- AGF Malami Defends President’s Action
President Muhammadu Buhari, Monday, signed the Covid-19 Regulations, 2020, which declared Covid-19 a dangerous infectious disease in Nigeria and will continue to back government’s subsequent measures in curtailing the viral infection.
According to the President, this was in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act (CAP Q2 LFN 2004), and all other powers enabling him in that regard.
A statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, Monday night in Abuja explained that “The Regulations, effective March 30, 2020, also gave legal backing to the various measures outlined in the President’s National Broadcast on March 29, 2020, such as Restriction/Cessation of Movement in Lagos, FCT and Ogun State and others toward containing the spread of the pandemic in the country.
“In addition, to ensure that Nigerians can still perform on-line transactions and use ATMs whilst observing these restrictions, the exemption is granted financial system and money markets to allow very skeletal operations in order to keep the system in light operations during the pendency of these regulations.”
But some legal experts and public commentators have disagreed with the President on the signed COVID-19 Regulations which among other measures, backed the lockdown order imposed on Lagos, Ogun and Abuja for 14 days as announced on Sunday. Those who have criticised the lockdown order include Human Right lawyer, Ebun-oluwa Adegboruwa (SAN) and Prof. Wole Soyinka.
According to Adegboruwa, President Buhari has no right to make such a proclamation without recourse to the National Assembly, saying the Quarantine Act does not give the President the absolute authority to restrict the movement of Nigerians.
“The Quarantine Act is no authority for the restriction of movement of people. Indeed, there is no provision in that Act that empowers the President or Governor of a State, to impose curfew on people or to restrict their movement.
“First, public health legislations are targeted at the victims of infectious diseases and to protect those who have not been infected. A law made to protect me cannot at the same time be implemented to restrain me.
“Second, the liberty of any citizen cannot be subject of indirect interpretation of legislations. Being a constitutional right inuring to the citizen as a fundamental right, the right to freedom of movement cannot be circumscribed under the Quarantine Act. For a law to satisfy the derogatory provisions of section 45(1) of the Constitution, it must specifically state the restriction of movement and give reasons for it and be passed by the parliament,” Adegboruwa wrote in an article published by The New Diplomat on Monday.
Also, Nobel Laureate, Soyinka, on Monday demanded answer from constitutional lawyers and federal lawmakers on the rationale behind the lock-down order.
The order was expected to take effect from 11pm on Monday, with plans to extend the lockdown to other states as part of efforts to combat the pandemic in the country.
Soyinka in a statement, titled ‘Between COVID and Constitutional Encroachment’ said: “Constitutional lawyers and our elected representatives should kindly step into this and educate us, mere lay minds. The worst development I can conceive of us is to have a situation where rational measures for the containment of the Coronavirus pandemic are rejected on account of their questionable genesis.
“This is a time for Unity of Purpose, not nitpicking dissensions. So, 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.”
Soyinka averred that the pandemic situation in the country should not be the basis for the encroachment of constitutionally demarcated power by coming up with measures that lack constitutional backing.
“Appropriately focussed 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.
“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. I urge governors and legislators to be especially watchful. No epidemic is ever cured with constitutional piracy. It only lays down new political viruses for the future,” Soyinka’s statement read in parts.
However, while reacting to Adegboruwa’s position, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), said the President did not commit any illegality in issuing the lockdown order.
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.”