President Muhammadu Buhari last night in Abuja gave legal teeth to his Sunday night directive that has locked down Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), by signing the Covid-19 Regulations 2020 in accordance with Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act (CAP Q2 LFN 2004).
The regulations declared Covid-19 as a dangerous and infectious disease.
A statement by the president’s media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the regulations, which took effect from yesterday, March 30, 2020, would serve as a legal backing to various measures unveiled by the president during his national broadcast on March 29, 2020.
The statement also said such measures like the restriction/cessation of movement in Lagos, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Ogun State, among other decisions are aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic in the country.
The statement added that in addition to measures aimed at enabling Nigerians to perform on-line transactions and use automatic teller machine (ATMs) during these restrictions, the regulations grant exemption to the financial system and money markets.
The financial system exemption, the statement added, was aimed at allowing very skeletal operations with a view to keeping the system in light operations while these regulations subsists.
The statement read: “In exercise of the powers conferred on him by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act (CAP Q2 LFN 2004), and all other powers enabling him in that behalf, President Muhammadu Buhari, Monday, signed the Covid-19 Regulations, 2020, which declared Covid-19 a dangerous infectious disease.
“The Regulations, effective March 30, 2020, also gave legal backing to the various measures outlined in the President’s National Broadcast on March 29, 2020, such as Restriction/Cessation of Movement in Lagos, FCT and Ogun States and others toward containing the spread of the pandemic in the country.
“In addition, to ensure that Nigerians can still perform on-line transactions and use ATMs whilst observing these restrictions, an exemption is granted financial system and money markets to allow very skeletal operations in order to keep the system in light operations during the pendency of these regulations.”
The president’s directive locking down the two states and the FCT as well as similar directives by state governors restricting entry and movement into and within their states had been criticised as unconstitutional by some lawyers, including Mr. Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), who argued that the restrictions were contrary to law.
Olu-Adegboruwa got partial support from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who said yesterday in Abuja that the directives by state governors outside Lagos and Ogun restricting movements within and outside states were inconsistent with the president’s directive.
Earlier yesterday the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had argued that contrary to the position of Olu-Adegboruwa, Buhari’s directives were in order and had the legal and constitutional backing.
Malami said that Olu-Adegboruwa misconstrued the law by stating that the president could not single-handedly declare a lockdown in the affected states.
The AGF in a statement made available to journalists maintained that by the combined reading of Section 5, 14, 20 and 45 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 2, 6 and 8 of the Quarantine Act and Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 11 on Human and Peoples Right makes the declaration by the president valid, legal and enforceable.
While noting that the senior lawyer did not state any constitutional or statutory provision which the president breached in the present circumstances, he stated 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 chambers of the National Assembly.
He argued: “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.
“It, therefore, becomes obvious and clear that the restriction order is part of a national quarantine measure.”
He argued further that the president acted rightfully under the powers conferred on him by the Quarantine Act 1990 CAP 384 LFN whose Long Title read thus: “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.”
Shutdown outside Lagos, Ogun, FCT Inconsistent with Presidential Directive, Says SGF
Meanwhile, the SGF, also a lawyer and heads the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 hinted at the illegality of the sporadic shutdown of states by governors, saying they were inconsistent with Buhari’s directive that limits the lockdown to Lagos, Ogun and the FCT.
He spoke during the task force’s briefing yesterday and said the president’s order was definitive and categorical.
According to him, “As a nation, our response must be guided, systematic and professional. There is a need for consistency across the nation.
“All inconsistencies in policy guidelines between federal and state agencies will be eliminated. I referred you to paragraph 29 of the president’s broadcast. We are mindful of the fact that there are those inconsistencies in policies. Such states began to implement their lockdown before the president’s broadcast.
“The president’s broadcast was very definitive and categorical; we are only locking down Lagos, Ogun and the federal capital. Those are the only three designated areas for the lockdown now.”
The SGF said he would contact security personnel in states where borders had been shut in order to enlighten them on the directive of the president.
The rash of border closures by state governors that preceded the presidential broadcast had left many travellers stranded on the highways.
But succour came for them yesterday when Mustapha promised to come to their aid.
He said: “I will make some calls to some security agencies in those borders. I expected that after Mr. President’s broadcast what should ordinarily happen is that, if you had stopped people from getting to their destinations, that broadcast should have enabled you release those people to get to their destinations.
“You can put proactive measures like a toll gate to ensure that you test them and allow them get to their destinations. That was what we did at the airport before we finally locked down the airport.”
Panic in Lagos, Ogun, FCT as Lockdown Starts
Residents of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) yesterday embarked on panic-buying of food items and provisions in preparations for the lockdown imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to curb the spread of COVID-19, which began last night.
In Abuja, hordes of shoppers were seen in many of the markets in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) stocking up on foodstuffs and other essentials during the lockdown that will last 14 days.
Long queues were also observed at many petrol stations as vehicle owners scrambled to stock enough petrol.
The queues, which in many cases spilled into the main roads, were observed in some parts of Asokoro, Nyanya, Wuse 2, Jabi and Central Business District.
Bank customers were also, part of the frenzy as they besieged Auto Teller Machines (ATM) points to withdraw money.
The Yakubu Gowon Crescent, Asokoro, where many of the banks have branches, witnessed a massive turnout of bank customers, who wanted to make cash withdrawals.
THISDAY gathered that many of the machines soon ran out of cash because of the massive withdrawals.
Beside the people making frantic withdrawals at banks, there was also panic buying as many residents rushed to markets and malls to stock food items, fruits and commodities.
There was a large human and vehicular movement at Banex Plaza in Wuse 2 and some of the adjoining upscale shopping malls.
Shoppers scrambled to buy many items they could lay their hands on.
THISDAY also noted that many FCT residents were also relocating to other states like Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa and Benue that are not affected by the lockdown.
Their reason for the relocation was to avoid the impact the lockdown will have on them if they stayed back in the FCT.
There was a large and unusual vehicular movement along the Abuja- Keffi Road as some FCT residents were seen travelling to the neigbouring states.
The large vehicular movement resulted in a traffic snarl along the Abuja–Keffi Road. The traffic snarl that began from the Mopol Check Point in Nyanya got as far as Kugbo Hills. Many motorists were also stranded in the logjam.
One FCT resident, Mr. Oche John, said he was temporarily relocating to his family house in Benue State as he could not bear the effect the lockdown would have on his family for the next 14 days.
Oche said he could not imagine how he would survive in Abuja while the curfew lasts.
In Ogun State, the residents of Abeokuta, the state’s capital, also resorted to panic buying in preparations for the lockdown.
A trader at the Olomore Market in Abeokuta, Alhaja Adijat Adigun, said she learnt that her business was included in the banned lists of food items that would not be allowed into the state, hence she has hiked the price.
THISDAY also gathered that commercial vehicles, especially the inter-state operators, have mounted pressure on their leaders in the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to meet with Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, with a view to relaxing the restrictions on them.
Ahead of the lockdown, the Ogun State Police Command in alliance with operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) have begun full implementation of the closure of Nigeria’s borders with the Republic of Benin and neigbouring states of Lagos, Oyo, Osun, and Ondo.
THISDAY sighted the security operatives at the Lagos-Ogun boundaries at Sango and the Sagamu interchange.
It was also observed that the security operatives mounted roadblock at the Ijebu-Ode entry point from the Benin-Ore-Sagamu expressway.
In Agege and several other parts of Lagos, the partial lockdown by the state government has effectively reduced business activities, except for those dealing in foodstuffs.
The same situation also applied in Ikeja where the heavy presence of security operatives ensured that traders did not open their shops.