Coronavirus Lockdown: Public Safety Over Legal Quibbling


Tunde Rahman

Coronavirus is biting nations hard. Across the globe, the number of infections rises daily; lives and nations are being torn apart. Global cases exceed one million mark with over 50,000 deaths. In Nigeria, COVID-19 cases had risen close to 200. The daily increase is worrisome. If we do not quickly arrest the rate of increase, we might soon face what is unanswerable. Just a few weeks ago, America faced 15 deaths. Now, it has suffered over 6000. Nigeria has lost two people to coronavirus. We must do all that is possible so we do not lose any more. No one country is immune to this dangerous disease.

Only those nations that have moved quickly and decisively have avoided the full brunt of this disease. For example, despite its proximity to China, Vietnam has experienced surprisingly few cases. This is because that nation moved quickly to shut its common border with China and to lockdown areas susceptible to the viral invasion. It is more beneficial to public safety that we act more in accord with the Vietnamese model than we dawdle and tarry like many other nations have done. Those that tarried are the new crises centers that are experiencing rapid increases in cases and fatalities.

But for the serious preventive and containment measures by the federal and state governments, including the restrictions on people movement and the lockdown in some states and Abuja, perhaps we would have been talking about even grimmer statistics of the pandemic. We have all seen the consequences of vacillation and delay as exemplified by the cases of some European countries, notably Italy and Spain. By the time Italy realized what was upon it, the huge fatalities had become inevitable. Coronavirus has killed more than 30,000 in Europe, more than three-quarters of the deaths recorded in Italy and Spain according to the AFP. By Wednesday, a total of 30,063 deaths were recorded in Europe (12, 428 of them in Italy) out of 458,601 cases, making the continent the hardest hit by COVID-19.

No stone should be left unturned in combating this clear and existential danger. In his broadcast to the nation last Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a lockdown in Lagos, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja for two weeks. Underscoring his seriousness in tackling the pandemic, the president also used his executive powers to approve new COVID-19 regulations. President Buhari, in my view, deserves commendation for his resolve and actions taken so far to tackle this public health crisis. Despite acting to save lives, the president came under immediate criticism for the lockdown by some commentators including Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka and lawyers Messers Femi Falana and Ebun Adegboruwa, claiming he lacked such powers to act as he did because the nation is not at war.

First, his critics claimed he had done nothing and had not spoken to the nation. When he acted and spoke, they cried he did too much. But I ask what lesser thing would they have him do? Why would they seek for him to do less to ensure public safety? It seems that some people have taken on themselves the vocation of perennial complainers. Whatever is done would not meet their approval. The water is either always too hot or too cold. Without complaining they have nothing to contribute. They proffer no solutions; they only complain about measures intended to safeguard the people.

The entire world faces an unprecedented public health emergency. As in all other nations, extraordinary measures are required in Nigeria. By virtue of his position, our constitution and public health laws, President Buhari is cloaked with the emergency powers similar to those of other world leaders. All such leaders were enabled to issue lockdowns by virtue of their executive powers. Yet, somehow these domestic critics claim that in times of emergency that the Nigerian president lacks the essential executive powers provided to every other world head of state. This view is indefensible particularly given this situation.This is not the time, in my view, to be pettifogging or to engage in empty legalism for the sake of empty legalism. Confronting COVID-19 demands that nations embark on innovative measures, some of which may abridge rights during the period of emergency.

Moreover, in their rush to complain, they blinded themselves to the fact that the president is expressly empowered to act as he did. The Quarantine Act allows the president “to designate any local area, indeed any part of the country as a place that may be infected or under the threat of a communicable disease and then make regulations of any kind.” Thus, the lockdown is a measure defensible under our national laws and one recommended by international health experts as among the most effective public health measures a government can take to halt the spread of the virus at its early stages. Thank goodness the vast majority of ordinary people understand the gravity of what we face. They endorse the presidential action because they know it is intended to protect them.

Acknowledging the exigency of this intervention, some have even further recommended that the stay-at-home order be extended to other states with frightful cases of coronavirus in order to prevent further spread. This recommendation is particularly relevant to Osun State. Narrating his predicament in a television interview, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola said some indigenes of the state residing in Cote D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso had chosen to return home in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak. They came into the country through the Seme Border. Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State provided them escort to guide the returnees to the border with Osun to eventually enter the state. They were quickly quarantined by the Osun State Government at the state’s Isolation Centre in Ejigbo and subjected to COVID-19 tests. Lo and behold, out of the results of initial 24 samples returned from a total of 127 persons who arrived the state, three had tested positive by Tuesday. By Wednesday, the number had risen to 12; 20 by Friday and still counting at present.

From all intents and purposes, the state may be battling a coronavirus situation comparable to the case of FCT, Abuja, if not Lagos. This is where Osun needs the Federal Government’s decisive intervention. The coronavirus pandemic has further demonstrated how the world is interconnected. The disease, which emanated from one region of the world, has snowballed to endanger the entire world. The challenge for Osun, as I see it, is how to cope with such a gargantuan health crisis. It is high time the lockdown was extended to cover Osun and other states facing similar problems. Governor Oyetola had earlier put in place a curfew that covers the entire state in a bid to contain further spread of the pandemic, but state laws may not cover inter-state movements. Here again, we are confronted with another obstructive legal jigsaw.

Point is Osun needs the Federal Government’s critical intervention. The state urgently needs funds and food and medicine supplies. Only the federal government can provide this scale of assistance. The complainers will complain not so much because of the quality of the decisions reached but because they were not included or consulted in the decisional process. This is the way of politics as practiced in normal times.

These times are anything but normal. This type of politics has no space now. Now is time for people to offer helpful suggestions that will save lives and society. We should listen to good ideas no matter from what corner they come. But to complain for complaining sake is to be insensitive to the danger that we all face.
––Rahman, Media Adviser to APC National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was formerly Editor, THISDAY on Sunday Newspaper.