nigeria.
“The recent ban on Twitter, the threat to prosecute Nigerians and broadcasting media outfits who flout their lawless order not to use Twitter, and the announcement of the Minister of Information to license all social media platforms have received and are receiving proper and effective reactions through strident criticisms and invitation to judicial interventions by the aggrieved citizens. However, two other pronouncements happened last week that should be of great concern to human rights activists and the general members of the public.
“One of them was The Federal High Court (Federal Inland Revenue Service) Practice Directions, 2021 issued by the Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Hon Justice John Tsoho in favor of a prospective litigant, this time Federal Inland Revenue Service and the pronouncement of the Chairman of National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, Retired Brig-Gen Buba Marwa suggesting drug test for prospective couples before marriage and even before any employment.
“President Buhari and Buba Marwa even though retired military personnel need our reminder that what we are presently operating in Nigeria is civilian democracy and not a military dictatorship where countless decrees and edicts are churned out without any logic.
Whims and caprices of officeholders have no place in a democracy, rather people are governed by laws, rules, and regulations adequately prescribed and in clear adherence to the protected rights of the citizens as prescribed by the constitution which is the grundnorm.
“The Bar was indeed asleep when Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria(AMCON) laws were amended with the prescriptive rules that place a litigant above the adversary in any AMCON matter that deserves the attention of the judiciary. The catastrophe in all this is that the judiciary that a prospective litigant will run to for a remedy, was clandestinely used to enact rules that place AMCON on a higher pedestal against an adverse litigant in any matter that involves both parties.
“It is sacrilegious as we have seen the collateral damage the said rules and enactment have done on litigants in any case involving AMCON. The side effect of the AMCON Rules is yet to abate before another more dangerous and more destructive Practice Direction was brought out by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court giving FIRS the upper hand in any case involving her and any prospective litigant over tax issues.
“The summary of the Practice Direction is that it gives FIRS (The Executive Arm of Government) the power and right to freeze the Bank account/s and forfeit the property of a prospective Tax Payer any time FIRS assesses a taxpayer whatever sum it deems fit.
“Having frozen the account/s and temporarily forfeited the property/ies of the taxpayer, if the taxpayer desires to challenge the assessment and the process adopted by FIRS, he will have to deposit half of the sum assessed in an interest yielding account before an audience will be granted by the court.
The illegality and draconian nature of this Practice Direction should get any sane man in Nigeria thinking about the motive and rationale behind it. The Practice Direction is questionable under the following parameters;
“It is an affront on the right of fair hearing to a citizen for a law to take away constitutionally guaranteed rights without any justification. S36(1) of 1999 Constitution as Amended guarantees every citizen in Nigeria the Right to Fair Hearing which has been taken away by this draconian Practice Direction that mandates anyone who is challenging the tax assessment to first pay half of the assessed sum before he or she can be heard by the court.
“It is a clear denial of Access to Justice for a litigant to be told to comply with what he or she is challenging in court before gaining access to the same judiciary that will determine his rights and liabilities. This is evil and must not be allowed to stand in any democratic country. Practice Direction by ranking as laws is on the lowest ladder and cannot be used in whatever manner to wrestle the rights of the citizens that are guaranteed by the constitution.
“The arbitrary and abuse in the exercise of power by office public holders should have put the Chief Judge in check before issuing such a Practice Direction that makes a litigant like FIRS to have upper hand in any controversy between them and another litigant who has the right to challenge the exercise of their power in assessment.
“We are here and we know how abusive and arbitrary office public holders can be, especially against opponents and when pursuing their personal interests. Tax assessor can just arbitrarily assess a taxpayer, say one billion naira. This has happened severally here. Going by that Practice Direction, the prospective tax payer will have to cough out 500 million naira and pay it into an interest-yielding account before such a body or person will have an audience in court. If the body or person does not have much money, he loses his property forfeited and all the money in his frozen accounts to satisfy the bogus assessment. Where is this kind of thing allowed in any sane society?
“The truth of the matter is that this Practice Direction must not be allowed to stand. If the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court refuses, and, or fails to see the danger and illegality of issuing this Practice Direction, the court of the land should determine this issue simpliciter. We are prepared for the war ahead.
“On Buba Maruwa”s suggestion on the drug test before marriage and employment, I am sure that no legislator whether at the State level or Federal will take him serious on that. We all desire a drug-free society and will vote for whatever legal measures that should be used to reduce if not eradicate it completely but we will not support any policy or measures that infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens. We commend and appreciate the efforts of the current leadership of NDLEA in tackling drug problems in Nigeria, but the leadership of Buba Marwa must learn to operate within the law of the land as we are not under the military rule anymore. We are yet to recover from their excesses while they were in power as military rulers.
“Nigerians have made a choice for democracy and we insist that they must enjoy all the ingredients of it especially on the aspect that pertains to fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution. Every attempt to restrict the civic space either now or in the future will be decisively resisted by the Nigerian Bar Association members that are alert.”