In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, various State Governments in Nigeria took what you may consider proactive measures to curtail or stop the spread of the deadly virus to citizens within their domain.
The reality is that the Federal government was dilly dallying on taking some proactive measures before then, like shutting down seaports, airports and land borders thereby making it possible for record of some of the index cases in Nigeria who were mainly returnees from foreign countries.
When it became obvious that Nigeria has recorded statistics of index cases in Nigeria, everyone became panicky and State Governors surprisingly rose to the occasion admirably by taking very positive steps to stop the spread knowing fully well the terrible implication of having community infections in a country with little or no facilities or infrastructure for disease control, cure or prevention.
One of the States that received and continue to receive commendation from all and sundry for the way and manner it has handled this pandemic is Lagos State, the Centre of Excellence. The governor who before then has been roundly condemned as being too slow in governance after his election surprisingly rose up to occasion and started to show leadership in terms of putting short term measures to tackle the pandemic including daily briefings of the citizens on what the government is doing and intend to do to protect lives and properties.
The Rivers State Governor, His Excellency Nyesom Wike jolted everyone in the country when in announcing measures to curtail the spread, put out announcement that he has closed down all movements on sea, air and land borders. Not a few raised eyebrow on the constitutionality of this measures by a State Government, but many took solace on the fact that in times like this any step or measures taken to secure lives and properties which is the primary responsibility of any government cannot be questioned in sincerity.
No soon after, other State Governments followed suite by announcing closure of land borders and restriction of movements within and outside their States. The Federal Government suddenly woke up, and the President in his maiden broadcast over the pandemic after his presence became a topical issue in all the media both social and mainstream, announced a total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and FCT, Abuja for two weeks. Before then Lagos State has already announced some measures to curtail the virus in the State.
Worthy of note is that some of these measures taken by the State Government were illegal as some of them were matters under the Exclusive List of the Federal Government, but as I said earlier these measures were overlooked as long as they were meant to protect lives of the citizens in curtailing the virus. The Federal Government officials in some of their presidential updates announced that they affirmed the measures so far taken by the State Governors including sea, air and border closures to curtail the virus.
However the recent arrest, arraignment in court by the Rivers State Government of some pilots of a private company who flew into Rivers State has caused terrible friction between the State Governor and the Federal Government. The pilots who flew into the airport in Port Harcourt were promptly arrested while at the airport, arraigned for flouting the executive orders of the State governor and their matter is presently adjourned to sometime in May this year, while they are sent to be detained in correctional centre in Port Harcourt, (learnt that the Attorney General of the State has secured a varied court order which directs that the two pilots should be kept in a hotel in Port Harcourt in self isolation to determine their status) till the next adjourned date. Not only were the pilots arrested and charged to court, the Aviation Company where they work has been sealed up on the orders of the State Governor.
The Federal Government has taken exception to these measures and had deprecated the State Governor for these steps he has taken as being clearly illegal and unconstitutional. The Federal Government through the Minister of State for Aviation stated that Aviation is a matter under the Exclusive List of the Federal Government for which the State Governor has no jurisdiction in making laws or Executive Orders. He pointed out that the affected Aviation company was providing essential services to the oil sector as they provide logistics and had the permission of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to be in Port Harcourt for service that pertains to that sector that keeps and gives economic life to the country of which Rivers State is a large beneficiary being an oil producing State.
The Rivers State Governor seems not impressed and is not bulging thereby giving speculation that this crisis may snowball into an unnecessary flex muscling and political crisis that is not healthy at this trying time in our national life. We need voice of reasoning and wisdom to navigate out of this seemingly brewing crisis intelligently and seamlessly.
WAY OUT OF THE CRISIS
Let all tempers be forced to go down, both parties should dispense pride and allow amicable and peaceful resolution of this impasse. One of the ways out of this crisis is for the State Government through the Attorney General of the State to ask for an earlier date and have nolle prosequi entered under Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution as Amended to discontinue the case and have the pilots released to their employers. The State Government should in addition unseal the Aviation company in Port Harcourt immediately and allow peace to reign.
Henceforth let the Federal Government notify the State Government of any of those essential flights coming into the State with information that those passengers and pilots are free from the virus to avoid the suspicion that the federal government is trying hard to undermine the authority of the governor over his State which he has a constitutional responsibility to protect. In federalism there are usually tensions like this between the component parts and the centre, they can be avoided by each sphere giving respect and honor to components and counterparts.
On the other hand the Attorney General of the Federation can under section 174 of the 1999 constitution as Amended take over the prosecution of the pilots and enter nolle prosequi since the matter is under exclusive list and have the prosecution discontinued. In addition they can request the governor to unseal peacefully the company that was sealed. Let everyone bury his hatchet and allow peace to reign. At times like this every citizen should come together to fight this common enemy which remains the VIRUS.
UNNECESSARY TENSION BREWING BETWEEN THE STATE GOVERNOR AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD CEASE FORTHWITH.
Time to enthrone peace and unify the country completely is NOW.
– Ubani is a legal practitioner