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Executive Orders: Discordant tunes over presidential order revoking firearms licenses

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After four years in office, President Muhammadu Buhari has clearly demonstrated that he fully understands how to make use of executive powers in a democracy. Although, he is committed to govern by the rule of law, he also understands how to exploit the constitution to achieve set goals. With him as President, Nigerians have witnessed the signing of many Executive Orders, which are meant to enhance the exercise of his powers. Before now, executive orders were unknown to Nigerians as his predecessors in office namely; Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan signed none during their tenure as presidents.

But the Buhari administration began the practice of signing Executive Orders on Thursday, May 18, 2017. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) had on that date in his capacity as the then Acting President signed three Executive Orders (EO) on the promotion of transparency and efficiency in the business environment designed to facilitate the ease of doing business in the country; support for local content in public procurement by the Federal Government; and timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by all statutory and non-statutory agencies, including companies owned by the Federal Government.

Also on Thursday, June 29, 2017, Osinbajo signed the Executive Order 4 on the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS). The order offered tax amnesty to tax payers who had defaulted in their tax obligations in the past until March 31, 2018. Then on Monday, February 6, 2018, President Buhari signed Executive Order 5 for Planning and Execution of Projects, Promotion of Nigerian Content in Contracts, Science, Engineering and Technology. The president signed the order with a view to improving local content in public procurement with science, engineering and technology components.

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Executive Order 6, which came barely a year after, dwells on the preservation of suspicious assets connected with corruption and other relevant offences. The order, signed on July 5, 2018, provides for the interim seizure of assets linked to ongoing criminal trials and investigations. Unlike the previous orders, Executive Order 6, generated controversies, as it was perceived in some quarters as targeted at the opposition and a breach of extant anti-corruption laws of the country. In fact, two lawyers, Ikenga Ugochinyere and Mr. Keneth Udeze, had instituted a suit before the Federal High Court, Abuja, to challenge its constitutionality. But Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu dismissed the suit for lacking in merit and affirmed that the President had the constitutional powers to issue the executive order as long as it did not encroach into the principles of separation of powers.

Executive Order 7 on Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme and Executive Order 8 tagged Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme (VOARS), were well received by the majority of Nigerians. While Executive Order 7 seeks to promote public private partnership with notable investors, Executive Order 8 mandates Nigerian taxpayers to declare and pay tax on their offshore assets.

The latest executive order reportedly signed by the president on May 22, 2019, revoking legally acquired firearms licenses has, however, attracted widespread condemnations from Nigerians, especially among the elite. The president reportedly signed the order in response to threats by some Niger Delta militants to declare a Niger Delta Republic and secede from Nigeria. The president may have also issued the order, which took effect on June 1, 2019, as part of his strategy to ameliorate the insecurity ravaging the country. The fact, however, remains that Nigerians are uncomfortable with it.

The National Assembly, through the House of Representatives has, however, called on the president to rescind the order. The lower legislative chamber made the call penultimate Thursday after adopting a motion sponsored by Nnenna Elendu Ukeje from Abia State, titled ‘Motion on the Need for Mr. President to Rescind the Executive Order to Remove, Revoke and Banish all Firearms Certificates and Licences Throughout the Country,” at the plenary. Ukeje had acknowledged that there was need for gun control, but noted that withdrawing legal guns would mean “only illegal guns will be in circulation and only criminals will own guns.” The lawmakers, while adopting the motion, urged the security agencies to rather go after the criminals carrying out their nefarious acts with unlicensed guns.

In reaction to the dissention trailing the order, the Nigerian Police Force, denied knowledge of the Executive Order barely 24 hours after the House adopted the motion. Nevertheless, the issue has remained a subject for public discourse.

Questions the order has provoked include: Is Executive Order known to the Nigerian constitution? Does the president have the power to direct the withdrawal of guns legally acquired by Nigerians through the police? How would the withdrawal of legitimate firearms from Nigeria help the administration in tackling insecurity? Will the measure not further expose defenceless Nigerians to the criminal elements in the society? Is there any evidence that people use legally acquired guns to commit crimes? Can the executive order take effect without legislative input?

To provide answers to these posers, The Guardian feels the pulse of concerned stakeholders and their views are presented as follows:

Executive Orders Cannot Override The Law, Says Abonta
From Adamu Abuh, Abuja

The Chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions, Mr Uzoma Nkem-Abonta was one of those that opposed the Executive Order by President Muhammadu Buhari on the withdrawal of firearms licences from Nigerians on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Abonta in a chat with The Guardian justified his position, insisting that there was no way such order would be allowed to override the extant Firearms Act enacted by the National Assembly.

Abonta maintained that the enforcement of the order was tantamount to encouraging gun smuggling and impunity in the country.

He argued: “Can an executive order be above the law? It can never be. If you tell those licensed to carry guns to return them, then you are now telling the criminals that the people are defenceless. If you withdraw licensed guns, you are now encouraging gun smuggling. You cannot also use executive order to override an Act of Parliament.”

The lawmaker, who is a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Abia State, enjoined President Buhari to put in place measures aimed at retrieving illegal weapons at the disposal of bandits across the country.

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