Nigeria: Coronavirus - AGF Malami Provides Legal Justification for Buhari's Lockdown Order

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Monday said President Muhammadu Buhari acted legally by imposing movement restriction in two states and Abuja. Mr Malami also provided the law that he said backed the president's action.

The AGF was reacting to a senior lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, over his criticism of Mr Buhari 's order restricting movement in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun.

Mr Malami's reaction is contained in a statement he personally signed and shared with PREMIUM TIMES.

President Buhari had in his first address to Nigerians on the coronavirus crisis, on Sunday, ordered residents of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja to stay at home for 14 days from Monday.

He said in his speech that, "based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11 pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States.

"All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.

"The Governors of Lagos and Ogun States, as well as the Minister of the FCT, have been notified. Furthermore, heads of security and intelligence agencies have also been briefed."

In reaction to the president's speech, the senior lawyer in a statement said Mr Buhari had no right to make such a proclamation without recourse to the National Assembly.

However, the AGF in his reaction on Monday, said the president did not commit any illegality.

Mr Malami 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.

"The learned silk also goofed when he questioned the President's powers to restrict movement and claiming that such powers can only be exercised by the state governors and the respective state assemblies.

"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."

The justice minister said the correct position remains that the president acted rightfully under the powers conferred on him by the Quarantine Act 1990 CAP 384 LFN which has the title: "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".

He said it is not in doubt that COVID-19 is an infectious disease of a contagious nature which the president rightly declared under Section 2 of the Quarantine Act to be a dangerous infectious disease.

"Section 3 of the Act enables the President to declare any part of Nigeria as an infected area. Section 4 of the Act further empowers the President to make regulations to prevent the introduction, spread and transmission of any dangerous infectious disease.

"Section 6 of the Act requires the President and State Governors to provide sanitary stations, buildings and equipment. Thus, in recognition of the critical roles being played by the state Governors in these trying times, the Federal Government has been working with the states in line with the dictates of Section 6 of the Act," he said.

The AGF added that "the President has so far acted in accordance with the executive powers of the federation conferred on him under Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the provisions of Section 14(2)(b) which provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.

As of Monday night, there were 131 cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria including two deaths.

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