Covid-19: Justice Minister Justifies Lockdown Order

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By Our Correspondent

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said on Monday that President Muhammadu Buhari acted legally by locking down Lagos and Ogun states as well as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory as a move towards containing coronavirus also known as Covid-19.

In a statement reacting to Lagos lawyer, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), who had criticized the president’s order locking down the two states and Abuja, the minister said the president’s action was constitutional. According to him, President Buhari did not make a declaration of state of emergency which would have required the approval of both the House of Representatives and the senate.

“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 Houses 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 minister noted that President Buhari acted under the powers conferred on him by the Quarantine Act 1990 CAP 384 LFN under 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”.

Malami stated further that it is not in doubt that COVID-19 is an infectious disease of a contagious nature as captured under Section 2 of the Quarantine Act. He noted that “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.”

The minister 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.

Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN) had shortly after President Buhari’s national broadcast described as illegal the president’s order to lockdown Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states.

In a statement he made available to newsmen, Olu-Adegboruwa argued that Buhari lacks powers to restrict the movement of persons without recourse to the National Assembly.

The statement noted: “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 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.

“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.”

As at Monday night, there were 131 cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria including two deaths. Six infected persons have so far been successfully treated and discharged, including the index case, an Italian, who brought the coronavirus into Nigeria.

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