COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A CALL FOR FURTHER AND DECENTRALISED ACTION.
The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly taken our country on emergency course, unexpected and un-anticipated at the beginning of the year, that strategic legal, policy and legislative responses have dovetailed into measures directed at curtailing or halting the pandemic. As members of the PDP Caucus of the House of Representatives, we have consistently called, and we still continue to call, for measured responses that take the poor economic conditions of Nigerians, the rights of citizens, the scaling up of the Medicare framework, into account in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many Governors have stepped away from what Professor Wole Soyinka rightly described this week as an attempt to halt the spread of the pandemic virus by constitutional piracy, we note that the absence of a structured federal response, based on the dictates of law, may have led them to ramp up measures outside the remit of their constitutional powers.
The rule of law has now prevailed; and it is in this light we welcome some of the measures outlined in the President’s belated broadcast and in the Regulation (Covid-19 Regulation 2020) made pursuant to Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act; though the presidential broadcast and Regulation took a long time coming. Well, better late than never. While we find the measures largely satisfying, it is our considered view that the palliative measures outlined in the presidential broadcast and Regulation are not far-reaching enough, while some are completely inapplicable.
Experiences through history have shown that citizens’ rights to movement are often heavily implicated when measures directed at halting the spread of contagious diseases and restoring public safety do not address the food question behind the curtains, worsening food security conditions. During the Ebola outbreak a few years ago, citizens of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone openly defied the restrictions that were imposed on movement to limit the transmission of the disease, after staying indoors for a few days in hunger. We must learn quickly from these experiences by ensuring that immediate measures on food security are ramped up.
One way of doing this is to open up our national food and grain reserves across the country and distribute food to the poorest of the poor in our country at the Local government level. The President should as a matter of utmost urgency issue an Executive Order, pursuant to his powers preserved by Section 5 of the Constitution 1999, directing the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, National Food Reserve Agency and National Emergency Management Authority to release and manage the distribution of food in our national reserves. The Executive Order must set out clear consequences for breach, particularly as they relate to public officials who seize on the times to make brisk businesses and gains from the miseries of the people. Other measures such as food prices control should be ramped up; though specific, targeted and temporary legislation on food prices control will be needed for enforcement. This is where the National Assembly comes in – by establishing framework of teleconferencing and social media communication, where the current lockdown and the medical advisories that bar public gatherings make it impossible for the reconvening of the National Assembly, to deliberate and pass such bills, as the Food Prices Control, Covid-19 Containment, Emergency and Disaster Management, into law. Whilst we commend the House for the emergency Bill passed on 17th March before closure to provide palliatives, these perilous times require creative thinking on the part of institutions of state and personages of power.
Again, as a Caucus, we laud and fully align with the Leadership of the House under Speaker Gbajiabiamila in leading Members to volunteer to volunteer their two month’s salaries to assist our vulnerable constituents at this trying time but we must add that the Rt. Hon. Speaker and the Leadership of the House should consider sending the voluntary donations of our Caucus Members directly to their various States as we are most dissatisfied with the inefficient, ineffective and inequitable method of distribution of palliatives by the Federal Government.
We do hope that the leaderships of both arms of the National Assembly will accept our request for legislative response and intervention and quickly too.
Finally, as we all enter day three of the national lockdown, we call on law enforcement personnel to exercise restraint in enforcing the restriction of movement everywhere. The right to life and dignity of Human Person as enshrined in our Constitution hasn’t been suspended, so they must continue to display professionalism in the discharge of their duties and ensure they keep our constituents out of harm’s way, as it is easy for them to become vectors or super spreaders of the virus if they don’t abide by the guidelines issued by the National Centre for Disease Control. We will frown at and exercise our constitutional powers as legislators to address any unreasonable act by the Security Officers in enforcing the lock down.
Consequently and in line with our Release of 20th March 2020, we demand as follows:
- That the Federal Government should:
A). Maximise the 2 weeks lockdown and open up free testing and treatment centres in all Zones in the Country.
B. Step down VAT and give partial tax holiday on essential commodities for 2 months.
C). Make electricity available and free for citizens within the period of total lockdown.
D). Disburse the sum of 5 billion Naira as business loans in every State of the Federation to stimulate SMEs and business in the country.
- The House of Representatives should:
A). Send directly to the various States the donations of their State Representatives.
B. Come up with additional Emergency Bills to address price regulation of essential comodities (Medicals and Food).
We join other well-meaning persons to salute our Doctors, Nurses, Medical Personnel and Volunteers, working assiduously to help the nation beat the virus, while putting their personal safety and lives at risk. Their glorious efforts will never be forgotten by all. We are grateful.
Rep. O. K. Chinda
(PDP House of Representatives Caucus Leader)
2ND APRIL 2020.