Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, on Monday faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s lockdown order in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states but the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, in a statement in Abuja, said Buhari did not commit any illegality.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had in a national broadcast on Sunday 29, ordered complete lockdown of the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states for 14 days from 30 March as part of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
However, Prof. Wole Soyinka, in a statement on Monday titled, ‘Between COVID-19 and Constitutional Encroachment’ signed from his Autonomous Residence of Ijegba, Ogun State, where he’s on ‘self-quarantine’, said the country was not in a war emergency and as such the lockdown would illegal.
“Constitutional lawyers and our elected representatives should kindly step into this and educate us, mere lay minds. The worst development I can conceive is to have a situation where rational measures for the containment of the corona pandemic are rejected on account of their questionable genesis. This is a time for unity of purpose, not nitpicking dissensions. Before this becomes a habit, a question: ‘does President Buhari have the powers to close down state borders?’ We want clear answers. We are not in a war emergency. Appropriately focused on measures for the saving lives and committed to making sacrifices for the preservation of our communities, we should nonetheless remain alert to any encroachment on constitutionally demarcated powers. We need to exercise collective vigilance, and not compromise the future by submitting to interventions that are not backed by law and constitution.” Soyinka said.
The elder statesman asked, “Who actually instigates these orders anyway? From where do they really emerge? What happens when the orders conflict with state measures, the product of a systematic containment strategy — including even trial-and-error and hiccups — undertaken without let or leave of the centre.”
“The universal imperative and urgency of this affliction should not become an opportunistic launch pad for a sneak re-centralisation, no matter how seemingly insignificant its appearance,” he added.
Human right acivist lawyer, Femi Falana SAN, said the no-movement order in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states was not enforceable and the order had no legal backing and therefore unconstitutional.
He argued that the President lacked the powers to restrict movements in any part of the country without the consent of the National Assembly.
However, the Attornony-General of Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, SAN, in a statement on Monday, said the President did not commit any illegality. He said, “It is important to inform the discerning members of the public that the President did not make a declaration of a state of emergency under Section 305(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which would have required the concurrence of both House of the National Assembly.
“Even at that Section 305(6)(b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) permits a proclamation of a state of emergency to run for a period of 10 days without the approval of the National Assembly when the parliament is not in session as in the present situation wherein the National Assembly has shut down.
“It is clear from the President’s broadcast that what His Excellency sought to address is a public emergency occasioned by a dangerous and infectious coronavirus disease. The restriction of movement came on the heels of advice received by the President from the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, the two focal agencies in the fight against COVID-19.”
Malami, who is also the Minister of Justice, said the correct position remains that the President acted rightfully under the powers conferred on him by the Quarantine Act 1990 CAP 384 LFN which has the title: “An Act to provide for and regulate the imposition of quarantine and to make other provisions for preventing the introduction into and spread in Nigeria, and the transmission from Nigeria, of dangerous infectious diseases”.
The minister said it is not in doubt that COVID-19 is an infectious disease of a contagious nature which the President as rightly declared under Section 2 of the Quarantine Act to be a dangerous infectious disease.
He stated, “Section 3 of the Act enables the President to declare any part of Nigeria as an infected area. Section 4 of the Act further empowers the President to make regulations to prevent the introduction, spread and transmission of any dangerous infectious disease.
“Section 6 of the Act requires the President and State Governors to provide sanitary stations, buildings and equipment. Thus, in recognition of the critical roles being played by the state Governors in these trying times, the Federal Government has been working with the states in line with the dictates of Section 6 of the Act.”