COVID-19 Lockdown: Constitutional or Not?

Last Sunday, the Nigerian President’s decision to lock down several key states in the country was based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) after a national broadcast ordered the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT and clarified that the order will extend to the Ogun State due to its proximity to Lagos.
But in his response to the Order, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has described President Buhari’s full lockdown of Lagos and Ogun over the coronavirus as illegal and unconstitutional.

In the statement entitled “Between COVID and the Constitutional Encroachment,” Soyinka said, “Constitutional lawyers and our elected representatives will kindly step into this and inform us, mere lay minds.”

Soyinka, in a statement, said that the President did not have the right to arbitrarily lock a state because there was no war or emergency.

“The worst development I can think of is to have a scenario in which reasonable steps to combat the Corona pandemic are dismissed because of their uncertain origin.

“This is the time for the Unity of Intent, not the nitpicking of dissent. So, before this becomes a routine, a question arises: does President Buhari have the power to close state borders? We want to have direct answers. We’re not in a war emergency.”

“Appropriately oriented on life-saving initiatives and committed to make sacrifices for the survival of our nations, we should still remain alert to any violation of constitutionally demarcated powers. We need to practice collective caution and not risk the future by proposing proposals that are not lawful and law-abiding.”

According to Soyinka, “the president who had been famously AWOL, the Rip van Winkle of Nigerian history, is now said to have woken up after a lengthy siesta and to have started to issue orders.”

What is really instigating these orders anyway? Where are they really coming from? What occurs when a clash of orders with state interventions emerges as a result of a systemic control policy – including trial-and-error and hiccups – conducted without leave or leave from the Centre. To date, the anti-COVID-19 steps have continued along the lines of decentralized thought.

“The Centre is obviously part of the entire process, and one expects this to be the norm, even without the epidemic’s frontal assault on the Presidency itself. Indeed, the Centre is expected to drive the overall effort, but in collaboration, with extraordinary budgeting and refurbishing of facilities.”
Senator Dino Melaye, who represented Kogi West in the 8th and 9th Senate, said that it was ludicrous for Buhari to take over the affairs of any state of the federation without the express approval of the House of Assembly.

Nigeria follows parliamentary democracy, according to him, and it is out of place for the President to arbitrarily do what he has done.

You will recall that I broadcast a week ago calling for the lockdown of Abuja and Lagos. It underpins the fact that I endorse measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic, but that must be achieved in compliance with the law.

“In the presidential broadcast, Buhari did not invoke his power of emergency, as stipulated in Section 305 of the Constitution of Nigeria, and even if it is exercised, It will be achieved with the consent of the National Assembly.

“The President has behaved beyond his authority to limit travel without the consent of the National Assembly. I, therefore, advise Mr. President to take appropriate constitutional action and to act as quickly as possible as we need a lockdown.
This is a very significant decision, but it must be taken in accordance with all democratic norms.” While some commended the President’s move, others were displeased and found it unlawful and unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Vice-President said on Tuesday that the questioning of the legality of the presidential order restricting movements in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States is very needless, as the action taken by the President is not only relevant but also quite well backed by established Nigerian laws.

According to the Vice-President, the measures are constructive, very relevant, legal, necessary and lawful.

Prof. Osinbajo said this in Abuja while responding to questions from the Google Hangout initiative organized by the HACK COVID-19 Call Center – a private sector initiative to help Nigeria’s war against the pandemic.

Osinbajo said; “I am not so sure some of the people who have commented on the issue have come across the Quarantine Act.  There is a Quarantine Act of 1926, it’s been published in all of the Laws of Nigeria, every edition of the Laws of Nigeria, it is there.”

Specifically referring to the section of the law authorizing the President to order restrictions on movement in any part of the world, Prof. Osinbajo said, “What the Act does is to allow the President to designate any local region, any part of the nation, as a place that may be contaminated or at risk of communicable disease, and then to make regulations of some sort.

Subsequently, the Vice-President also clarified that, in accordance with the rules of the Constitution, the Act of 1926 was considered to be an Act of the National Assembly.

“The President has broad authority under the Quarantine Act of 1926. The governors do have broad powers under the same Quarantine Act.

In order to understand the protections therein, Osinbajo urged all concerned individuals and organizations to comply individually with the legislation.

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