COVID-19: The Lockdown and The Law – By Barrister Aminu Yahuza
2019 ended with a pandemic called novel corona virus popularly known as Covid 19, it first appeared in in China in one city called Wuhan. It later spread throughout the world taking economic and social activities to halt, it spread like a wild fire and it is symptoms are not usually known unless it spends twelve days in one’s body system, this make it deadlier than any other epidemics the world recorded in the recent history.
The whole world is in confusion as to how to contain the virus, the virus keep surging, killing a number of people every day across the globe. Health experts globally are on the fore front fighting the virus putting their best in terms of taken care of the people who contracted the virus and on the other hand given scientific advice on how to eliminate the virus. In some of the advises they gave they said that people should be practicing social distancing and where the situation worsened they even suggested that people should be ordered to stay at home, China practiced this and is successfully containing the virus.
In Nigeria some few cases emerged long after countries like Italy and China have suffered physically, economically and emotionally, during that period there were calls from concern Nigerians that our borders be closed to stop the possible spread of the virus by people who might have contact with it outside the country and if not prevented will come back and infect us at home, for some reasons known only to the government the borders were not closed on time.
Suddenly the virus is in Nigeria and the number of people being diagnosed with it is going higher every day, the cases are more prevalent in Lagos and Abuja with some other few cases in some states. This prompt the governors of some states in the federation to make a proclamation banning people from other state from coming in to their states or within the state from coming out from their homes (i.e. Kaduna state) and as expected people are crying and complaining that life will be unbearable to them with the lockdown since most of the Nigerian population are leaving on daily earnings and some legal experts are of the opinion that the proclamation is a clear breach of the fundamental rights of the citizens to freely associate and move under sections 37 (the right to private and family life), section 38 (right to freedom of thought conscience and religion section 39 (right to freedom of expression and the press, section 40 (right to peaceful assembly and association and 41 (right to freedom of movement.
However the declaration of the state emergency is made possible whenever the need arises both in our domestic laws and under the international law. A state of emergency is a situation in which the government is empowered to perform actions or perform policies it would normally not be permitted to undertake and it is normally declared when there is any natural disaster, civil unrest, armed conflict, medical pandemic or epidemic or other biosecurity.
Looking at the matter from the international perspective one may find that international law literatures on human rights have recognized the practice and made some provisions guiding the procedure for declaration of state of emergency by member state for example under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) some guidelines were given on what member states’ law shall embody on the declaration of states of emergency. Some of the principles are: temporality, exceptional threat, declaration, communication, proportionality, legality and intangibility. Many countries have incorporated this either in their constitution or in any other law within their domestic laws.
In Nigeria the power to make the proclamation is derived from the constitution, sections 45 and 305 respectively conferred the power on the president and make provisions for state governors to make request to declare same in their states provided there are compelling situations.
Section 45(1) states
‘’nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 (which are all dealing fundamental rights of citizens) of this constitution shall invalidate any law that is justifiable in a democratic society-
(a) In the interest of defense, public safety, public order and morality or public health
Section 305 further reiterates the position of section 45 and it states
305(1) subject to the provision of this constitution, the president may by instrument published in the official gazette of the government of the federation issue a proclamation of a state of emergency in the federation or any part thereof.
The section went further to make the power exercisable by president on the request of the state governor under subsection (4) of section 305.
It is clear that declaration of state of emergency is a position recognized by the laws operating in Nigeria and under the International Law when there is justification for it of it, just like the situation we are in now. Because allowing people to continue with their daily transaction will jeopardize the health of all and restricting movements will help in curving the spread of it as advised by health experts and it has been practiced in china and it yielded result.
However government may take measures to palliate the possible suffering the proclamation may cause to the larger part of the Nigerian population who according World Bank live below 2 dollars a day.
BARRSITER AMINU YAHUZA MARABAR MUSAWA WRITES FROM KANO
And can be reached on 09031150419, email@example.com