Coronavirus: Without legal framework, govt can’t stop people from gathering --Lawyer

Amid the Covid19 pandemic, human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, says the federal and state governments cannot stop people from gathering unless a proper legal framework is put in place.

Effiong said in a statement on Sunday that in developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, the government had to first declare a state of emergency or invoke a provision of the law before asking people to stay indoors.

He said Nigeria must act like a democratic nation rather than a dictatorship.

Effiong added, “Section 305 (3)(d) of the constitution, allows for a state of emergency when there is clear and present danger of breakdown of public order and public safety in the federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger. COVID19 is a clear and present danger to public safety.

“Unlike in the United States, states in Nigeria cannot declare emergency. A governor supported by 2/3 members of the House of Assembly can only request the President to do so for them as stated in Section 305 (4) of the constitution. This is an example of the fraudulent nature of our federalism.

“Since there is no special law to my knowledge, apart from laws establishing national and states emergency management agencies, to address public health crisis, it is necessary for the President to declare a state of emergency in Nigeria to address the outbreak of coronavirus.”

The activist said by virtue of Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution, the rights to peaceful assembly and free movement can be interfered with in the interest of public health and public safety.

He, however, urged the President, Maj. Gen Buhari (retd.), to declare a state of emergency throughout the federation in line with Section 305 of the constitution.

Effiong said, “It is either a law is urgently enacted across the volatile states or the President invokes the state of emergency clause. As of today, there is no strong legal basis for restricting gatherings. None of the governors or the President has issued even an ordinary ‘executive order’.

“In the United States for example where we copied our presidential system, President Trump declared a national emergency, and at least 48 states in the US have also declared emergency due to COVID19. The American Congress also passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“In Nigeria, we are resorting to our usual militaristic way of doing things by relying on arbitrary executive fiat to tackle COVID19. Nations do not become great just by the good intentions of politicians. Nations become great principally by adhering to the rule of law.”

Effiong noted that the Quarantine Act provides for how the government can tackle the spread of infectious diseases in Nigeria.

He, however, noted that Section 4 of the said Quarantine Act expressly requires the President to make regulations (subsidiary legislation) to give effect to the provisions of the Act.
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