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Covid-19: Between ‘Truth’, ‘Reality’ & What 1999 Constitution Says!

By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.

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Covid-19 (also known in full term as CoronaVirus Disease) had since February, 2020 been discovered in Nigeria. The Nigerian government through the Presidential orders had ordered Nigerians in Lagos State, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory-Abuja, to be under lockdown and stay at home.

The first of such orders lasted for 14 days while the government further extended the said order for another 14 days which shall elapse in the next very few days. These measures according to the government are for curbing the spread of the said virus in Nigeria or in those areas affected.

Nevertheless, the citizens in those areas affected have been crying to the government to consider taking care of their welfare during the said lockdown and stay at home since their businesses and sources of earning income (daily) have become very difficult and impossible! The government has informed the people of palliatives for the poor and the less privileged in the societies!

The author, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh

However, it is observable in reality that millions of Nigerians are still poor and unable to survive under the hardship which has befallen them as a result of the government’s lockdown and stay at home orders. Businesses have been locked-down, courts across the country have been locked down, among other inconveniences! This paper considers that the ‘truth’ of the facts of the Covid-19 is undisputed nevertheless, the ‘reality’ of the situations of the Nigerian citizens is also not in dispute! Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution-, has however mandated the Nigerian government at all levels to provide both security and welfare for the people. 

Truth’ according to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, is defined as ‘the real facts about something: the things that are true’. ‘Reality’ is defined by the same dictionary as ‘the true situation that exists: the real situation. Something that actually exists or happens: a real event, occurrence, situation, etc.’ 

Section 14 (1) and (2)(b) of the Constitution provides that:

‘14.—(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.

(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that—

(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;

(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; …’. (Underlining is mine for emphasis).

The Merriam Webster Online dictionary also defines ‘Security’ as ‘the state of being protected or safe from harm. Things done to make people or places safe.’ While ‘Welfare’ is defined by the same dictionary as follows: (a): aid in the form of money or necessities for those in need. (b) an agency or program through which such aid is distributed.’. These two packages of ‘security’ and ‘welfare’ in my humble view, are very basic principles in democracy and primary priorities of government. The word ‘democracy’  as provided in section 14(1) of the Constitution (supra) according to President Abraham Lincoln, the then President of the United States of America, is ‘a government of the people, by the people and for the people’. In other words, ‘Democracy’ is: (i) a government made up of the generality or representatives of the people; (ii) a government formed and installed by the people; and (iii) a government that exists for the welfare of the people’. (Underlining is mine for emphasis). See: Ese Malemi, The Nigerian Constitutional Law, Princeton Publication Co., Ikeje, Lagos, Nigeria, First Edition, 2006, page: 30. There is no doubt that in Nigeria, as of the moment, the types of democracy practiced is ‘the Indirect/Representative Democracy,’ which is a system of democracy where all persons of voting age are expected to vote to form the government by electing persons into government who will represent and act on their behalf, especially in the executive and legislative arms of government, which elected persons are expected to properly constitute all the other organs and agencies of government, and generally manage the affairs of government for the welfare of the people’. (Underlining is mine for emphasis). See: Ese Malemi (op cit) at page 31.

Furthermore, in my humble view, with due respect to the government and the Nigerian President, it is totally unacceptable and against democratic principle for the Nigerian government or the President Buhari lead administration to ask Nigerians to lockdown their businesses and to stay at home for whatever period of days in order to curb the spread of the Covid-19 without taking care of the ‘welfare’ of the people- Nigerians! This is also against the democratic constitutional principle enshrined in the Constitution! If the people must survive, they must also be taken care of in their welfare! The government has said that about five thousand naira (N5,000.00) only has been packed to be paid to some less privileged members of the Nigerian societies affected by the lockdown orders! The government said those who qualify for this benefit are those who have less than the said sum in their bank account! The question this paper asks the Federal government is ‘whether the fact that a sum above the said five thousand naira (N5,000.00) only is in the account of a Nigerian is a true fact that such money belongs to him or her?! Even if it belongs to him, how much are individuals’ expenses to bear daily and for such a long period of time?! It means (in my humble view) that the measure for distributing such funds by the government is totally defective and unreasonable, with due respect! The government is not under constitutional mandate to discriminate against Nigerian citizens by favoring a part of Nigerians over the others! Government must take care of every citizen equally! If money is paid, it must be paid to all Nigerians! Also, in my humble view, paying five thousand naira (N5,000.00) only to any Nigerian by the government is very embarrassing to say the least! The Nigerian government has copied this lockdown and stay at home ideas from the foreign countries whereas, those foreign countries are taking the welfare of their citizens responsibly where a citizen is paid not less than $1,000.00 with other provision materials (the sum which is equivalent to more than three hundred thousand naira (N300,000.00) only, in the Nigerian naira value). Therefore, it is totally a breach of the constitutional mandate for the Nigerian government to take security as priority over welfare of its people! The two must co-exist together as the Constitution has mandated! 

Furthermore, there have been some rumours that President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to extend the present lockdown and stay at home orders (which shall last the people affected by its orders to remain lockdown and stayed at home for twenty-eight (28) days at the end of the said order which ends in very few days with no welfare support from the Federal government or the government to take care of their welfare). With due respect, considering the realities surrounding the pandemic disease, it is evident that the Nigerian government is not capable of caring for its people! Therefore, I most humbly advise President Buhari to discontinue the said lockdown and stay at home order and to consider other measures at curbing the said spread as the present measure is totally misplaced and unrealistic! The rise in the number of infected persons or cases is nothing but a ‘scare’! It must also be understood by the President that ‘death’ is a greater fear in terms of ‘hunger’! This is likely to also lead to other criminalities in the societies beyond what the people can bear!  It will definitely be practically impossible for a responsible and responsive government (with due respect) to keep its people away from their businesses and to be under a stay at home order for even a day (not to talk of the long period of days currently being experienced by the people) without providing welfare for them! This is indeed unconstitutional in a democratic system of government! I had said it and I shall say it here again that  lawyers in the private practice are daily income earners and they survive upon the legal services that they render to their clients daily and so, as courts have been closed down, and no business is functioning, majority of them are vulnerable, indigent and less privileged! I am a lawyer in private practice too! I am also a victim of the government’s lack of ‘welfare’ for the people! 

Finally, I therefore humbly plead to President Muhammadu Buhari to please lift the said lockdown and stay at home orders as life without sustenance is difficult and is death imminent, may God forbid bad thing! The President is nevertheless advised to consider other means or measures that could be used to curb the spread of the Covid-19, but definitely not these lockdown and stay at home orders! I nevertheless very well appreciate the government’s efforts and that of President Muhammadu Buhari so far in curbing the said pandemic disease! Nevertheless, Nigerians call for survival on welfare and this is the ‘reality’! Courts and businesses can be allowed to open for some days and locked down for some days within some preventive measures, I humbly recommend!

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria! God bless the Nigerian leadership! God bless the Nigerian citizens! May God rescue us all from the pandemic disease!

Email: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com

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