Rufai and Ribadu Denied Passport Renewals…

by Paul I. Adujie

… and The Devil’s Advocate Argues Both Sides

The renewals of passports palaver between the federal government of Nigeria on the one hand. And, the former Federal Capital Territory Minister, FCT, Mallam Nasiru El Rufai, and the former Chairperson of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on the other, two prominent Nigerian citizens who were summarily denied passport renewals. These are matters of competition between the rights of citizens and the corresponding duties and obligations of citizenship. Many questions are raised.

Should a citizen disregard the constitution and laws of his country, while at the same time seeking rights and protection under such constitution and laws? Should the government of any country, literally, sponsor or facilitate efforts by her citizens who have campaigned and remain intent, on continuing to campaign against the government? Has the government of Nigeria the power to withhold passport renewals? Is the issuance of passport mandatory or discretionary? Could the government exercise such discretion against any citizen, and in particular, a citizen defendant, accused of wrongdoing, with charges pending? Can a citizen defendant rely and sufficiently, satisfactorily defend against criminal allegations, by merely asserting that such charges are false or that she would in any case, not receive a fair trial within an independent judiciary?

Nasiru El Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu need no introduction to anyone on earth. These gentlemen have during the preceding ten years have played prominent and high profile roles in the governance of Nigeria. But the current administration in Nigeria, has accused these gentlemen of running afoul of Nigerian laws and rules; these accusations have not been proven. Messrs Rufai and Ribadu are of course innocent until they are proven guilty. Guilt or innocence requires that a precondition be satisfied. Accused persons must have their day in court. And presently, Messrs Rufai and Ribadu are the only ones depriving themselves this day, in court. In the circumstances, the government of Nigeria is entitled to exercise her discretion against the renewals of the said passports. It might added, that such exercise of discretion, may not be arbitrary. It must be remembered and borne in mind that these pending allegations and accusations by government against Messrs Rufai and Ribadu, were pending for quite a while, before the renewals of their passports became issues. Hence the government can legitimately defend its renewal denials, until the gentlemen present themselves to hear the charges against them.

Messrs Rufai and Ribadu are understandably and arguably squeamish and skittish about their prospects for a fair trial. It is public knowledge by now, that there is no love lost between the current federal government of Nigeria and Rufai and Ribadu, former power brokers, high rollers of Nigeria’s former federal administration, an administration of which the current government is actually an offshoot.

The passport palaver being faced by Rufai and Ribadu are at once fundamental and as well, quite simple. The federal government of Nigeria has no right, but perhaps, only the power, under our constitution, to deny a bona fide citizen of Nigeria freedom of movement and ingress and egress from Nigeria. The possession of a Nigerian passport, as such, facilitates ingress and egress; this however can be denied, under certain circumstances. There are, exigent circumstances, during and upon which, any government, including the government of Nigeria, may legitimately deny a citizen certain basic rights. Such as the fact that Messrs Rufai and Ribadu, are facing charges which were leveled against them by the current Nigerian government. It is public knowledge that the government of Nigeria has accused Rufai and Ribadu of crimes and these gentlemen now have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads; and it is incumbent upon them to ensure that they have their day in court, to establish their own innocence and clear their names of all allegations.

Rufai and Ribadu cannot have it both ways. They cannot refuse or neglect to answer the allegations which have been leveled against them. They cannot be waging a media blitz in various world capitals against the government of Nigeria, and at the same time, demand that the government of Nigeria, grant them travel documents, to in effect, facilitate their campaign against the same government itself. It should be clear to all, that the government of Nigeria has the right to engage in self-preservation and as such, have exercised the only power and option available to it, to compel Rufai and Ribadu to come to Nigeria to answer charges against them or Nigerian government would not enable their campaign.

Mallam Rufai and Ribadu, as it stands now, are fugitive from the law, as far the current government of Nigeria is concerned. The Nigerian government may have felt deeply affronted, by Rufai and Ribadu. In fact, the government has accused both gentlemen of engaging in campaigns of calumnies against it.

Rufai and Ribadu, it should be understood, are fugitives from Nigerian law, at least, as far as the government of Nigeria is concerned and as such, may not ask and receive discretionary services from it. And as a result, the current government of Nigeria can argue, and rightly so, that she is not obligated to provide discretionary services, a social amenity, which is not a fundamental right, to those fleeing from the laws and due process in Nigeria. They can seek political asylum from governments in countries where they have been well received. The issuance or renewal of passports is not a matter of life or death, particularly, where fugitives from the law are concerned.

Let me be clear, that I quite understand that Rufai and Ribadu think the accusations against them unfounded and that their passport palaver, unfair interference in their citizenship rights to travel. But what would any government do, faced with identical or similar circumstances? Are there any historical precedents? Must any government facilitate the movements of persons waging a worldwide campaign against it by providing travel documents to individuals who are engaged in vigorous campaigns against the very survival of the same government! Meanwhile, the government argues in addition, that these individuals have clouds of unresolved allegations over their heads? Would the current Nigerian be able to deny Rufai and Ribadu renewal of their passports, if and when they clear their names of all charges? The American government denied and cancelled passport for the famous African American lawyer, actor, opera singer etc, his passport and rights to travel outside of the United States, (unfairly so) for more than eight years and the matter was litigated, and finally resolved. See links.

There are really no solid constitutional arguments that can be made on Messrs Rufai and Ribadu’s behalves. Supporters of Messrs Rufai and Ribadu have averred that the case of Director, SSS v. Olisa Agbakoba (1999) 6 NWLR (PT 595) 314 applies, but this case actually has limited application and significance to the case at hand. The rationale of the of Rufai and Ribadu supporters is in hinged on freedom of movement, and this can of course be distinguished from the present facts and circumstances. In Olisa Agbakoba supra, The Supreme Court held inter alia:

“It is not in dispute that the Constitution gives to the Nigerian citizen the right to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof. It also guarantees to the citizen the right not to be expelled from Nigeria nor be refused entry thereto or exit therefrom. Section 38(1) of the Constitution provides:

’38(1). Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigerian and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom’

“It is matter of common knowledge that for a Ni

geria to travel out of Nigeria to another country he must first hold or possess a valid passport issued by the Government of Nigeria. See: Section 4(1) of the Immigration Act, Cap 171 LFN 1990 and the definition of the word ‘passport’ in Section 51 thereof. Without this document, he cannot leave Nigeria or be admitted to another country. It follows, therefore, that without a passport a citizen of Nigeria cannot exercise the right guaranteed him by the Constitution, of egress from Nigeria. Can it, then, be said that the right to hold a passport is not one guaranteed by the Constitution? That is a question that calls for determination in this appeal.”

But I think that these supporters and petitioners miss the legal points. Every citizen has right to ingress and egress and every citizen inalienable rights not to have her rights and freedom of movements constrained or constricted, but we may not liberally apply these sections to citizens who are deemed to be fugitives from the law. Accused persons or defendants who have refused and neglected to answer criminal charges of fraud, and who are therefore declared persona non grata, declared wanted as fugitive from the law, may argue their rights to travel documents have been abridged or denied. This is not just parsing words or a matter of semantics or polemical argumentation.

The government may rightly refuse to oblige a citizen certain rights as when such a citizen face legal encumbrances. The government of Nigeria, can for instance deny the right to travel and confiscate travel documents belonging to James Onanefe Ibori, Lucky Igbinedion, Kalu Orji and Joshua Chibi Dariye, because of sundry allegations of corruption against them. The government can anchor such denials of travel to documents on the fact that there is a flight-risk by each and every of them, in bids to escape trial and justice in Nigeria. In fact, it is inappropriate, for these men to interact with President Umaru Yar’Adua, visiting the presidential villa or traveling with him, while charges are pending against them. After all, justice should be done and also be seen to be done. All appearance of conflicts of interests and collusion should be avoided

It is our belief that the government of Nigeria may have valuable arguments, in defense of its current action against Rufai and Ribadu. And such argument can be anchored on the neglect and refusal by both gentlemen to appear in Nigerian courts, in person, or through lawyers, to defend the allegations made against them by the current government. A neglect and refusal to defend could result in default judgment and even sentencing in absentia. Hopefully, the Nigerian government would not go this route.

We do not accept the allegations by government, against Rufai and Ribadu as foolproof and sacrosanct. Rufai and Ribadu must seek a fair trial, and have their day in court. Or shall we, must we, take Messrs Rufai, Ribadu’s words for it that they are squeaky and pristinely clean and free of all the charges against them? Must we take their words for it, that there is a lynch mob and kangaroo court awaiting them in Nigeria and that no fair trial can be had in the Nigerian judicial system? We would be setting a terribly disastrous precedent, if we argue that it is appropriate for any Nigerian to completely disregard charges and court processes.

We agree that the government of Nigeria cannot strip Rufai and Ribadu of Nigerian citizenship, but these gentlemen would have to defend the charges against them and they should be seen as respecting Nigerian constitution, laws, and rules, while seeking legal redress for their human and basic rights under our constitution, laws and rules.

Paul Robeson Passport Ban or Cancellation by the American Government.

W.E.B DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King had passport problems as they were accused of being engaged or involved in “un-American activities

Nigerian Citizenship Should Be Redefined NOW
Nigerian Citizenship Should Be Redefined

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1 comment

john ade October 20, 2009 - 5:19 pm

He is the only person that think there is a rule of law in nigeria. He one of the learned illiterate that encourages the fools running nigeria. who has ever gotten fair trial in nigeria


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