Thursday, 26 March 2020

COVID-19/Border Closure: Letter to Gov Wike which may apply to Gov Ayade

Dear Governor Wike,

As a senior lawyer and member of the Body of Benchers, you know that you cannot shut air, land and sea borders in Rivers State by executive fiat. Your arbitrary declaration to that effect offends Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees freedom of movement.

We all know that the coronavirus pandemic has engendered public safety and warrants taking drastic measures to curb same. However, as a governor, you took oath to uphold, preserve and protect the Constitution and the law. You cannot govern outside the dictates of the law.

Sec. 305 (4) of the Constitution gives you, with approval of 2/3 of the members of the House of Assembly, the right to ask the President to declare a state of emergency in Rivers State. Section 8 of the Quarantine Act gives you the authority to issue regulations to tackle COVID-19 pandemic.

To the best of my knowledge, the President has neither declared a state of emergency in Rivers State nor have you made regulations pursuant to the Quarantine Act. I am also not aware of any law passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly that empowers you to stop entry into or exit from Rivers State.

Your resort to executive fiat is thus an act of brazen illegality and unconstitutional.

If non-lawyers say that we do not need enabling laws to impose restrictions on the fundamental rights of citizens, they can be pardoned. But a lawyer cannot. You are a governor, not a monarch.

I support restriction of movement. But not through tyrannical means. All democratic countries that have imposed such restrictions over COVID-19 relied on enabling laws. We should stop behaving as if we are in Zoo where might is right. Despotism is incompatible with democracy.

It should not take you and your Attorney General more than 24 hours to draft enabling regulations pursuant to the Quarantine Act. Rivers State cannot be ruled by executive fiat. Kindly follow due process or rescind your illegal decision.

Stop embarrassing the legal profession.

Inibehe Effiong is a Lagos-based legal practitioner 
25 March 2020 

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