Osinbajo, Soyinka clash on COVID-19 lockdown
• VP says criticism of presidential order pointless
• Reps donate two months’ salaries to fight pandemic
• ICPC warns corrupt persons to steer clear of funds
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has disagreed with Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka and others who have questioned the legality of the presidential order restricting movement in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States.
Lawyers like Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa and Femi Falana also faulted the lockdown , following the announcement on Sunday. Osinbajo, however, maintained that the move by President Muhammadu Buhari is important and backed by extant laws.
“I am not so sure some of the people who have commented on the issue have come across the Quarantine Act. There is a Quarantine Act of 1926. It’s been published in all of the Laws of Nigeria, every edition of the Laws of Nigeria, it is there.”
Referring specifically to the part of the legislation that empowers the president to order restrictions to movement in any part the country, Osinbajo said: “What the Act does is that it allows the president to designate any local area, any part of the country, as a place that may be infected or under the threat of a communicable disease. He can then make regulations of any kind.
“For instance, he can say people should not go out; no public gatherings etc. So, it is a regulation that gives the president powers, and these powers come from the National Assembly because, of course, it is an Act of the National Assembly.”
The vice president made the disclosure in Abuja on Monday while responding to questions at the Google Hangout programme organised by HACK COVID-19 Call Centre, a private sector initiative supporting Nigeria’s battle against the pandemic.
The worst development I can conceive is to have a situation where rational measures for the containment of the Corona pandemic are rejected on account of their questionable genesis. This is a time for Unity of Purpose, not nitpicking dissensions. So, before this becomes a habit, a question: does President Buhari have the powers to close down state borders? We want clear answers. We are not in a war emergency – Soyinka
“The president has extensive powers under the Quarantine Act of 1926. Also, governors have extensive powers under the same Quarantine Act,” Osinbajo said.
He urged individuals and groups to peruse the legislation, to understand the provisions therein, noting: “It is barely a one-page legislation, so it is not particularly difficult to find the relevant provisions, and it is not particularly difficult to read, very straightforward. So, the president has all the powers.”
He further said confronting the pandemic was an effort requiring the cooperation of all Nigerians.“We must see this as a joint effort. Everyone is involved in this. It really is an all-Nigeria effort and I am happy that everyone is responding,” he said.
Asked how the administration was supporting the most vulnerable during the restriction to movement, Osinbajo said Buhari had established the Economic Sustainability Committee, “which he has asked me to chair.”
He said the committee would take care of the economic challenges and fallouts of the pandemic in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States. He also said the committee would develop further palliatives, and a sustainability plan to reposition the economy and grow the non-oil sector.
He added: “Part of the work of the Economic Sustainability Committee is to look at some of the concerns that affect the poor, especially in the context of what has already been done and the data that we already have on informal workers and informal traders, and how to implement some strategy that will be able to alleviate the sufferings of the poor (and the informal workforce) at this time, and integrate some of the data that we have in other respects.”
In his reaction on Monday to the lockdown order by Buhari, Soyinka described it as illegal and unconstitutional.Soyinka, in a statement, said the president did not have the powers to unilaterally lock down a state, as there was no war or emergency.
In the statement titled “Between COVID and Constitutional Encroachment,” Soyinka said “constitutional lawyers and our elected representatives should kindly step into this and educate us, mere lay minds.
I am not so sure some of the people who have commented on the issue have come across the Quarantine Act. There is a Quarantine Act of 1926. It’s been published in all of the Laws of Nigeria, every edition of the Laws of Nigeria, it is there. It is a regulation that gives the president powers, and these powers come from the National Assembly because, of course, it is an Act of the National Assembly – Osinbajo
“The worst development I can conceive is to have a situation where rational measures for the containment of the Corona pandemic are rejected on account of their questionable genesis.
“This is a time for Unity of Purpose, not nitpicking dissensions. So, before this becomes a habit, a question: does President Buhari have the powers to close down state borders? We want clear answers. We are not in a war emergency.
“Appropriately focused on measures for the saving lives, and committed to making sacrifices for the preservation of our communities, we should nonetheless remain alert to any encroachment on constitutionally demarcated powers. We need to exercise collective vigilance, and not compromise the future by submitting to interventions that are not backed by law and constitution.”
According to Soyinka, “a president who had been conspicuously AWOL, the Rip van Winkle of Nigerian history, is now alleged to have woken up after a prolonged siesta, and begun to issue orders.
“Who actually instigates these orders anyway? From where do they really emerge? What happens when the orders conflict with state measures, the product of a systematic containment strategy – `including even trial-and-error and hiccups – undertaken without let or leave of the Centre. So far, the anti-COVID-19 measures have proceeded along the rails of decentralised thinking, multilateral collaboration and technical exchanges between states.
“The Centre is obviously part of the entire process, and one expects this to be the norm, even without the epidemic’s frontal assault on the Presidency itself. Indeed, the Centre is expected to drive the overall effort, but in collaboration, with extraordinary budgeting and refurbishing of facilities.”
Soyinka advised: “The universal imperative and urgency of this affliction should not become an opportunistic launch pad for a sneak re-centralisation, no matter how seemingly insignificant its appearance. I urge governors and legislators to be especially watchful. No epidemic is ever cured with constitutional piracy. It only lays down new political viruses for the future.”
The FCT administration, meanwhile, has begun enforcing the restriction to movement. Many streets were deserted. Personnel from the military, police, Civil Defence Corps and Federal Road Safety Commission were seen manning strategic positions around the city centre.
“We will not allow any individual or groups, as a result of their inability to honour this medical advice, to jeopardise the health of many,” warned FCT Minister Mohammed Musa Bello.
But many residents in Kaduna, Kaduna State yesterday defied the 24-hour restriction to movement put in place by Governor Nasir El-Rufai.At the Kawo Market for instance, buyers and sellers moved about freely, while security operatives posted to enforce looked on.
“The curfew has brought hunger and tiredness. We are doing nothing at home. I have come out to sell to the people. People are hungry and as a trader, I don’t have money to feed my family until I sell my goods,” said one Hassan, a tomato trader.
Reacting to the development, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) issued a statement signed by Publicity Secretary Abraham Alberah Catoh, which said: “Realising that hunger is another dangerous disease, the party makes a passionate but strong appeal to the government to effect an intermittent but controlled relaxation of the curfew currently in force, to allow people to either stock or re-stock household needs like foodstuffs, drugs etc.”
Also, to contain the pandemic, Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila yesterday announced that the 360 members of the chamber had donated two months’ salaries.
“Our contribution will support provisions for the welfare of frontline medical professionals and health workers, and other interventions to provide for the wellbeing of all Nigerians through these trying times.
“Accordingly, I have directed the Clerk to the National Assembly to see to it that all members’ salaries are transferred to the National Relief Fund for this month and the next,” the Speaker said.
This came as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) warned that unscrupulous persons might take advantage of the fight against COVID-19.
“Responding to this or any other emergency or implementation of government policy should not increase integrity deficit or risky behaviour,” spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, said in Abuja yesterday.
“The noble desire of government to ameliorate the pain of citizens in these difficult times should not be converted to another rue de la corruption. COVID-19 should not be used as excuse for corruption in any sector of the economy.
“This very attitude of greed and impunity is what has consistently undermined positive outcomes from otherwise well thought-out national response programmes and laid-out plans that covered everything except keeping corruption in implementation at bay,” she added.