The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), says President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of the lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun to help stop the spread of Coronavirus in the country is valid, legal and enforceable.
Malami said this in a statement he issued on Monday in Abuja while reacting to Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), on his criticism of President Buhari’s proclamation on restriction of movement on account of COVID-19.
Buhari in a nationwide address on Sunday ordered a lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja over the spread of COVID-19 with effect from 11pm on Monday for 14 days.
Malami said: “Mr Olu-Adegboruwa is wrong and misconstrued the law of sections 5, 14, 20 and 45 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Sections 2, 6 and 8 of the Quarantine Act, as well as Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 11 on Human and Peoples Rights which make the declaration by His Excellency the President, valid, legal and enforceable.
“Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa had claimed that the president lacked the powers to restrict movements in any part of the country without the consent of the National Assembly.
“I wish to note that he did not state any constitutional or statutory provision which the president has breached in the present circumstances.
“It is important to inform the discerning members of the public 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 Houses of the National Assembly.”
Malami said 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.
He said 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.
He said: “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 corona virus 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.”
Malami said the patriotic step taken by the President in overriding national interest has been subjected to attack for allegedly being illegal.
He said: “The correct position remains that the President acted legally under the powers conferred on him by the Quarantine Act 1990 CAP 384 LFN whose Long Title reads:
“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.
“It is not in doubt that COVID-19 is an infectious disease of a contagious nature which the president has rightly declared under Section 2 of the Quarantine Act to be a dangerous infectious disease.
“Section 3 of the Act enables the president to declare any part of Nigeria as an infected area. Section 4 of the Act further empowers the president to make regulations to prevent the introduction, spread and transmission of any dangerous infectious disease.
“Section 6 of the Act requires the President and State Governors to provide sanitary stations, buildings and equipment.
“In recognition of the critical roles being played by the state governors in these trying times, the federal government has been working with the States in line with the dictates of Section 6 of the Act.
“To this end the federal government is providing a financial stimulus to the Lagos State Government in the sum of N10 billion and to the NCDC in the sum of N6.5 billion for the benefit of the entire 36 States and the FCT.
“I also wish to draw the attention of the public to the provisions of Section 8 of the Quarantine Act which clearly gives high precedence to the President above State Governors in responding to matters of public health.”
The AGF said no role is conferred on the State Houses of Assembly under the Act.
Section 8 reads thus: “If and to the extent that any declaration under section 2 or 3 of this Act has not been made, and to the extent that regulations under section 4 of this Act have not been made by the President, power to make any such declaration and to make such regulations may be exercised in respect of a State, by the governor thereof as fully as such power may be exercised by the President, and subject to the same conditions and limitations.
“The President has notified the concerned States and the total restriction of movement as ordered by the President has not been previously made or implemented in any of the affected areas (Lagos, Ogun and FCT).
“It is therefore erroneous and mischievous for anyone to claim that the President is usurping the powers of State Governors and State Houses of Assembly.”
Malami said the foregoing is strengthened by the fact that Quarantine is one of the items under the Exclusive Legislative List under the 1999 Constitution, which means that a State House of Assembly cannot legislate on it.
He said: “The above notwithstanding, going by the doctrine of covering the field, the President did not violate any law.
“The provisions of the Quarantine Act above enjoy constitutional backing under Section 45(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution being a law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of public health.
“Furthermore, it is common knowledge that COVID-19 is a global pandemic that is crippling nations and economies, therefore, stringent measures at the national level are required.
“This is not a situation whereby the federal government is expected to wait for state governments to act first.”
Malami said that the International Treaties to which Nigeria is signatory, recognise the need to depart or derogate from fundamental rights.
He added: “Especially freedom of movement obligations in deserving situations such as public health – see Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
“It is also remarkable to note that the President has so far acted in accordance with the executive powers of the Federation conferred on him under Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the provisions of Section 14(2)(b) which provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
“In the same vein Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) requires the State to protect the environment and safeguard the water, air and land of the country.”
Malami said this was not the time for technicalities or legal theatrics rather it is a time to stay safe and stay alive.
He said: “I therefore enjoin all persons, entities and authorities to ensure strict compliance with the restriction order and the exemptions thereto as issued by the President in the overall good of our people and dear nation.”