Prior to the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there already existed in Nigeria, some legal framework associated with pandemics. Some actions currently being undertaken by the courts, Federal and State Governments, are grounded on such framework already in existence.
This work is targeted at appraising some of those laws, with a view to unearthing the many legal challenges of our time, and creating room for a better anti-covid-19 legal regime. Make no mistake about it. The current ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, has changed the face of the world forever. Mark my prophetic words: The world we left behind in March, is totally different from the world we just entered into.
The Legal Framework of Covid-19?
The legal framework is embedded in the following laws:
The Quarantine Act, Cap Q2 LFN, 2004
The Quarantine Act came into force in Nigeria on 26th May, 1926, to regulate quarantine matters, prevent the introduction, spread and transmission to, from, and within Nigeria, of dangerous infectious diseases. The Act is currently undergoing amendment by the National Assembly, in a dangerous form, which I have since rejected and described as containing “satanic verses”.
Section 2 of the Act provides that: “dangerous infectious disease” means cholera, plague, yellow fever, smallpox and typhus, and includes any disease of an infectious or contagious nature which the President may, by notice, declare to be a dangerous infectious disease within the meaning of this Act.”
Section 4 provides that the President may make regulations for, inter alia, prescribing steps to be taken within Nigeria upon any place, declared to be an infected local area”. He may do this by proscribing the introduction and preventing the spread of any dangerous infectious disease into Nigeria or any part thereof from any place without Nigeria, whether such place is an infected local area or not; preventing the transmission of any dangerous infectious disease from Nigeria to any place outside Nigeria; prescribing the powers and duties of officers in charge of carrying out such regulations; and also provide sanitary stations, buildings and equipment for such. He can also fix the fees and charges to be paid for matters connected with the regulations; and also prescribe penalties. Under the Act, where regulations under Section 4 have not been made by the President, then, the Governor of a State may make such, subject to the same conditions and limitations imposed on Mr President.
Issues Arising from the Quarantine Act
Perhaps due to the fact that this antiquated law came into force in 1923, contemporary issues were not reflected in it. The following are some of them:
Mode of Transportation
If an area is quarantined as provided by the Act, should members of the public not enter into pubic vehicles? If they do, how many persons should be permitted?
Purchase of Goods and Services?
The Act fails to explain how citizens would survive when an area is under quarantine in relation to purchasing food, goods and services, which human beings survive on.
Caring for Citizens during Lockdown
The Quarantine Act has no provisions for payment of salary to workers who are quarantined, and thus, unable to work.
Mr President’s Covid-19 regulations did not provide for funds for the upkeep of indigent Nigerians; payment of workers’ salaries; downsizing of workers when the need arises; and how to improve the social capital of citizens during quarantine periods.
Section 8 of the Quarantine Act makes it clear that the President must allow State Governors formulate polices that protect the airspace and sea space of their States, for the good of the people. Such decisions of the States should therefore, be made to take precedence over decisions of Mr President, due to the proximity of State Governments to the people. We witnessed the ugly scenario that unfolded between the Federal Government and Rivers State Government, regarding flights that forcibly landed in Port Harcourt. Such is antithetical to Federalism.
The National Population Commission Act
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has been debating issues about population control. Many people across the world believe that the virus outbreak was deliberately orchestrated by a group of people (led by Bill Gates), who desire depopulation of the world. Section 6 of the National Population Commission Act states the powers of the Commission regarding enumeration, census, surveys, registration of births and deaths, house numbering, population information data; and advising Mr President on population matters.
The deficit is that, the Act failed to emphasise the importance of population control and makes no provisions for what the President should do to control population. The law also does not state the critical role expected of citizens, in controlling astronomical population growth.
Overpopulation is a huge challenge in our contemporary world, as it affects the quality of life. The Act failed to treat this. Fearing population explosion in China, the Chinese government implemented a “one-child-per family” policy, birth control programmes and incentives for families with fewer children. Can the law intervene in Nigeria in this regard? Discuss please.
The Social Development Act
The Social Development Act, 1972, is a law that establishes the Social Development division of the Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity.
Section 2 of the Act prescribes, inter alia, functions that include co-ordination of inter-governmental and inter-state social development activities; training of professional social workers; international casework and adoption inquiries; relations with voluntary organisations at national and international levels; overseas and national repatriations; organisation of national youth activities; and maintenance of the National Relief and Rehabilitation Agency.
Section 2 of the Act, requires immediate amendment. With the outbreak of Covid-19, the health consciousness and social responsibilities of citizens during and after an outbreak (such as Covid-19), have to be captured in a subsequent amendment.
Such should also provide for the rights and liabilities of citizens to meet with their social responsibilities brought about by health pandemic, such as Covid-19.
Section 3 of the Act, also requires urgent amendment. The National Advisory Committee should be able to appoint a team of experienced human capital development experts with in-depth knowledge on social capital matters, regarding how best to manage any sudden negative impact on citizens caused by outbreaks of pandemics, such as Covid-19.
The National Economic Reconstruction Fund Act
The National Economic Reconstruction Fund Act, 1989, established the National Economic Reconstruction Fund, to correct inadequacies in the provision of medium to long-term financing to small and medium-scale industrial enterprises; provide medium and long-term credit to commercial banks for on-lending; and for matters connected therewith.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, small and medium scale enterprises in Nigeria, have been hard hit the most in Nigeria.
This Act requires urgent amendment, so that its elaborate aims and objectives in Section 2 shall include provisions for loans for small and medium scale businesses, during government-ordered lockdowns.
Similarly, Section 2 thereof should also be amended to include provision of loans and social welfare packages for citizens during lockdowns or forced quarantine.
New emergent socio-economic and political challenges, rapid medical and technological advancement, raise multifarious moral and legal questions. These occurrences in a new post Covid-19 world order now necessitate constant reforms of our laws, to ensure that our justice system meets with these new unaccustomed challenges.
Lord Denning, MR, it was, who once famously said, in PARKER v PARKER (2003) All ER (D) 421:
“What is the argument on the other side? Only this, that no case has been found in which it has been done before. That argument does not appeal to me in the least. If we never do anything which has not been done before, we shall never get anywhere. The law will stand still while the rest of the world goes on, and that will be bad for both”.
Covid-19 has thus, afforded us a historic opportunity to think outside the box. NOW.
Farewell, Glanville Abibo, SAN – An Elegy
Glanville Isetima Abibo, SAN’s death is hurtful and traumatic to me as a person. It gave me an unpleasant “delayed shock”. I had met Glanville for the first time about February, 2017. Himself, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN and my humble self, formed a troika, working together for, and defending some common clients. I met a man who was at once luminous, pleasant and unassuming. Abibo wore humility like a second skin. Nothing seemed to hurt, bother or strain him. His affability and geniality, shone like a million stars. His friendliness was simply infectious. He laughed always, at times, with a guffaw. He expressed himself more in rib-cracking pidgin (broken) English, in the studied format of a “home boy”, with native intelligence. He was simply gregarious and effervescent, bubbling with the sap of life like a yam tendril in the rainy season (thank you, Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart”).
Glanville had a bagfull of wisecracks and sheer wittism. “O boy, leave mata”, was his common dismissive reaction to issues that troubled us as a team.
His selflessness and generosity, were nullus secondus. It was Abibo who first took Adedipe, SAN, and I, in 2018, to a restaurant on Awolowo road, Ikoyi, Lagos, to eat abula meal, a Yoruba delicacy, comprising ewedu (draw vegetable soup), obe ata (stew) and gbegiri (bean soup); all mixed together as a cocktail. This favourite meal of mine has since metamorphosed into a national menu in the genre of edikangikong, tuwo shinkafa, ofe onugbo, omhi saghue, efo riro, afang, egusi, ogbono, jollof rice, miyan kuka, nkwobi, etc.
Abibo was always calm, tranquil, extremely hardworking, intelligent and penetratingly analytical. His forthright and courageous approach to legal matters greatly endeared him to me, such that we became close friends. Abibo was classy, sartorial, urbane, debonair, avuncular and accommodating. He was simply a good Homo sapiens.
His transition is an irreplaceable loss to the NBA, the Okrika and Rivers State people, and the entire legal profession. Abibo’s contributions to the legal profession, humanitarian causes, young Lawyers and youth mentorship, can never be forgotten. They are simply in-erasable.
This is the great man, that the cold hands of death have snatched away. Just like that. But, death itself must die one day. Said John Donne, “death, thou too shall die”.
Glanville, you have “fought the good fight; finished the race and have kept the faith” [2 Tim 4:7]. Your survivors must therefore, take solace in the words of Bhudda: “even death is not to be feared, by one who has lived wisely”. O death, where is thy sting? O death, thou art ashamed. Glanville, you have gone to rest in the eternal bosom of the Lord, free from the daily stress of this vain-glorious world of iniquity, vanity and futility. Yes, in the words of David Mazzuchelli, “life is stressful, dear. That’s why they say, Rest in Peace”.
My dear friend, brother, colleague and companion, REST IN PERFECT PEACE, till we meet to part no more. AMEN. For his lovely wife, children, extended family, friends, associates, and community that Abibo left behind, be consoled that he lived a fruitful life worthy of emulation. Adieu Glanville. Farewell, Isetima.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable”. (Louis D. Brandeis).