Soyinka, others disagree on lockdown of Lagos, Ogun over coronavirus
• APC chieftain, Muslim group back BuhariMixed reactions yesterday trailed the lockdown of Lagos and the Ogun States by President Muhammadu Buhari as part of efforts to check the spread of the ravaging coronavirus.
In a nationwide broadcast on Sunday, Buhari who based his action on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), directed the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT and said the order would apply to Ogun State due to its proximity to Lagos.
But in his reaction to the directive, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka yesterday described the total lockdown of Lagos and Ogun by President Buhari over the coronavirus 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.
“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 conflict of the orders 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.”
Senator Dino Melaye, who represented Kogi West in the eighth and part of ninth Senate, said it was absurd for Buhari to allegedly take over the affairs of any state of the federation without the express approval of the House of Assembly.
According to him, Nigeria is practising constitutional democracy and it is out of place for the president to unilaterally do what he has done.
“You will recall that I had a broadcast one week ago asking for the lockdown of Abuja and Lagos. This buttresses the fact that I support measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, but it must be done in accordance with the law.
“In the presidential broadcast, Buhari did not invoke his power of emergency as prescribed by Section 305 of the Constitution of Nigeria, and even if invoked, it must be with the approval of the National Assembly.
“The President acted outside his powers to restrict movement without the approval of the National Assembly. I, therefore, advise Mr. President to take appropriate constitutional steps and do the needful quickly as we need the lockdown.
This is a very important decision but must be done in line with all democratic norms.”
Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Adamawa State, Dr. Umar Ardo, said that President Buhari under the prevailing circumstances ought to have ordered a total lockdown of the entire country.
He said the president should not wait for a disaster before making the right decision.
Speaking with The Guardian, Ardo described Buhari’s speech as “not fully thought through.”
“Why shut down only Lagos, Ogun and Abuja? Is the president telling us that all the 97 cases he mentioned are exclusive to only these three cities? This tells you that the strategy is defective ab initio,” he said.
He advised Nigerians to become self-watchers by taking to advice and instructions of health experts.
The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere described the lockdown as lacking human face, saying the people concerned should have been given a few days notice.
In a statement by its National Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, the group also decried lack of stimulus package for the citizens beyond the NPower earners and students who have since been asked to go home.
Afenifere, which noted that the presidential broadcast on Covid-19 was overdue, said: “We honestly cannot fathom why it took so long for such to come. The only thing new in it was the locking down of FCT, Lagos and Ogun states. The rest of the broadcast is about washing hands and sneezing on elbows and handkerchiefs. While we agree that a lockdown is necessary at this point, it should not have been done as if we were shutting down barracks under 24 hours. The people should have been given a few days notice so they could get themselves prepared for a shutdown.
“It is also a big shame that a rich country like Nigeria has been badly run over the years, and up till the time we issued this directive, it cannot afford any serious stimulus package for its citizens beyond moratorium for NPower earners.”
However, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Director-General of the party’s governors’ forum, Dr. Salihu Lukman, threw his weight behind President Buhari’s lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states as well as the FCT.
Lukman, in a statement, faulted the PDP and Ebunoluwa Adegboruwa (SAN) who allegedly declared that the measures announced by the President were illegal and unconstitutional.
The PGF chief argued that the decision by the President was borne out of the urgent need to protect the citizenry against the threat posed by COVID-19 in line with international best practices.
“Clearly, these responses completely ignore the gravity of the challenges and imagine that the problems can be reduced to politics and legal arguments. They all miss the point, very conveniently, that the world, including Nigeria, is fighting a war that is a threat to human life in a manner that the world has never experienced before.
“It is an unconventional challenge such that the enemy, Covid-19, doesn’t respect politics, legality or recourse to any form of interest. It was, in fact, in recognition of this that the President declared that we were all as individuals the ‘greatest weapon to fight’ the war.”
Also, the National Council of Muslim Youths Organisations (NACOMYO), Southern Zone, yesterday commended President Buhari for ordering the lockdown for 14 days, saying it was a right step taken to stop the further spread of the virus to other states in Nigeria.
The group also said it had suspended its upcoming Dawah retreat and other major activities in compliance with the government directive.
In a statement, the Southern Zonal Chairman, who doubles as the National Vice President 1, Abdul Mojeed Momoh, and the Zonal Secretary, Mustapha Balogun, said that as a critical stakeholder in the religious circles, the group had suspended its major activities, including the forthcoming eighth southern zonal Dawah retreat scheduled to hold in Ogun State.
The Muslim youth commended the federal and state governments, particularly the governments of Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Edo states, “for their broad-based and proactive steps in containing the spread of the pandemic.”