Legal Justification of President Buhari’s Declaration.
On 29 March, 2020 the Presidency made a publication of the declaration of restriction of movement within the triumvirate of Ogun State, Lagos State, and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). The declaration came in wake of the steady upsurge of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country particularly, within the three (3) States. As rather customary of the President Buhari’s administration, the move has created a fuss within the Nigerian polity, this time, begging the question as to the constitutionality of the President’s declaration.
While I commend the learned silks in the country whose drive towards ensuring the protection of democracy and upholding of Rule of Law has been invariant, it must be said that the declaration of restriction of movement in Ogun, Lagos and Abuja, has a legal backing and it is in no way unconstitutional.
The declaration by the President has been confused as a declaration of ‘state of emergency’ on the three (3) States, which is not so. The President, in his publication stated “Restriction of Movement”, which if scrutinized under the extant laws in the country is legal.
A combined reading of Sections 3 and 4 (a and c) of the Quarantine Act, 1926 is a testament to the powers of the President to make any regulation reasonable to prevent the spread of any dangerous infectious disease from any place
within Nigeria, whether an infected local area or not, to any other place within
Nigeria. The President in his statement stated “Restriction of Movement ” which is evident that he has not declared a state of Emergency in anyway.
It is in no doubt that the President deem it fit to declare restriction of movement in other to contain the deadly from spreading across the Federation, when he said: _”Based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11pm on Monday, 30th March 2020…We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases. We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other States”._
Assuming but not conceding that the president declared state of Emergency, by virtue of section 305 of Nigerian Constitution particularly subsection 2, which reads thus; “The president shall immediately after the publication, transmit copies of the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation containing the proclamation including the details of the emergency to the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, each of whom shall forthwith convene or arrange for a meeting of the House of which the he is President or Speaker, as the case may be, to consider the situation and decide whether or not to pass a resolution approving the proclamation” from the above provision, it’s evident that he can proclaim State of Emergency though subject to subsection 3 of the same section paragraph e, which is more particular to the situation at hand. Perhaps State of Emergency is not the issue at hand.
However, the provisions of the Quarantine Act is clear as to the declaration of restriction of movement in which what the president has done is an oral declaration which must be in writing to make it a written regulation before it will have a binding force of law. Meaning that, the oral Declaration made by the president must be written. See the Prevention of Decease Regulation made by Lagos State as a perfect example of a regulation. It has also been clearly stated under Section 5 of the Quarantine Act which stated the penalties for whoever breaches the regulations made in pursuant to the Act. See AG Lagos State V. Eko Hotel Ltd & Anor. For further clarification on the meaning of a regulation stated in the Act.
On these premises, I hereby conclude that the issue is not a matter of State of Emergency but should solely based on regulation and that the President has not in anyway violated the law yet until failure to make his declaration written(Regulation).