Covid-19: Still on Buhari’s order and enforceability

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari signed an Executive Order specifying various degrees of punishment for Nigerians who flout Covid-19 protocols. In this report, PAUL OKAH takes a look at the Order and challenges of enforcement.

Nigeria has never had problems with regards to lack of laws, but enforcement of the too many laws governing the country since its independence.

Observing protocols

It has been a herculean task to get Nigerians to obey the Covid-19 protocols, especially when it comes to putting on face masks, using hand sanitisers, observing social distancing, among others.

On several occasions, health authorities have lamented that blatant disregard for Covid-19 protocols by Nigerians in public and private places, which has been responsible for increase in the number of Covid-19 cases on a daily basis.

President Buhari’s Executive Order

On January 28, in a 42-paragraph document titled “Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) health protection regulations 2021,” President Muhammadu Buhari signed an executive order prescribing punishment for Nigerians that would default in obeying Covid-19 protocols.

He said in part: “In the exercise of the powers conferred upon me by Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2010 and all other powers enabling me in that behalf; and in consideration of the urgent need to protect the health and wellbeing of Nigerians in the face of the widespread and rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Nigeria, I, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, hereby make the following regulations:

“At all gatherings, a physical distance of at least two metres shall be maintained at all times between persons. Notwithstanding the provision of Regulation 1, no gathering of more than 50 persons shall be held in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which case the gathering shall not exceed 50% capacity of the space.

“All persons in public gatherings, whether in enclosed or open spaces, shall adhere to the provisions of Part 2 of these Regulations. The provisions of these Regulations may be varied by Guidelines and Protocols as may be issued, from time to time, by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 on the recommendation of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“Any person who contravenes the provisions of these Regulations commits an offence. Any person who, without reasonable cause, contravenes a direction given under Parts 1 and 2 of these Regulations commits an offence. Any person who, without reasonable cause, obstructs an authorised official from enforcement of these Regulations commits an offence.

“An offence under these Regulations is punishable, on summary conviction, by a fine or a term of six months imprisonment or both in accordance with Section 5 of the Quarantine Act.

“Personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, and other relevant local government, state and federal government agencies are hereby directed to enforce the provisions of these regulations.

“Any officer of the enforcement agencies who fails, neglects, or refuses to enforce the provisions of these regulations shall be subject to disciplinary action by the disciplinary body of his respective agency.

“The provisions of these regulations shall apply throughout the federal republic of Nigeria. Governors may issue regulations on further steps as may be considered necessary.”

Expert’s take

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Barrister Emmanuel Chukwu Madujibe, said Nigerians have proven to be stubborn when it comes to obeying laws, hence the use of naked or brute force in enforcing obedience, especially when an executive order is constitutional.

He said: “According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, (opus citatum; Seventh Edition), an Executive Order is an order issued by or on behalf of the President intended to direct or instruct the actions of agencies of government, government officials or to set policies for branches of executive arm of government to follow. It, therefore, follows that Executive Orders applies to act as a modicum or addition to an already established legal framework.

“However, such Executive Order must be enforceable, directed to agencies of the executive arm of government for their actions and also good directives. There are divided opinions as to the propriety or otherwise of the validity of Executive Orders in Nigeria. The doubts stem from the fact that they argue its existence as unconstitutional.

“Section, 5 (1) (a), (b) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) are instrumental to the construction of the powers donated by the Constitution to the Executive as only regimented to implementing all the provisions and the Laws made by the National Assembly.

“Our arguments in support of this brazen outing is drawn to the fact that in maintaining and executing the Constitution, the president could complement, affirm or provide supplements to the provisions of the constitution, especially where there is a lacuna in law, or where an emergency situation has arisen for an immediate directive to attend to the leprous situation.

“For instance, an Executive Order which seeks to suffocate any provisions of the Constitution or put mildly, where the said order tries to intimidate the provisions of Chapter iv of the Constitution dealing with Fundamental Rights of citizens, the Law Courts would kill such Orders on arrival.

“Therefore, an Executive Order must be unambiguously inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and repugnant to natural justice and good conscience.

“However, I have gravely observed that Nigerians do not like being pressured into obeying the laws of the land excepting where naked or brute force is used to enforce obedience. As gleaned from my candid perspective, you’ll agree with me that Executive Orders are enforceable against defaulters as they’re valid and Constitutional.”

Lawyers commend Buhari

On January 29, some Lagos lawyers commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the regulation to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic by making wearing of face masks compulsory in public.

The lawyers told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in separate interviews in Lagos that without the regulation it would have been difficult to sanction defaulters.

Reacting to the new order, Mr. Chibuikem Opara, a lawyer at Justification Law Firm, Ikeja, commended the president for putting the health and lives of Nigerians at the forefront of his agenda.

Opara said with the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic and the nonchalant attitude of members of the public toward keeping safe in the pandemic, the order would put fear in so many people to keep to the safety protocols.

“It is indeed a step in the right direction. One of the cardinal responsibilities of government is to safeguard the health of its citizens. If the step was not taken, it will be unlawful to sanction any defaulter. However, it is one thing to have an avalanche of laws while enforcement is a different thing all together,” he said.

In his view, the principal partner of Ayiyi Chambers, Apapa, Mr. Chris Ayiyi, said sanctioning Covid-19 safety protocols defaulters was a welcome development.”

Also, a former chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Ikorodu Branch, Mr. Bayo Akinlade, said sending face masks defaulters to already overcrowded prisons might put prisoners at risk of contracting the virus, adding that other punishment that does not include prison term should be given to defaulters since Covid-19 is still ravaging the nation.

Task force chair’s reaction

Speaking Wednesday on Good Morning Nigeria, an NTA programme monitored by this reporter, the head of media and enlightenment, FCT Enforcement Task Force on Covid-19, Mr. Attah Ikharo, said enforcement aws in full swing in the FCT.

He said: “We have gotten clearance from FCT Commissioner of Police Bala Ciroma, to ensure that the directive of Mr. President is obeyed to the letter. We are enforcing the directive in cities within the FCT, while others are handling the suburbs, including the National Incident Manager, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Dr. Mukhtar Muhammad.

“Though we have been termed anti-people, anti-Christ by traders and worshippers in the different markets and churches we have been visiting, we are not budging. Our priority is to save people from themselves, so are not bothered by the criticism and backlash we have been receiving from several quarters. We secured judgement and sealed up Wuse and TUC markets, which did not comply with Covid-19 protocols. Also, it is very discouraging for some religious leaders to tell their congregation that there is no Covid-19 in Nigeria, just for the purpose of winning members.

“We have many antagonists who still say there is no Covid-19. It is also worrisome for a governor like Yahaya Bello of Kogi to go on air and tell people that there is no Covid-19. Some prominent clerics have also gone on air to say that there is no Covid-19. We even go to those churches to find out that half of the congregation don’t wear face masks.

“We want to enforce compliance very strongly. If religious leaders commanding millions of followers tell them they are speaking from God that there is no Covid-19, what can you do? Enlightenment has gone across board, but the issue is that this belief has been punctured by either political leaders with populist ideas or religious elites who don’t believe the existence of Covid-19. So, we will be enforcing compliance. Be it in the church, mosque, shrine, marriage, and burial, anywhere. Sometimes, it is even in volatile areas where some people tend to shy away from, but we will definitely get there.”

FG’s appeal

On January 31, 2021, in a statement, the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu, pleaded with Nigerians to obey the executive order by President Buhari.

The statement read in part, “The Presidency is worried by reports of non-compliance with just signed Executive Order that makes the mask and observation of social distancing in the public mandatory, appealing to Nigerians to give their maximum cooperation for the success of the policy.

“President Muhammadu Buhari introduced the order with the best of intentions and not with any motive to punish citizens. The Presidency appeals to state governments, traditional rulers and religious leaders to play active roles in the sensitisation and enforcement of the Executive Order.

“To achieve this, Covid-19 task forces and committees should persuade members of the public to cooperate with the government in achieving compliance and avoid crude methods that may create resistance and resentment, thereby defeating the primary goal of the Executive Order.

“The Buhari administration is most reluctant to lockdown the country and continues to emphasize the non-pharmaceutical measures and the only way to avert lockdowns is to observe these measures as put in place by the Presidential Task Force.

“Nigerians have come a long way from the dreaded lockdown and the administration is unhappy about any prospects of bringing it back as many citizens will not have food on the table without venturing out on a day- to-day business.

“Nigerians are required to wear masks, wash hands regularly with soap and clean water, and keep a safe distance with anybody not in your household, hoping that this will help check the spread of Covid-19. Though vaccine availability is within reach, the propensity of the public for noncompliance weakens the fight against the virus.

“Nigerians must ignore baseless conspiracy theories that seek to deny the reality of the pandemic by complying with the order to wear masks. We have a duty to protect ourselves and others in this difficult global health crisis; no one has immunity against this pandemic. Ignoring health warnings and refusing to comply with safety measures does more harm than good.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply