Yesterday, Sunday, 29th March 2020, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria addressed the nation on the measures taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic. To some, his speech addressed virtually all the issues that ought to be addressed and that the lock down of Abuja, Lagos State and Ogun State is very sensible.
According to a statement by Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, SAN, a Lagos based Legal Practitioner, the President has no powers to restrict the movement of persons without recourse to the National Assembly.
He said that the President has not invoked his powers under the Constitution to declare any state of emergency, which must be approved by the National Assembly.
He further stated that “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.”
Mr Adegboruwa SAN urged 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.
According to an Abuja based lawyer and human rights activist, Frank Tietie, the President has the powers to place a curfew, impose restriction of movement, including a lock down according to the provisions of the Quarantine Act.
The Quarantine Act is reproduced below:
- Short title
This Act may be cited as the Quarantine Act.
In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires—
“ dangerous infectious disease ” means cholera, plague, yellow fever, smallpox and typhus, and includes any disease of an infectious or contagious nature which the President may, by notice, declare to be a dangerous infectious disease within the meaning of this Act;[1929 No. 7.]
“ local area ” means a well-defined area, such as a local government area, a department, a canton, an island, a commune, a town, a quarter of a town, a village, a port, an agglomeration, whatever may be the extent and population of such areas.
3. Power to declare any place an infected local area
The President may, by notice, declare any place whether within or without Nigeria to be an infected local area, and thereupon such place shall be an infected local area within the meaning of this Act. [1929 No. 7.]
The President may make regulations for all or any of the following purposes;
(a) prescribing the steps to be taken within Nigeria upon any place, whether within or without Nigeria, being declared to be an infected local area;
(b) prescribing the introduction of any dangerous infectious disease into Nigeria or any part thereof from any place without Nigeria, whether such place is an infected local area or not;
(c) preventing the spread of any dangerous infectious disease from any place within Nigeria, whether an infected local area or not, to any other place within Nigeria;
(d) preventing the transmission of any dangerous infectious disease from Nigeria or from any place within Nigeria, whether an infected local area or not, to any place without Nigeria;
(e) prescribing the powers and duties of such officers as may be charged with carrying out such regulations;
(f) fixing the fees and charges to be paid
Mr Tietie said that the President didn’t need to cite the law in his address. His speech writers ought to have realized that it would have been more appropriate to cite the law as the legal basis for his directive. We are a country governed by law.