All those who wilfully breached the law must be sanctioned

In a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, the federal government had since March 2020 put in place a number of measures. A Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 was established headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. The committee has also on daily basis given updates, including conditions to be strictly followed by Nigerians as government implements the partial lockdown of the country. The conditions for partial lockdown include ban on inter-state travels, ban on public gathering as well as ban on both local and international air travels.

However, some recent events in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) appear to show a clear breach of these conditions. Two examples will suffice here. One, a musician, Azeez Fashola, popularly known as Naira Marley, flew from Lagos to Abuja to perform despite restrictions on air travels and gathering of crowds. The event, a ‘drive-in concert’, held at Jabi Lake Mall car park with tickets sold for between N20,000 and N250,000. Not surprisingly, attendees defied the social distancing order as stipulated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). In the wake of that scandal, the federal government suspended ExecuJet, the airline that conveyed Marley to the Abuja concert. According to the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, the flight was approved for a different purpose.

But perhaps the bigger breach of the presidential order to contain the spread of COVID-19 happened right in the seat of government, Aso Rock. It was brought to light with the face-off between the First Lady and a presidential aide who travelled to Lagos at a time other Nigerians were placed on restrictions. While we are not interested in the altercations between the different Aso Rock factions, questions must be raised about why some public officials act as though above the law that bounds other Nigerians without any consequences. Impression is now gaining ground that the lockdown and restriction orders were designed only for poor people.

These two examples clearly indicate a gross violation of the rules spelt out by the Presidential Task Force to curb the spread of the pandemic and the proclamation by President Buhari. Although the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) authority sealed off the premises of Abuja Lake Mall for the concert held by Marley, it will still need to find out who among its officials gave approval for the concert in the first place. In the case of Naira Marley, there is the real need for a proper investigation of what really transpired. Appropriate sanctions must also be meted to whoever is found culpable.

In a democratic environment, all public officials must be accountable to the law. That responsibility falls more on those who serve at the highest echelon of government. At all times and in all circumstances, they must be seen to be above board. A situation in which presidential aides are the ones cynically breaking the law made by their principal is unacceptable. There must also be a strict adherence to high standards of professional code of ethics and conduct of security personnel in Nigeria’s number one seat of power.

Perhaps because of President Buhari’s laidback approach to critical national issues, it is little surprise that we have witnessed an inexplicable retreat of federal authority in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that still does not excuse the recklessness that we see across the country today. The time has therefore come for the president to assert his authority to check the drunken rampage of those who display scant regards for the regulations he put in place to help the country overcome the challenge of COVID-19. And his charity must begin at home!