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Lawyers kick against Buhari’s 14-day lockdown order over covid-19 spread

LAWYERS  in the country have kicked against President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to restrict movements in Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Ogun state for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11 pm on Monday,  March 30 as part of measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The ICIR had earlier reported how the President announced in a nationwide broadcast on Sunday evening the steps his administration has been taken to ensure safety of citizens across the country as the novel virus spreads to more states of the federation.

He explained that the step was based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Nigeria is amongst hundreds of country that has been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic first discovered in Wuhan, China.

Coronavirus is a disease that causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing. 

Nigeria reported the first confirmed case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa on the 27th of February.

The case involved an Italian citizen who entered the country on 24 February on a Turkish Airlines flight from Milan via Istanbul.

There are now 111 confirmed cases in Nigeria, with one reported death.

In Africa, more than 4,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the continent.

The virus has proliferated around the globe over the past week, emerging in every continent except Antarctica, with 737,532 confirmed cases and 34,997 deaths, prompting many governments and businesses to try to stop people traveling or gathering in crowded places.

President Buhari said Ogun State was included due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States.

While the President said his action was based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, some Nigerian lawyers in reaction to the President’s order described it as illegal.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-olu Adegboruwa in reaction said Nigeria being a democratic nation should function under the provisions of the constitution.

He said, “It is illegal for the President to take over the affairs of any State of the Federation without the express consent of the people of that State through their elected representatives.”

“The President has not invoked his powers under the Constitution to declare any state of emergency, which must be approved by the National Assembly”.

“It is only the Governor of the State through the House of Assembly of the State that can make any declaration concerning the people of that State. Little wonder that the President could not cite any law that he relied upon for his declaration,” 

“I support every measure taken to contain the Coronavirus pandemic but such must be in accordance with the law. If we allow this to stay, then tomorrow the President may just impose a total restriction on all States of the Federation for whatever reason,” he noted.

Inibehe Effiong, a constitutional and human right lawyer in a statement shared on his Twitter handle said the President has not acted within the constitution and that the action will be challenged in court.

Effiong, according to the constitution said Buhari could have asked the Senate President and Speaker of the National Assembly to convene the National Assembly to approve a state of emergency. 

His statement read in part, “After a deep reflection on President Buhari’s decision to lock down ALL movements in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja by presidential fiat for fourteen (14) days, I have resolved to challenge this unconstitutional action in court.”

“No responsible, democratic and civilised country will throw its Constitution and laws into the dustbin in an effort to tackle a pandemic like COVID-19 the way President Buhari has done. Freedom of movement is a fundamental right guaranteed by Section 41 of the Constitution.

“While it is conceded that this right is not absolute, Section 45 of the Constitution is clear to the effect that freedom of movement can only be taken away in the manner allowed by a law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. Buhari has not relied on any law.”

“No law has been passed by the National Assembly to empower Buhari to lockdown Nigeria or any part thereof on account of coronavirus. Buhari hasn’t issued regulations as required under the Quarantine Act. The President has not declared a state of emergency in Lagos, Ogun or Abuja.”

“If Buhari is convinced that extraordinary measures are needed to contain coronavirus, the proper action would have been for him to issue an instrument published in the Official Gazette of the Government and make a proclamation of a state of emergency in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja.”

“By Section 305 (6) (b) of the Constitution, such proclamation shall cease to have effect if it is not approved by a resolution of the National Assembly within two days where the National Assembly is in session or within ten days where the National Assembly is not in session.

Buhari could have asked the Senate President and Speaker of the National Assembly to convene the National Assembly to approve a state of emergency. He could have simply issued regulations pursuant to the Quarantine Act. But he opted for his usual dictatorial ways of doing things.”

All serious countries declared emergency, passed or invoked laws to tackle COVID-19.

Also, Charles Omole, a UK based Nigerian Lawyer in reaction to the President order on his official Twitter handle said the President has not followed the law or constitution. 

“Regulations under the Quarantine Act or S305 of the constitution (which must then be gazetted within 10 days after NASS approval) has not been issued. All the elements are in his speech. He just needs to use the right tool.”

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