EBUN-OLU Adegboruwa, Human Rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has said that the Quarantine Act of 1926 does not provide the legal framework to restrict movement of citizens around the country and thus, President Muhammadu Buhari acted illegally when he declared a lockdown order in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states.
President Buhari, in a nationwide broadcast on Sunday, March 29, had ordered a 14-day lockdown in the two states, including the Federal Capital Territory – a move made to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.
Following the declaration, concerns were raised over the legal backing that enables the president to make such declaration, to which the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina argued that the president was acting within the powers conferred in the Quarantine Act 1990 CAP 384 LFN.
The Act reads: “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”.
However, in a release signed by Adegboruwa, he explains that the president acted in illegality and against Section 41 of the Federal Constitution, which grants freedom of movement to all citizens.
According to Adegboruwa, an executive regulation cannot in law take away a fundamental right granted by the Constitution.
“The Quarantine Act of 1926, as its name and provisions connote, is meant for the isolation, care and treatment of victims of infectious diseases simpliciter, for the purpose of isolating them away from interacting with other members of the public, generally.
A law enacted for the benefit of those not infected by any disease cannot and should not be twisted to restrain them,” Adegboruwa argued.
He further explained the president acted erroneously in ordering a lockdown based on the the Quarantine Act when conditions of effecting the Act were not complied to.
According to him, for the president to be entitled to make a regulation under the provisions of Section 4 and 8 of the Quarantine Act, he must have first complied with the conditions precedent laid down in sections 2 and 3.
Adegboruwa also submitted that : “There is nowhere in sections 4 or 8 of the Quarantine Act that states or anticipated that the President or Governor could make regulations for the restriction of movement of persons on account of infectious diseases, against persons not so infected. Regulations in relation to quarantine are always limited to the infected persons.”
He added that the fundamental rights of citizens cannot be taken away through executive proclamations, proposing that, however noble and good-willed the event, it creates room for ‘violation of the Constitution’ and advised that it can be a dangerous signal for perpetrating illegality.