Lagos — Lawyers were yesterday divided on the propriety of President Muhammadu Buhari declaring lrestrictions on movements in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states to check the spread of coronavirus pandemic in the country.
The President had said in his nationwide broadcast last night that the federal government was restricting movements in the affected areas to avert a scenario reminiscent of situations in such countries as Italy, Spain and the United States which have lost thousands of people to the disease.
While some of the lawyers disagreed with the President, saying he had no powers to unilaterally take some actions with approval from the National Assembly, others said his action came at the right time to save Nigerians from the pandemic.
Those who reacted included Ebun Adegboruwa, SAN; Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN; and they argued that the President does not have the powers to impose restriction of movements on any state in the country without the approval of the National Assembly.
Proposed restriction of movement in Abuja, Lagos, Ogun by presidential fiat is illegal--Adegboruwa, SAN
In his reaction, activist and lawyer, Mr Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, SAN, said: "The President has no powers to restrict the movement of persons without recourse to the National Assembly.
"The President has not invoked his powers under the Constitution to declare any state of emergency, which must be approved by the National Assembly.
"We are running a constitutional democracy and 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.
"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 law. If we allow this to stay, then tomorrow the President may just impose total restriction on all states of the federation for whatever reason.
"I humbly urge the President to reverse the restrictions and work with the states concerned in accordance with the laws of our land.
"Also, there must be measures put in place to address the financial consequences of the proposed shutdown, especially for small scale businesses, those who depend on daily earnings and the needy and vulnerable members of the societies to be affected."
Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN
In his reaction, human rights activist, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba said: "It's in order but already covered by orders of the Lagos State government. It's lawful under the Quarantine Act. He can make order for the security and safety of Nigerians. But my point is that in the case of Lagos State, the governor has already given directives to address the concerns raised by the President."
Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN
Also reacting, Prof Ernest Ojukwu said: "The President did well by ordering complete lockdown of Lagos and Abuja for two weeks but he needs to tell us how the government intends to feed people when we run out of food and drinking water. He announced that food factories and retail shops would be allowed to function but said access to them would be restricted.
"We need to know the scope of that access to food shops, including how their staff would go to work and how the shops will be protected in terms of security."
Monday Ubani, Former 2nd Vice President, NBA
"The President will certainly be challenged by some on the ground that there is no existing law under which these measures were applied. Is this a declaration of state of emergency? If it is, has the President complied with the strict provisions of the constitution that requires the input of the Senate for this declaration?
"The president will be bashed for this declaration. On the issue of reliefs for the anticipated economic hardship, the measures announced are half-hearted. They are not sufficient and concrete enough to affect the majority of the poor in the country. Apart from moratorium on the so called tradermoni, cash transfers to unnamed categories of Nigerians for two months, there are no pronounced measures that will really alleviate the economic hardship that the already announced lockdown will bring to traders, entrepreneurs and the rest of the citizens. I am afraid that nothing has been said that will reduce anxiety from the citizens. For now everyone is on his or own, God for all of us."
Kabir Akingbolu, Member, Ekiti State Judicial Service Commission
It is a right step in the right direction but it is rather too late in the day to search for the moon..This order ought to have been taken long ago. The directive finds support in section 45 of the 1990 Constitution.
"However, there a lot of problems with this kind of directive because it came too suddenly and people are not prepared. One would have at least expected like 2 or 3 days notice of such so that people can stock their homes with food and other necessaries of life.
"Thus, this failure will bring serious hardship on the people especially in a country like Nigeria where middle class had been wiped out by poor economy. So you are either rich or poor. And to the people at the bottom of the ladder, the poor masses will live from hand to mouth for those two weeks.
"Another terrible thing here is that unlike other countries of the world where this adjustment in policy was made, their governments made enough provision for the citizens to cushion the negative effect of it on them.
"To rub salt to injury, our government at all levels have no Price Control or Price Regulatory Agency to curb indecent increase of goods. Because this is having ripples effect on the masses. There ought to be palliative measures put in place to cushion the effect of this unexpected order of stay at home. Nigerians are suffering untold hardship, it's unfair."
Human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN
Falana said in his reaction: "President Buhari lacks the power to impose lockdown on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states without legal backing. As a military dictator General Buhari had dispatched armed troops to the streets of urban areas to enforce his War Against Indiscipline and other draconian policies.
"But under the current democratically elected governments President Buhari is required to proclaim a state of emergency under section 305 of the Constitution and issue appropriate guidelines. Alternatively, he ought to have imposes restriction of locomotion of people in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States under the Quarantine Act.
"Since Lagos and Ogun states have issued regulations to back up the derogation of certain fundamental rights of the Nigerian people in combating the COVID-19 pandemic I want to assume that President Buhari has merely adopted the measures already put in place by both state governments.
"So far, the governments of Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun, Rivers and Kaduna states have issued regulations to justify lockdown and other infringements of the fundamental rights of people."
Also reacting, former President Goodlock Jonathan's former aide, Reno Omokri said: "General Buhari did not say anything new. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala already told us to wash our hands and socially distance. We want to hear what he plans to do to help. Nothing like that. Instead, he was praising himself. A robot would have done better.
"General Buhari said he had introduced fiscal measures. That is a lie. He has done little or nothing for individuals and businesses. No economic package for citizens forced to stay at home, even while NASS shares exotic cars.
"Buhari boasted about providing 15 billion intervention. That is nonsense. That is only $37 million for a population of 200 million people. India released $27 billion for food alone. That is less than the N150 billion he budgeted for NASS.
"How can the FG compete with the private sector in amount provided as relief? You collect taxes, oil rents and Abacha loot and all you give is ¦ 15 billion. The private sector gave more. Why do we pay you tax? Why do we have a government?
"Buhari ordered a lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun. These areas have already been on lockdown for a week. Does it mean Buhari did not know? How can you ask people to stay in lockdown without providing a adequate reliefs to them.
"Buhari said the school feeding program should go on. The states have been complaining that the school feeding program had been abandoned. The man is not even aware. Students will stay at home and eat at school?"
Gbenga Ojo, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNILAG
Gbenja Ojo, in his reaction, said: "First, let me state this is not the time to engage in needless legal argument on the legality of the action of the President. Nigeria has no facilities to handle the fall out of coronavirus crisis.
"The virus is ravaging European countries with Italy, Spain badly hit. In USA, it is pandemic in New York, New Jersey and other states in America. President Trump signed $2trillion to battle the fall out of the virus.
"Prevention is better than cure. People talking about economy etc, should remember that this virus is a threat to humanity. There will be humanity before we talk of economy or even legality. The only thing left is stimulus or palliatives."
Another legal practitioner, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, said: "Everything is expected as he spoke like a statesman that he is. It is a responsive speech and it is expected, though "I would have expected that the restriction is extended to some parts in Nasarawa and Niger States.
"It is a known fact that only a fraction of people known as Abuja residents live in Abuja but Suleja is Niger State and Maraba, Karu and Keffi in Nasarawa state. It is also a known fact that not a vulnerable people are tied to trader moni likewise some entrepreneurs need some palliative measures."