COVID-19 Lockdown: President Buhari’s Declaration Requires No Legal Backing – PGF Chief

Director-General of the Progressive Governors Forum PGF, Salihu Moh. Lukman has again asked those still debating the legality of the lockdown imposed on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states to focus on the bigger picture, saying asking President Muhammadu Buhari to have consulted a National Assembly that is on recess is unrealistic, simplistic and academic.

In a statement yesterday in which he called for prayers for the speedy recovery of Mallam Abba Kyari, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Sen. Bala Mohammed, Mr Seyi Makinde and all those infected by COVID-19 in the country, Lukman recalled how Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa had argued that the President is required to ‘invoke his powers under the Constitution to declare a state of emergency, which must be approved by the National Assembly.’

“Mr Adegboruwa’s position was endorsed by many activist lawyers, including Mr Femi Falana who argued that ‘Presidential Order not enforceable without legal backing’.”

The PGF boss queried the objective of the current debate asking whether it was to strengthen the capacity of Nigeria’s democracy to respond to emergencies, especially when human life is at great risk or whether it is to simply flex legal muscles so as to delegitimise the actions of the government.

He said: “The moment of decision with respect to the lockdown is the declaration by the President in his speech of Sunday, March 29, for which our legal experts and activists are contesting that it should have been referred to the National Assembly at a time when the threat of COVID-19 will not permit the National Assembly to sit. All the debate about whether the President should seek the approval of the National Assembly before declaring the lockdown is therefore simply unrealistic in the circumstance.

“Without necessarily arguing that those canvassing for the declaration of a state of emergency through the approval of the National Assembly are cheaply doing so to attract public attention, one is tempted to ask what will be their response (Messrs. Adegboruwa and Falana) if the President were to request the National Assembly to reconvene for the purpose of considering any proposal for declaration of a state of emergency in this era whereby scientifically it is not advisable for any session of the National Assembly to hold?

“If the operative norm requires isolation and social distancing for the country to be able to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus, anybody, including Messrs Adegboruwa and Falana, will be dishonest to canvass for any sitting of the National Assembly to enforce the issue of social distancing and isolation to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“Could it be that social distancing and isolation could be achieved without lockdown? From all the arguments, it doesn’t appear this is the point of contention. One ready conclusion, therefore, is that the argument against the lockdown as declared by the President is on account of the lack of recognition of the emergency timeline which COVID-19 has imposed on the world.

“Leaders across the world are struggling to respond to this new timeline. Largely because it is a challenge that borders on saving human lives, citizens are required to work in partnership with governments.

“If, as of late Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique has argued, ‘science and knowledge should be an instrument of progress’, containing the spread of COVID-19 should require the innovative application of knowledge and law. This is what the COVID-19 emergency timeline dictates. It is not about rigid applications of knowledge and laws. To miss the reality of this, may mean being reckless.

“It would appear many of us, including very experienced elder statesmen such as our Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, are still operating in the old activist timelines of being in opposition to the government. COVID-19 doesn’t allow us the luxury of government vs citizens dichotomy. This is not in any way suggesting that the government or the President should exercise absolute powers.

“To the extent that so far, across the world, as recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO), the three recommended best practices are testing, contact tracing and isolation, our knowledge and our laws should be deployed to compel citizens to observe isolation and social distancing. Under no circumstance should we seek to apply our knowledge and laws in manners that portends potentials to compromise the lives of citizens.

The current debate around legality are needless and only confirms Prof. Honig assertion that ‘everything is justifiable and there can be no cause for regret when our survival is at stake.’ All the energy we expend to question the legality of decisions of government to lock down these three cities with the highest potential to spread COVID-19 virus to every part of the country may only serve to distract the attention of government from the critical issue of ensuring effective response to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“Rather than asking the question of whether locking down Abuja, Lagos and Abeokuta is sufficient to contain the spread of COVID-19, we are seeking to undermine the government.

“No need to play to the gallery. Certainly, both Messrs Adegborunwa, Falana, Soyinka and all those criticising the current lockdown of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun, may have some unselfish reasons to express opposition. So long as however such opposition is not substantively disputing the efficacy of the lockdown as a strategic requirement for ensuring enforcement of isolation and social distancing in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country, it simply projects behavioural discrepancy, which conflicts with the new emergency timeline that COVID-19 imposes on the world”, he added.


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