lockdown of Lagos – 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.