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Coronavirus Will Not Be Cured With Constitutional Piracy — Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, have blasted President Muhammadu Buhari’s restriction of movement order pronounced on Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun.

Wole and Femi revealed that the move was not necessary because the country is not at war.

According to Soyinka, the order was “unconstitutional and a political virus for the future” while Femi Falana believes the order cannot be enforced without legal backing.

Wole Soyinka added that governors and legislators must be very careful with the moves they make during this period because no epidemic is ever cured with constitutional piracy.

Wole 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 of us 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.

“A President, who has 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 instigates these orders anyway? From where do they 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-COVID19 measures have proceeded along the rails of decentralised thinking, multilateral collaboration and technical exchanges between states.

“The Centre is 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. The universal imperative and urgency of this affliction should not become an opportunistic launch pad for a sneak recentralisation 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.”

Femi Falana added, “Following the national broadcast of President Buhari on the COVID-19 pandemic yesterday, some lawyers have questioned the constitutional validity of the restriction of locomotion of people in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states. No doubt, the President is empowered to adopt any measures deemed fit to combat the dangerous disease but such measures have to be spelled out in a regulation made according to section 305 of the Constitution or under the Quarantine Act. Otherwise, the presidential order on the restriction of movement in the affected areas cannot be enforced by the police.

“Even though the civil rule was restored in the country 21 years ago the psyche of the political class has not been demilitarised. Hence, decisions taken by rulers are required to be obeyed “with immediate effect” without any legal backing.

But in Okafor v Governor of Lagos State (2016) LPELR-41066 (CA) the Court of Appeal called on all authorities to appreciate the need to govern the country under the rule of law. Thus, the directive of the Governor of Lagos State restricting the movement of citizens and residents during the State’s monthly environmental sanitation exercise was struck down because of its unconstitutionality. It was the unanimous view of their Lordships that the arrest of Appellant for flouting the order or directive of the Governor was completely illegal.”

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