FG's adopted COVID-19 pandemic control policy infringes on human rights — Adeyanju

By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja

The Convener, Concerned Nigerians, CN, Comrade Deji Adeyanju, Monday, alleged that the Federal Government’s adopted Coronavirus, COVID-19, control policy infringes on human rights.

Adeyanju who made the assertion in a paper titled ‘State of Emergencies, Human Rights Violations and the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria’ said the policy was largely adopted from the World Health Organisation, WHO, without considering the constitutional rights of citizens.

According to him, there have always been attendant violations either by state actors or even members of the public of human rights in situations of state of emergency including the COVID-19 pandemic, which chief among these rights that have been violated is the right to life.

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He added that the policy thrust on the COVID-19 pandemic adopted by the Federal Government equally infringes on the fundamental human rights of the citizens the most.

This infringement cut across the right to freedom of thought and religion, the right to move freely within Nigeria, the right to freedom to assemble and associate with other persons, the rights to personal liberty, and others.

He also warned that in furtherance of the COVID-19 policy, the adopted range of microscopic policies cutting across social distancing, restriction of movement Nationwide, prohibition of religious and social gathering, and others are directly at variance with the aforementioned constitutional provisions and if not checked may readily escalate to riot, civil disobedience and other anti-state actions.

For example, the Nigerian government social distancing policy, as adopted from the WHO makes it mandatory for persons to stay at least two metres apart at all times, therefore makes it impossible for citizens to associate freely as they would ordinarily have done if the policy was not in place

He also argued that in furtherance of the infection, prevention, and control, citizens have been made to obtain police permits to enable them to move from one point to the other, which in Anigboro v Sea Trucks Nig. LTD the court held that Police permit has outlived its usefulness. Status requiring such permit for a peaceful demonstration, procession, and rallies are things of the past.

A police permit is the brainchild of the colonial era and ought not to remain in the statute books. Accordingly in the absence of the evidence that a person has committed a crime or that he is a threat to the general public, his movement should not be unduly restricted.

“In Chief F.R.A Williams Vs Majekodunmi, the Supreme court held that the restriction order passed in respect of the petitioner is unjustifiable.”

He said: “From 1962 when the first state of emergency was declared in Independent Nigeria up to the present day restrictions declared by President Muhammadu Buhari, there have always been attendant violations either by state actors or even members of the public. Chief among these rights that have been violated is the right to life.

“The right to life is deemed sacrosanct and can only be derogated from in the rarest of circumstances. Section 33 of the CFRN 1999provides that every person has the right to life and no one shall be deprived of his life savings in the execution of a criminal offense of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria or in defense of oneself, others or property.

“However, in Nigeria, the right to life is perhaps the least respected rights by state actors, as we have recently seen by the actions of security agents in enforcing the lockdown, as they have killed more citizens extra-judicially than the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The World Health Organization in furtherance of his foremost place as a universally recognised regulatory medical body has come up with certain policies/framework in an attempt curtail the spread of the Corona Virus globally, this framework is centered on eight pillars: Country-level coordination, planning and monitoring; Risk communication and community engagement; Surveillance, rapid response team, and case investigation; Points of entry; National laboratory prevention and control; Case management; and operational support and logistics.

“The aforementioned framework has been adopted by various countries and modified to fit their peculiarity. Nigeria, in adopting the aforementioned framework has broken it down into a smaller, more understandable concept.

“In fact, on April 30, 2020, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, drawing inspiration from the WHO aforementioned pillars, came up with an implementation guideline for the containment of COVID-19.

“These guidelines were broken down into three general groups, to wit; general information to the Public; Guidance to State and security Agencies; and description of the typical activities allowed under phase.

“The smaller components of the implementation guidelines cover the mandatory use of non-medical face mask in public; prohibition of interstate travel; prohibition of mass gathering of over 20 people outside a workplace; mandatory temperature check in public places; social distancing of 2 metres to be maintained between people in the workplace and other public spaces; ban on all passenger flights; ban on religious gatherings and mandatory supervision of all persons arriving from outside the country for at least 14 days.

These measures, as will be seen hereunder, have profound effects on the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of the citizens.

“In employing the country-level coordination, the country has seen itself placing a ban on travel within and outside Nigeria, especially for passenger’s flights.

This has ordinarily infringed on the citizen’s rights to freedom of movement as enshrined in section 41 of the CFRN 1999 and several case laws.

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The case of Director SSS v Agbakoba on ingress and egress, wherein the court upheld the rights of every citizen to go in and out of the country at will, is instructive on this point.  Looking at the foregoing section and the case law, it is submitted that the W.H.O framework on the country level planning and monitoring as adopted by Nigeria restricts the rights provided for in section 41 of the CFRN 1999, relying on the provision of section (45) sub (1) of the CFRN 1999, particularly in view of the fact that even persons that are not infected cannot travel out of or into the country.”

Meanwhile, according to him the second framework adopted by Nigeria from the WHO is the risk communication and community engagement, which adopted this policy, the Nigeria government has empowered the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, to forcefully pass the information across irrespective of whether the citizen desire this information or not.

“Beyond the unsolicited messages, the NCDC has equally embarked on a house to house campaign in a clear departure and derogation from the rights to privacy contained in section 37 of the CFRN 1999, thereby creating a situation where the citizen is compelled to suffer a derogation of his personal rights for the benefit of the greater society.

The above reference case of Ezedukwa v Maduekwe reiterates the rights of the citizens to enjoy and preserve the sanctity of their home.

“The principle of surveillance, rapid response team and case investigation directly affect the citizen’s rights to personal liberty, private and family life as otherwise provided in sections 35 and 37 of CFRN 1999 as amended.

“The import of the foregoing is that citizens who demonstrate any symptom remotely similar to that of the infectious disease can be forcefully tested for infectious disease, removed from their homes and forced to live in an isolated environment and therefore breaching his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement.

“In reaching this conclusion, one is not unmindful of the fact that while the citizen is in the government enforced isolation the right to freely assemble and associate with his peers, friends and family will be greatly hindered in contravention of section 40 of the CFRN 1999. The case of Eguamwense v Amaghizemwen is instructive on this issue”, he added.

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