COVID-19 Travel Bans Separate Families Even As Lockdowns Ease

People shop at the outdoor market and walk about in central Rome on May 9, 2020, during the country’s partial lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Tiziana FABI / AFP.

 

When Julie Sergent’s father died, she faced an agonising decision: if she travelled from her home in Japan to attend the funeral in France, she wouldn’t be allowed back.

Across Asia, domestic lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus are easing, but international travel restrictions in the region remain tight.

Many countries have banned non-citizens from entry or even closed their borders altogether, with devastating consequences for some living far from family.

In Japan, citizens can leave and re-enter the country. Those coming from designated high-risk areas are tested for the virus on arrival and asked to observe a quarantine.

But foreign residents, even those with long-term ties or married to Japanese citizens, cannot do the same.

That put Sergent in an impossible situation when her father died suddenly in April: if she left for France, she would be stranded there.

READ ALSO: Cyprus Welcomes First Tourist Flights Since March

“I might lose my job, my apartment, my income for quite a while,” she said.

The 29-year-old was told she might be able to apply for a humanitarian exemption, but with just two days before the funeral, there wasn’t time.

“My mother was devastated. I was the only one in the family who couldn’t attend my father’s funeral,” she told AFP.

“My brother and sister described to me how they wrote a message on a little piece of paper and placed it on his jacket. And that was something I couldn’t do,” she added, her voice cracking.

– ‘There’s no one else’ –

Yukari, who asked to be identified by her first name only, faces a similar situation.

She is half-American, half-Japanese and lives in Tokyo with her Japanese husband and their nine-year-old son.

But she doesn’t have Japanese citizenship and faces being separated from her son and husband if she travels to the United States, where her mother is battling cancer.

“I’m… (the) only immediate family that she has. There’s no one else… in the US,” she told AFP.

Her mother was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in March, and in April her doctor warned she might have just weeks to live.

Ordinarily, Yukari would have taken the first flight out, but instead, she was forced to rely on friends of the family to help her mother.

After a touch-and-go period, her mother’s health has stabilised, though the cancer has not gone away.

“I talked to her helpers, and one of them said ‘I think she’s holding on, to see you one more time.’ That was hard to hear.”

– Humanitarian exceptions? –

Elsewhere in Asia, the rules are even stricter, with countries like Mongolia effectively sealing its borders altogether. Even citizens are only able to re-enter the country on rare evacuation flights.

That has left people like Nyamtseren Erdenetsetseg and her husband Sukhbaatar Dorj, who are stuck in South Korea, with no way back and no idea when they will see their children in Mongolia again.

The couple went to South Korea in January to visit Erdenetsetseg’s mother, who lives in Seoul. They left their five children with Dorj’s mother while they were away.

But on February 23, Mongolia announced it was banning entry from South Korea, leaving the couple stranded.

They tried in vain to get a seat on an evacuation flight, and then on May 3, Dorj’s mother died suddenly.

His sister has taken in the couple’s children, who ask their parents on phone calls when they will be back.

“I don’t say anything,” Erdenetsetseg said. “I don’t want to get their hopes up for nothing.”

She has even considered allowing her Korean visa to expire instead of extending it, in the hope authorities would deport her. But doing that would mean she would be banned from South Korea in the future.

In some places, there are signs of tentative changes. China has begun relaxing travel caps for some foreign firms and is increasing the number of international flights.

And in early June, Japan’s government said foreign residents now “may be granted” humanitarian exceptions to the ban, potentially offering Yukari an opportunity to see her mother.

“I just pray that… I can go and see her one last time.”

AFP

US Extends Travel Ban To UK, Ireland; Reviews Domestic Curbs

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020, US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in New Delhi. US President Donald Trump announced a news conference from the White House on the coronavirus epidemic February, 26, 2020, with experts warning they expect it to spread in the United States. 
Mandel NGA / AFP

 

The United States said Saturday it was stepping up its fight against the coronavirus and extending a European travel ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland, while acknowledging that some domestic travel curbs are also being considered.

President Donald Trump has decided to “suspend all travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland” effective midnight Monday EST (0400 GMT Tuesday), Vice President Mike Pence told a White House news conference.

“Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal residents can come home,” Pence said, adding that such people would be “funneled through specific airports and processed.”

Asked about possible travel restrictions within the US, Pence said the administration was considering “a broad range of measures, but no decisions have been made yet.”

“We’re going to continue to follow the facts,” he said. “We’re going to continue to listen to the experts.”

Anger In Europe

European officials have reacted angrily to Trump’s sweeping travel ban, calling on the US for cooperation to fight the pandemic.

The original 30-day US ban on travel from the 26 countries of Europe’s Schengen border-free zone took effect on Saturday, but notably excluded Britain and Ireland.

A senior administration official said Saturday of the new limit on travel from the UK and Ireland that “I do believe it will be the same duration as the Schengen Zone.”

The administration had hoped to stop anyone from the Continent using the UK and Ireland as transit points en route to the US, the official told reporters in a background briefing, “but that is proving operationally very difficult for us.”

The original move caused widespread consternation among travelers.

Britain’s death toll from the novel coronavirus nearly doubled on Saturday, to 21.

Official figures showed the country has 1,140 confirmed cases — an increase of 342 from the day before. But a senior health official has estimated that the number of infected people is more likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000.

The Republic of Ireland — which has taken strict steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus — so far has 70 confirmed cases and one death.

COVID-19: FG Yet To Place Travel Ban On Any Country – Minister

File photo of health officials at Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport. PHOTO: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels TV

 

Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire says the Federal Government has not placed any travel ban on any country.

Ehanire disclosed this on Thursday in Abuja during a conference with the diplomatic community about measures taken by the Federal Government to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria.

He, however, warned Nigerian citizens from traveling to endemic countries including China, Japan, Italy, South Korea, and Iran.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Patient To Be Discharged Soon – Health Minister

Participants screening before the commencement of the event. PHOTO: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels TV

 

He added that returnees from those countries will be quarantined for 14 days to ensure the safety of citizens.

The conference with the diplomatic community is hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.

Also in attendance is the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Mr Chikwe Ihekweazu, officials of the Nigeria immigration services and members of the diplomatic corps.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump announced a shock 30-day ban on travel from mainland Europe over the coronavirus pandemic.

The World Health Organization also sounded another global alarm bell on Wednesday, officially classifying the virus as a pandemic that has infected more than 124,000 people with 4,500 deaths, according to an AFP tally.

Participants at a conference hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, briefing the diplomatic community about measures taken by the Federal Government to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria. PHOTO: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels TV

US Visa Ban: Pompeo ‘Optimistic’ Of Review After Meeting Onyeama

Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama speaks to the press with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo(R), at the Department of State on February 4, 2020 in Washington,DC. AFP

 

The United States and Nigeria voiced hope Tuesday that the Trump administration would soon lift onerous visa restrictions slapped on Africa’s most populous country, which said it was “blindsided” by its ally.

On a previously scheduled visit to Washington, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said he sought more information on President Donald Trump’s latest immigration crackdown announced last week which targeted Nigeria and five other countries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meeting Onyeama, said that Trump took action partly due to the “terrorist threat” in West Africa, where Nigeria has fought alongside the United States against Islamist extremists.

Nigeria remains a “strategic partner” but Trump restricted visas as it has “room to grow in sharing important national security information.”

“I’m optimistic that’s going to happen,” Pompeo told reporters.

Striking a diplomatic tone, Onyeama said his talks were “very gratifying” but acknowledged, with a smile, that Trump’s move caught Nigeria off-guard.

“We were somewhat blindsided by the announcement of the visa restrictions,” Onyeama said.

He said that Nigeria had already been looking to address US concerns, such as providing information on suspected terrorists and embedding electronic data into passports.

“We know, and the US officials have also confirmed, that we have been able to tick most of those boxes,” he said.

The lingering problem, he said, involved how to handle lost and stolen Nigerian passports.

He said Nigeria was putting in place a system that would make data from such passports “immediately available” to all members of Interpol, the global law enforcement body.

“We hope to have that up and running very soon,” he said. “Hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”

Trump came to office vowing to impose border restrictions and notoriously was quoted as using a vulgar epithet for African and other developing nations that send immigrants to the United States.

Unlike a controversial order days after he took office that essentially banned entry to citizens from a number of Muslim-majority countries, the latest restrictions primarily involve foreigners who seek to immigrate rather than visit.

Along with Nigeria, Trump imposed the curbs on nationals from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.

AFP

Travel Ban: Atiku Gives Trump Five Reasons To Reconsider Position

 

Former Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar is unhappy about the US Government’s decision to place Nigeria on its travel ban list.

The US Government had announced on Friday that citizens from Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar, and Kyrgyzstan won’t be allowed to apply for visas to immigrate to the U.S.

According to the country, its new policy is part of efforts to tighten security for countries that don’t comply with the U.S. minimum security standards or cooperate to prevent illegal immigration.

But Atiku took to Twitter on Saturday to express his displeasure with the situation while giving reasons why he believes the policy should be reconsidered for Nigeria.

One of such reasons is that he believes the ban does not take into account, the pro-American sentiments of the Nigerian public and the solidarity which previous Nigerian administrations have had with the United States.

He also asked the Trump administration to consider the pivotal role that Nigeria, in partnership with the US, played in bringing peace to Liberia – an American sphere of influence, that now enjoys democracy because “Nigerian blood and money paved the way for peace in that nation”.

Read Also: Trump Imposes New Travel Ban On Nigeria, Five Other Countries

A third reason according to Atiku is that Nigeria is one of the biggest trading partners of the US.

He also says Nigeria has consistently voted in support of the United States and her allies at the United Nations and other multi-lateral world bodies.

Finally, he believes that placing a ban on the entire country, rather than dealing precisely with specific elements in government which he says are to blame for the nation’s inefficiencies, is unfair.

“The current Nigerian administration may have its deficiencies and deep faults, but the Nigeria people ought not to be punished for their inefficiencies,” Atiku said.

“Once again, I call on President Trump to consider adopting measures that individually target those in government who have failed in their duties, rather than target the entire Nigerian population”.

Read Atiku’s Full Statement Below.

US Travel Ban on Nigeria: Punish Those Responsible, Not the Nigerian People

I received with sadness the policy of the government of the United States of America to place Nigeria on its travel ban list.

While I understand the reasons given by the Trump administration (the failure of the Muhammadu Buhari led administration to share information and to address issues of terrorism), the ban does not take into account the pro-American sentiments of the Nigerian public and the solidarity previous Nigerian administrations have had with the United States.

I urge the government of President Donald Trump to consider the history of US-Nigerian relationships. Nigeria was one of the few African nations that joined the US led coalition during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991, when the United States championed the liberation of Kuwait.

The Trump administration may also consider the pivotal role Nigeria, in partnership with the US, played in bringing peace to Liberia, an American sphere of influence, that now enjoys democracy because Nigerian blood and money paved the way for peace in that nation.

Nigeria has also consistently voted in support of the United States and her allies at the United Nations and other multi-lateral world bodies. This is even as we are perhaps the biggest trading partner that the United States has in Africa, even where we had alternatives.

Nigerians love the United States and have been a major force for the positive development of that great nation: 77 per cent of all Black doctors in the United States are Nigerians. Nigerians are also the most educated immigrant community in America Bar None.

Surely, the US stands to benefit if it allows open borders with a country like Nigeria that is able to provide skilled, hardworking and dedicated personnel in a two-way traffic.

The current Nigerian administration may have its deficiencies and deep faults, but the Nigeria people ought not to be punished for their inefficiencies.

Once again, I call on President Trump to consider adopting measures that individually target those in government who have failed in their duties, rather than target the entire Nigerian population.

Trump Considers Adding Nigeria, Other Countries To Travel Ban List

US President Donald Trump talks to the media on the South Lawn upon his return to the White House by Marine One, in Washington, DC, November 3, 2019, after returning from a trip to New York. Olivier Douliery / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump had said his administration was preparing to add a “couple of countries” to the controversial list of states whose citizens are subject to travel bans or severe restrictions on entry to the United States.

“We are adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe,” he said on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that the names of the new countries would be announced, “very shortly”.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the administration planned to add seven countries including Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and others in Africa and Asia.

It said the other nations being considered for new rules were Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.

These countries would not necessarily face blanket bans on US travel but could see certain types of visas curtailed, the paper said, quoting administration officials.

Some of these countries could see their nationals barred from participating in a visa lottery programme, which Trump has repeatedly railed against, saying he would prefer a skilled immigration policy along the lines of the systems in Canada or Australia.

Unlike the nations covered by the current ban, most of these new additions do not have Muslim-majority populations.

The paper added that administration officials were still debating whether to include one or two of the countries, and the new list would be announced on Monday.

 Broad powers 

Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to implement a complete ban on Muslims entering the US and announced his first package of travel bans and restrictions shortly after taking office in January 2017.

The move outraged critics and was struck down by a federal court which ruled it amounted to religious discrimination. The administration moved a second version of the policy in March 2017, which was struck down again for similar reasons.

But the third version of the policy was upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2018 in a 5-4 ruling that affirmed the president had broad power to set immigration policy based on national security justifications.

The countries currently covered are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, and political officials from Venezuela. The administration argued the inclusion of non-Muslim majority countries proved the policy was not driven by religious animus.

Speaking to reporters in Jamaica, where he is on a regional tour, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was the administration’s policy “to make sure that we are getting security right, to make sure that we work with every country to have processes in place” that ensured the security of the US.

The Journal’s reporting, including the naming of seven new countries, ties in with earlier reporting by US media, including BuzzFeed News which said earlier this month it had obtained a draft presidential proclamation about the expansion, but names of the countries were left blank.

AFP

Pakistan’s Ex-President Zardari Faces Travel Ban Over Graft

Pakistan on the map. Credit: Google Map

 

Pakistan announced Thursday it would ban former president Asif Ali Zardari from travelling abroad following allegations of money laundering, as the nation marked 11 years since his wife, prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.

Information minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters in Islamabad that Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were among 172 people involved in cases of money laundering and use of fake bank accounts.

“All the 172 names … will be added to the ECL (Exit Control List),” he said.

Zardari, co-chairman of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and who was president from 2008 until 2013, has long been the subject of corruption allegations, and is widely known in Pakistan as “Mr. Ten Percent”.

The announcement coincided with the 11th death anniversary of his spouse and two-time former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack during an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.

Earlier this week Chaudhry said a joint investigation team (JIT) had found evidence of how Zardari allegedly laundered money through fake bank accounts and companies.

“I hope Zardari will now take the JIT seriously,” he said Thursday, adding that his government would not spare anyone involved in plundering national wealth.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in July, has vowed to squash rampant corruption and recover billions siphoned from the country as his government scrambles to shore up Pakistan’s deteriorating finances and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves.

Zardari’s travel ban comes days after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption on Monday, the latest in a long string of court cases against him.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from politics for life over graft allegations in 2017, ousting him from power. His Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was defeated by Khan in the July polls.

A Pakistani court established a commission in September to investigate the scourge of corruption, finding that at least $400 million had passed through “thousands of false accounts”, using the names of impoverished people.

The commission said some 600 companies and individuals “are associated with the scandal”.

AFP

The Citadel Of Corruption Is In NASS, Says Robert Clarke

 

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke, has decried the rate of corruption in Nigeria, saying that the menace is more rampant in the National Assembly.

He said this on Sunday, during his appearance on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics.

“The citadel of corruption today is in the National Assembly and State Assemblies and in the Executive arm of government,” he said.

Clarke’s comments follow the implementation of the Executive Order (6) signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, to prevent government officials from engaging in corrupt practices.

The order seeks to restrain owners of assets under investigation from carrying out any further transaction on such assets.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the 50 prominent personalities (whose names were not stated) had been placed on a watch-list and are, therefore, restricted from leaving the country pending the determination of their cases.

Although the lawyer praised President Muhammadu Buhari for the ongoing war against corruption, he faulted the Federal Government for the travel ban, saying that only a court of competent jurisdiction can restrict one who is on trial from travelling out of the country.

He said, “You cannot just say that somebody cannot travel out. And if you have to say it, you have to go to court first. We have a constitution; the constitution says every Nigerian shall have the right to free movement.

“Therefore, if anybody wants to restrict a Nigerian’s freedom of movement for one reason or the other, he must go to court.

“Then he gets an Order ex-parte but that ex-parte order is an interim order which allows the other party to go to court and challenge it.

“Therefore, Government in its good sense will not just go and tell Customs or Immigration that Mr A should not be allowed to travel out.”

Atiku Says FG’s Travel Ban Is Undemocratic, Unconstitutional

We Will Gladly Welcome You, PDP Tells Atiku
File photo

 

The presidential flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, has condemned the travel ban placed on 50 Nigerians through the Executive Order 6.

Mr Abubakar believes the action negates the Constitution which President Buhari swore to protect when he took the oath of office in 2015 and could also throw the country into anarchy.

He said this through a statement issued by his campaign organisation on Sunday.

“We must be unequivocal in saying that we abhor any act of criminality, financially or otherwise, but the rule of law must be our guide at all times or society will descend to anarchy. Thus, we find it most undemocratic that in a nation governed by the Rule of Law, a President who swore an oath to abide by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, does this.

“The Nigerian Constitution guarantees every Nigerian citizen freedom of movement and freedom of association,” the statement read.

It further stated that that constitutional right cannot be taken away except by a court order.

“The Nigerian Constitution guarantees every Nigerian citizen freedom of movement and freedom of association. This Constitutional right cannot be taken away except by a court order.

“If the Buhari administration wants to curtail the rights of Nigerians, then they must go to court and obtain a court order. Anything short of this is unconstitutional and extrajudicial,” the statement read.



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Travel Ban: We Have Not Released Any List Of Nigerians Affected – Garba Shehu

FG Bans 50 Prominent Nigerians From Travelling Abroad


Atiku also took a swipe at the Federal Government for allegedly including the name of the late former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike, on the travel ban list.

The statement read, “To show how clueless this administration is, it included late former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike as number 30 on its travel ban list, the question Nigerians should ask is this: can an administration that is unable to distinguish between the living and the dead bring life to Nigeria’s economy?”.

The Federal Government has, however, denied issuing any list.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, spoke about the issue on Sunday during his appearance on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics.

He said, “We’ve seen a number of names being circulated. We have not issued any list. We are not going to issue any list because, again, if we did so, a lot of criticism will follow. Trials by media and all sorts of things.”

Mr Shehu had announced the decision of the Federal Government in a statement on Saturday, one day after a Federal High Court in Abuja upheld President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order 6.

The order, among other things, allows for the interim seizure of assets linked to investigation, ongoing criminal trials, and other related offences.

It also empowers the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), in liaison with relevant investigative agencies, to temporarily seize properties linked with corruption, to prevent the dissipation of such assets.

Following the enforcement of the order, 50 high profile persons were placed on a watch-list and restricted them from leaving the country pending the determination of their cases.

Travel Ban: We Have Not Released Any List Of Nigerians Affected – Garba Shehu

 

The Presidency has rubbished the lists making the rounds purportedly containing the names of high-profile Nigerians affected by the travel ban the Federal Government announced on Saturday.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, spoke about the issue on Sunday during his appearance on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics.

He said, “We’ve seen a number of names being circulated. We have not issued any list. We are not going to issue any list because, again, if we did so, a lot of criticism will follow. Trials by media and all sorts of things.”

Although the Presidential aide declined to mention the names any of the people affected by the travel ban, he suggested that they were no surprises to the list.

“These cases are mostly known by most Nigerians. There are cases that have been in the public domain. Most of them were never really instituted by this administration. They go back seven to 10 years,” he said.

Mr Shehu had announced the decision of the Federal Government in a statement on Saturday, one day after a Federal High Court in Abuja upheld President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order 6.

The order, among other things, allows for the interim seizure of assets linked to investigation, ongoing criminal trials, and other related offences.

It also empowers the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), in liaison with relevant investigative agencies, to temporarily seize properties linked with corruption, to prevent the dissipation of such assets.

In a statement announcing the ban on Saturday, the Presidency said, “Following the instant judicial affirmation of the constitutionality and legality of the Executive Order 6 (EO6), President Muhammadu Buhari has mandated the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice to implement the Order in full force.

“To this end, a number of enforcement procedures are currently in place by which the Nigeria Immigration Service and other security agencies have placed no fewer than 50 high profile persons directly affected by EO6 on watch-list and restricted them from leaving the country pending the determination of their cases.

“Also, the financial transactions of these persons of interest are being monitored by the relevant agencies to ensure that the assets are not dissipated and such persons do not interfere with, nor howsoever corrupt the investigation and litigation processes.”

The move has attracted criticism and praise. Among the critics are the Peoples Democratic Party, and human rights lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) and the Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Mr Shehu, however, insists that the move was in the interest of concluding cases that have dragged on for too long “and held our judiciary captive”.

“The worry then is they (the cases) are not making progress and the administration wants to move very quickly with these cases so that they go to conclusion,” he said.

“This is a matter in the domain of the (Nigerian) Immigration Service and other security agencies who have the duty of enforcement.”

Asked if the persons affected by the ban are aware of the development in the absence of a public list, Mr Shehu said, “They know themselves. If in doubt, they can check with immigration.”

He argued that making a list of those affected would not help matters.

“This administration will not be subjected to another round of trial by the press; that we are persecuting individuals, or this is political, which, absolutely, it is not or that we are just convicting people via the press,” Mr Shehu said.

“Nigerians are tired of hearing about these endless trials that have led to nowhere and that have held our judiciary captive. Everyone wants to see them ending. That is the point.”

Allow The Courts To Impose Travel Ban On Suspected Looters – Femi Falana

Femi Falana

 

Last week, the Federal High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the controversial Executive Order 6 (EO6) issued by President Mohammed Buhari on July 5 this year. Based on the court ruling the federal government has directed the Nigeria Immigration Service and other security agencies to place no fewer than 50 high profile persons directly affected by EO6 on watch-list and restrict them from leaving the country pending the final determination of their cases.

Even though the names of the “50 high profile persons” have not been published by the federal government they are presumed to be either standing trial in the various high courts or being investigated for corrupt practices by the anti-graft agencies. Sadly, the travel ban is a sad reminder of the reckless placement of political opponents on security watch list and seizure of their passports by the defunct military junta. But in Director-General, State Security Service v Olisa Agbakoba (1999) 3 NWLR (Pt 595) 340 the Supreme Court did not hesitate to condemn the violation of the right of the respondent to freedom of movement through the seizure of his passport by the appellant. It was the view of the Court that the right of citizens to freedom of movement guaranteed by section 41 of the Constitution and article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act could not be abridged or abrogated by the Executive outside the procedure permitted by law.

Notwithstanding that the decision was handed down in the heyday of a ruthless military dictatorship the current political dispensation has witnessed the secret imposition of travel ban on many citizens. Thus, apart from placing over a hundred citizens on security watch list the passports of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu, Mallam El-Rufai, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Mr.Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir of Kano) etc were seized without any legal justification by the Obasanjo and Jonathan regimes. It is on record that both El-Rufai and Sanusi successfully challenged the seizure of their passports at the federal high court which ordered the release of the passports and awarded damages to them. In one of the proceedings of the Chukwudifu Oputa Panel on human rights abuse, I had complained against the refusal of the State Security Service to remove my name from the watch list compiled by the defunct military junta. in justifying its decision to retain my name on the watch list on the grounds the SSS claimed that every democratic country has a list of persons whose activities are closely monitored at home and abroad for “security reasons”.

However, the power of the anti-graft agencies and the courts to place criminal suspects on watch list or subject their passports to temporary seizure has never been in doubt. To that extent, the directive to place the 50 high profile suspected persons on watch list and restrict their movement is highly superfluous, completely unwarranted and totally uncalled for. In fact, it is an ingenious design to expose the Buhari administration to ridicule. If the federal government had done some background check it would have discovered that the names of the 50 VIPs have long been placed on security watch list while their passports have been impounded by the anti-graft agencies or the courts as one of the conditions for admitting them to bail. It is public knowledge that whenever the defendants wish to travel abroad for medical treatment they usually apply for the interim release of their passports. Since the courts have taken judicial notice of the perilous state of medical facilities in the country such applications are usually granted. And once the suspects return from the foreign medical trips their passports are returned to the registry of the trial courts.

No doubt, indigent accused persons standing trial for stealing, fraud or other economic crimes in Nigerian courts are not entitled to such privilege because they have no money to acquire passports not to talk of paying for foreign trips and medical treatment abroad. In Joshua Dariye v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2015) LPELR-24398 (SC) the Supreme Court noted the resort to delay tactics by members of the bourgeoisie standing trial for corruption who usually apply for the release of their passports to enable them to travel abroad for urgent medical attention. According to their lordships, “There are cases where the accused develop some rare illness which acts up just before the date set for their trial. They jet out of the country to attend to their health and the case is adjourned. If the medical facilities are not available locally to meet their medical needs is because due to corruption in high places, the country cannot build proper medical facilities, equipped with the state of the arts gadgets”.

Notwithstanding such judicial indictment of politically exposed persons seeking medical treatment during trial, the law has not authorised the Executive to restrict the movement of criminal suspects. In February 2009, the federal government regime directed all Nigerian embassies and high commissions not to renew the passports of Messrs Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir El Rufai (now Kaduna state governor) on account of intra class feud. Both of them were then living in exile. But as soon as the attention of former President Umaru Yaradua was drawn to the case of the Director-General, State Security Service v Olisa Agbakoba (supra) he ensured that the illegal directive was immediately withdrawn. For the umpteenth time, I am compelled to caution the Buhari administration to wage the war against the menace of corruption within the ambit of the rule of law. Since the 50 high profile criminal suspects covered by EO6 have been placed on watch list while their passports have been seized by either the anti-graft agencies or the courts the travel ban slammed on them by President Buhari ought to be withdrawn without any delay.

Femi Falana SAN.

Falana Asks Buhari To Withdraw Travel Ban On 50 Nigerians ‘Without Any Delay’

Falana                                                                                       Buhari

 

Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana has faulted the decision of the Nigerian Government to ban 50 high-profile Nigerians from travelling out of the country.

In a statement on Sunday, Falana called for the immediate withdrawal of the ban, arguing that the move by the government is reminiscent of the days of military rule.

“For the umpteenth time, I am compelled to caution the Buhari administration to wage the war against the menace of corruption within the ambit of the rule of law,” he said.

“Since the 50 high-profile criminal suspects covered by EO6 (Executive Order 6) have been placed on watch list while their passports have been seized by either the anti-graft agencies or the courts, the travel ban slammed on them by President Buhari ought to be withdrawn without any delay.”

Falana’s statement is in reaction to the announcement by the Federal Government on Saturday that 50 prominent Nigerians had been placed on a watchlist and restricted from leaving the country based on Executive Order 6, which was issued by President Muhammadu Buhari in July, “pending the determination of their cases”.

Read the full statement here.

A Federal High Court had in Abuja on Friday upheld the order, which, among other things, allows for the interim seizure of assets linked to investigation, ongoing criminal trials, and other related offences.

The executive order also empowers the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), in liaison with relevant investigative agencies, to temporarily seize properties linked with corruption, to prevent the dissipation of such assets.

Although the Presidency had based the decision on the validation of the EO6 by the court, Falana said the move was uncalled for.

“Sadly, the travel ban is a sad reminder of the reckless placement of political opponents on security watch list and seizure of their passports by the defunct military junta,” he said.


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Explaining his position, Falana said, “In Director-General, State Security Service v Olisa Agbakoba (1999) 3 NWLR (Pt 595) 340, the Supreme Court did not hesitate to condemn the violation of the right of the respondent to freedom of movement through the seizure of his passport by the appellant.

“It was the view of the Court that the right of citizens to freedom of movement guaranteed by section 41 of the Constitution and article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act could not be abridged or abrogated by the Executive outside the procedure permitted by law.”

The human rights lawyer also gave examples of prominent Nigerians who have been affected by such restrictions in the past and instances where the court ruled in their favour.

He said, “Apart from placing over a hundred citizens on security watch list, the passports of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu, Mallam El-Rufai, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Mr.Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir of Kano) etc were seized without any legal justification by the Obasanjo and Jonathan regimes.

“It is on record that both El-Rufai and Sanusi successfully challenged the seizure of their passports at the federal high court which ordered the release of the passports and awarded damages to them.”

According to Falana, the latest travel ban imposed on high-profile Nigerians “is highly superfluous, completely unwarranted and totally uncalled for”.

“In fact, it is an ingenious design to expose the Buhari administration to ridicule,” he said.

That, he explained, is because “if the federal government had done some background check it would have discovered that the names of the 50 VIPs have long been placed on security watch list while their passports have been impounded by the anti-graft agencies or the courts as one of the conditions for admitting them to bail”.

He added, “It is public knowledge that whenever the defendants wish to travel abroad for medical treatment they usually apply for the interim release of their passports.

“Since the courts have taken judicial notice of the perilous state of medical facilities in the country such applications are usually granted. And once the suspects return from the foreign medical trips their passports are returned to the registry of the trial courts.”