At last, after the entire rank and file of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has been put on blast, the President addressed the nation in a televised broadcast on Sunday, March 29.
In the pre-recorded address run via the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) yesterday, Buhari stood up not only to quench rumours that he is unwell but also as a signal of leadership to the Nigerian populace in a time when the 200 million-rich nation is riddled with Coronavirus (COVID- 19) anxiety.
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The president announced that 2 states – Lagos and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) – which were the most affected by the virus currently will be on lockdown for 14 days at first instance. While Ogun state, for its proximity to Lagos, will also be on mandatory lockdown from 11 p.m on Monday. This is exempting those who work in the essential services sector.
The Federal Government (FG) also declared a 3-month moratorium on loans issued by the Bank of Industry (BOI), Bank of Agriculture (BOA), TraderMoni, MarketMoni and other government-backed loans for the period. While these palliatives, among others, are not concise enough they are still commendable moves aimed at cushion the negative effect this lockdown might have on Nigerians.
However, knocks have come particularly for the presidential directive on lockdown. While it is partially excusable that inadequate palliatives were announced for poor Nigerians who will be affected by the lockdown, not following statutes of the Quarantine Act as amended in 2004 is fingered by pundits to be the undoing of this lockdown.
As the Presidential response to the COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing directives is desirable, but it is without the force of the law. Renowned lawyer, Ebun Onagoruwa, while appearing on Channels TV this morning opined that due process is yet to be followed with the directives the federal government gave. In a series of tweets by constitutional lawyer, Abdul Mahmud, he corroborated the position of learned lawyers who have criticized the president’s announcement as going without the substance of the law.
Abdul Mahmud opined that the;
“Suspension of fundamental rights enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution 1999 should have happened by following the steps provided in Section 305 of the Constitution 1999. Not outside it.”
While the lockdown and restrictions are desirable, directives not backed by law, eventually open the state up to legal action for damages by businesses and citizens who suffer losses as a result of the directives.”– Abdul Mahmud
Without the law backing up these announcements by the Federal Government, anyone who is so negatively affected by the lockdown could sue the government for damages and walk away with a huge sum in payment. For the government, that would be the cost of bad governance.
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The zeal to ignore due process comes at a great cost to the economy itself. Businesses will be shut down. Employees will be laid off by companies. Invoices will remain unpaid. Loans will remain unpaid and bloat while the lockdown lingers. Shops and businesses will close down and people will get poorer. The economic, social and mental cost is insurmountable for a large sect of the populace, yet there will be no respite for the losses which vulnerable people will be incurring.
Ideally, what the government should do now is to officially publish a regulation or announce one which is tied to the National Assembly ratifying it within two days. It is in this regulation that proper procedures, palliatives, directives and rules to follow in the period of quarantine will be properly laid out for the public to understand.
We are no longer in a military regime where decrees could be handed out at the whim of a General. We have been in the 4ths iteration of a democratically run republic which is now over 20 years old. The rule of law can be followed even in a state of emergency. Only then can we be really be a free society, as the constitution allows.
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