COVID-19: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL – KAYODE AJULO, PHD

[1]Section 35(1)(e) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) permits the right to liberty of persons who have contracted any infectious or contagious diseases to be restricted by the government.

[2]Anyone who refuses to abide by Covid-19 instruction could be charged for the offence of attempted murder/suicide.

[3]COVID-19 positive Governors should hand over power to their deputies.

[4]Payments to 40 Million Nigerians with the aid of BVN.

The deadly Coronavirus pandemic has cut across boarders and have affected almost every country in the world. This fact has in recent months been unhappily emphasized by the startling events occurring simultaneously in countries of the world. It is now beyond doubt that cases of Coronavirus (Convid-19) have been recorded in Nigeria with about 60 (sixty) confirmed cases.

It is pertinent to recall that the Chief Justice of the Federation within a week has released several circulars in order to put measures in place to avert the effect of the pandemic.

Similarly, my Law Firm has implement the work from home policy in the interest of our Clients and the Nation at large.

It is on this backdrop that I am compelled to pensively and dispassionately analyze the state of public safety and public health in Nigeria viz- a-viz the need for urgent measures to be put in place by the Government and relevant stakeholders.

Introduction
It is important to start on the premise that the war against this deadly pandemic in Nigeria is not the sole responsibility of the government but also of the citizenry at large.

One of the central pillars of Nigerian corporate existence is the safeguard of the welfare of the Citizens. Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution states that:

The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of any government; and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the state of public health and safety in the face of the looming deadly pandemic has become a bother to well-meaning Nigerians and the world at large, hence the imperative to put adequate and urgent measures in place to combat the pandemic.

Suspension of Fundamental Rights to Personal Liberty

Without prejudice to the measures taken by Governors of some states and the Minister of FCT to curb the spread of the menace by restricting religious gathering and restriction of movement of the Citizens, it must however be stated that such measures must be within the circumference of the Constitution.

The provisions of Section 35 of the Constitution is very pungent in the circumstance. The Section permits the right to liberty of persons who have contracted any infectious diseases to be restricted by the government. Section 35(1) (e) of the Constitution provides:

(1) Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law:

(e) in case of a person suffering from infectious or contagious diseases, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for the purpose of their care or treatment or theprotection of the community;

From the foregoing extant provisions of the Constitution, the government has the powers to quarantine anyone who has contacted or suspected to have contracted the deadly disease no matter how highly placed such a person is, in the interest of public health and safety.

Couple of days ago, I spoke with the Commissioner of Police FCT Command, Inspector Bala Chiroma and he expressed his worries as regards disobedience of some Citizens to Government directives that people should stay at home.

Having critically analyze the prevailing situation as a Legal Practitioner viz-a-viz our penal laws and considering the communicable nature of the deadly pandemic, one could therefore conclude that anyone who refuses to abide by instruction could be charged for the offence of attempted murder.

Section 320 of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State 2003 defines attempted murder in the following:

“Any person who:-

(1) attempts unlawfully to kill another.

(2) with intent unlawfully to kill another does any act, or omits to do any act which is his duty to do, such act or omission being of such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonments for life.

See the cases of Ezeugo v State (2013) LPELR-19984(CA); Orisan v People of Lagos State (2019) LPELR-46509(CA).

Similarly, it is quite worrisome that some governors who have tested positive for the deadly disease are still carrying out the function of their office instead of allowing their deputy governors to carry out the functions of their office as provided for by section 191(1) of the Constitution which provides that:

Whenever the Governor is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect and until he transmits to the Speaker of House Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, the Deputy Governor shall perform the functions of the Governor as Acting Governor.

The imperative to Provide Urgent Measures

There is no gainsaying the fact that the upsurge in the spread of this deadly CONVID-19 all over the world including Nigeria is quite frightening. The general insecurity and phobia generated with this tragic development is indeed worrisome. In circumstance like this, the necessary thing for the government to do is tomake adequate provisions for the life and safety of the health of the citizens.

Nigeria should take a cue from other countries of the World who have taken palliative measures to ensure the safety and welfare of their Citizens in such a time like this. For instance, the United States Government has made provision for the sum of $1000 to all its Citizens. In the United Kingdom, provisions for the sum of €1500-2000 pounds have been made available for the citizens.

With the rate of poverty and unemployment in the country, the Federal Government should ensure adequate supply of basic amenities for the citizens especially the indigent citizens living in deplorable conditions.

With over 40 Million Nigerians with verified Bank Verification Number (BVN), out of about 200 Million populace, the Federal Government should approve at least a sum of ₦6,000,000,000 for the welfare of the Nigerian Citizens who have been forced to work from home.

If the Federal Government can budget about ₦150,000,000,000 for the National Assembly, nothing stops the President from proving palliative measures in the interest of the welfare of the Citizens at large.

Similarly, as an researcher in Corporate Social Responsibility, (CSR), the best time for blue-chipcompanies and foreign investors to implement their corporate social responsibility is now.

At the risk of tooting my horn but for the sake of emphasis, as a Legal Practitioner, My office has engaged itself in making various relief materials available for people in order to cushion the effect of the pandemic.

Conclusion

On the heels of the above, I believe the time is ripe for the Federal Government to take appropriate measures, in addition to its directive that people should self-isolate. It will not be in the interest of the Nation for people to die of hunger while taking measures against contracting the deadly virus.

Dr. Ajulo is the Chairman of the Board of Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa and Principal Partner of Castle of Law, Abuja.

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