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How not to fight ebola virus under the law

LAGOS lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, has faulted the declaration of emergency on Ebola Virus by the Federal Government saying there was no provision under the constitution to justify such declaration.

In a statement, yesterday, Falana said, “the federal government has confirmed that the dangerous ebola fever had claimed two lives in Nigeria. To prevent the further spread of the disease about 140 people have been placed under surveillance.  Last weekend, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on the killer disease and announced the sum of N1.9 billion had been earmarked to combat the ebola virus.

“With respect, there is no provision under the Constitution or any other law which justifies the declaration of emergency on any disease. However, the President is empowered under the Quarantine Act (Cap Q2) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to impose quarantine on any part of the country to prevent the introduction into and spread of in Nigeria and transmission from Nigeria of dangerous infectious disease. Under the Act, governors too have the power to impose quarantine in any part of the states. Even in Lagos State where the ebola fever has been reported quarantine has not been imposed by either the federal government nor the Lagos State government.

“Section 35 (1)(e) of the Constitution permits the Governnent to derogate from the fundamental right to personal liberty of “persons suffering from infectitious or contagious disease ….for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community.”

Protection of the community
Without the imposition of quarantine some of the measures being adopted by the governments cannot be justified under the Constitution. We are not unaware that the National Assembly is currently taking steps to repeal the Quarantine Act and replace it with the Nigerian Public Health (Quarantine Isolation and Emergency Health Matters Procedure) Act. Since the Quarantine Act enacted in 1926 by the British colonial regime can no longer meet the health challenges of the nation the national assembly should speedily amend it so that the Government can take steps for the containment and transmission from Nigeria of dangerous and communicable diseases, organisms and agents. Any further delay in passing the bill into law is a threat to the health of Nigerians.


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