BY KAYODE AJULO
The deadly Coronavirus pandemic has cut across borders and has 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 30 (thirty) confirmed cases.
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 the declaration of state of emergency in the health sector.
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 declare a state of emergency
The Concept and Theory of State of Emergency
It is a trite principle of state sovereignty that a state of emergency is a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions that it would normally not be permitted to do. A government can declare such a state during a disaster, civil unrest, or armed conflict. Such declarations alert citizens to change their normal behavior and orders government agencies to implement emergency plans.
State of emergency can also be used as a rationale for suspending rights and freedoms guaranteed under a country’s constitution.
The powers of the President to declare state of emergency is enshrined in section 305 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
At the risk of sounding prolix but for the sake of deconstruction, the section provides:
(1)…the President may by instrument published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof…
(3) The President shall have power to issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency only when-(a) the Federation is at war;
(b) the Federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war;
(c) there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof to such extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security;
(d) there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger;
(e) there is an occurrence or imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity, affecting the community or a section of the community in the Federation;
(f) there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the Federation;… (Underlying supplied for emphasis).
Flowing from the above, the constitution has prescribed unequivocally the scope in terms of the situations that could precipitate the declaration of a state of emergency in the country.
It is also lucent from the above that state of emergency could be declared in situations where there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof to such extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security or there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger.
The imperative for the State of Emergency in Nigeria
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. What befuddles the mind is the ineptitude of the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the pandemic. In circumstance like this, the necessary thing for the government to do is to declare a state of emergency and make 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.
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, it must however be stated that such measures must be within the circumference of the Constitution.
It must be categorically stated that fundamental rights cannot be suspended by the government except as provided by section 45 of the Constitution or where a proclamation for a state of emergency has been declared by the Federal Government in an official gazette as provided by section 305 of the Constitution.
However by the provisions of section 35 of the Constitution, the right to liberty of persons who have contracted any infectious disease may be restricted by the government. Section 35(1) 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 the protection of the community;
While clamouring for the declaration of state of emergency on health in the country, it is apropos to state that the federal government should take extra measures to ensure public health by making adequate provisions for the welfare of the citizens especially those with little or no access to basic amenities.
Furthermore, in the light of the imminent fear of being the next victim, I believe it is high time the Citizens of the Country took the bull by the horn and defend themselves against this deadly disease by taking the measures recommended by the World Health Organization and the National Centre for Disease Control.
On the heels of the above, I believe the time is ripe for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the country as desperate issues require desperate measures.