In the wake of the outbreak of Covid-19, the Rivers State government took urgent steps to avoid a situation of the increasing rate of infected persons, as is currently witnessed in Lagos and some other states. One of the immediate steps taken was the shutting down of the borders between Rivers and neighbouring states. Although this effort by the state government was reasonably sabotaged by some security agencies who still allowed motorists to ply those routes undisturbed, perhaps for monetary gains, the level of curtailment is still appreciable.
In recent days, more stringent measures have been adopted which on the one hand is commendable although the said measures are not without some faults. It is important that inhabitants of Rivers State appreciate the fact that the fight against the disease is not a farce as some think it to be. There are indeed real human beings dying of this disease and so care must be taken to avoid replication of same in the state. Whilst the effort of the state government is indeed commendable, it is obvious that the directives by the government has left many lacunas which ought not to be in such trying times.
Firstly, the state government in its directive that led to the lockdown of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas on Thursday, 7 May 2020, did not take any thought to persons engaged in essential services such as selling and delivery of food, food items, medical services and pharmaceutical products. It has been reported in other media that medical professionals have been abused by security agents whilst carrying out their lawful duties. It is important to remind the government that even the Federal Government allowed for the operation of persons and corporate bodies engaged in rendering essential services even in the locations where the fight against the disease is more serious. In a letter dated 6th May 2020, the Rivers State Chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association, decried the fact that even hospitals and pharmacies were not exempted from the total lockdown in the affected areas of the state. The association pointed out that if care is not taken, the state may record more deaths from persons with underlying ailments who have been denied access to medical care during this period in these locations.
Secondly, the government has in a bid to enforce its executive orders mandated the impoundment of vehicles seen on the road during the period and threatened to auction those cars to members of the public. It is also very important that the government is reminded that the enabling law under which it derives the powers to make its orders for the purpose of the fight against the Covid-19 is a federal law which prescribes the punishment for the violation of any orders or regulations made pursuant to it as either a fine in the sum of N200 or a term of imprisonment for six (6) months or both. It is therefore unheard of for the government of the state to order the impoundment of the vehicles of individuals and threaten to auction them. Needless to say, that such sales will end in tears by those purchasing them as no property in law would pass to them. The public is strongly advised against any moves to purchase those cars.
Thirdly and partly commendable is the effort of the government to directly monitor the compliance of the Covid-19 executive orders, although the manner of monitoring compliance does not resonate with international best practices. The Governor in the process of monitoring, arrested certain individuals and packed them up at the Liberation stadium in Port Harcourt as well as other locations. Apprehended individuals are kept in vehicles without any protection. The questions that needs answers from this action is: what if there are individuals there who have already contacted the virus? Should they have been kept unprotected with other people? This ill-advised action by the government leaves the genuineness of the government in its claimed fight against the disease to many doubts.
Fourthly, with the increasing number of arrests, one wonders whether the government is ensuring that the right processes for a criminal proceeding are being complied with. It is important to remind the government that an alleged offender of the law is constitutionally entitled to adequate time and facilities to defend himself and defend himself by himself or a legal practitioner of his choice. It is also unconstitutional to impose a punishment higher than what the law prescribes. All of these measures are provided so as to avoid the breach of an alleged offenders right to fair hearing. The government should note that it would be counter-productive to adopt an illegal process to fight a lawful course.
Finally, the government has made good his threat of demolishing buildings that it suspects are carrying on prohibited activities for the time-being. It was reported earlier today through the governor’s twitter handle that hotels have been demolished by the state government under the direct instructions and supervision of the governor. This action by the government is highly distasteful bearing in mind that the government of Rivers State cannot lawfully prescribe a punishment higher and above the prescriptions contained in the principal law: the Quarantine Act.
One would think that the government should have a retinue of advisers both in conduct and law. Since it appears not to have, the Rivers State Government is advised to thread with lawful caution and immediately consider the lapses in its orders and mode of enforcement to avoid a floodgate of litigations after this period, as this would do nothing but cast a watershed on the gains that it hopes to achieve.
Let’s continue to stay safe as we pray that the good Lord makes Rivers State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, great again.