Covid-19: Governors ‘Take Over’ Presidential Powers, Buhari’s Whereabouts Unknown, Has Not Been Seen In Public Since March 19

In Kano State, Governor Umar Ganduje, has closed all land boundaries and the State’s Airport. In Delta State, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has shut all routes leading in and out of the State. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, halted all land, sea, and air traffic.

As the coronavirus pandemic makes rapid inroads into Nigeria’s vast population, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s whereabouts become increasingly fuzzy, Nigerian Governors are stepping up with what they deem necessary to keep their people safe.

In doing so, they are also brazenly exerting Presidential authority directly and indirectly, filling up for a clear lack of Political Leadership in Abuja.

As at March 28, with 81 cases confirmed, Buhari has not declared an emergency to restrict all or some forms of human movement across the country, among other drastic initiatives as may be necessary to contain the virus across the country, despite calls for him to do so, before it becomes too late.

The Nigerian Constitution accords the Federal Government absolute authority on land, air, and water transportation, under items 3, 36, and 63 of the Exclusive Legislative List, a glossary of constitutional authorities that could only be codified by the National Assembly for Presidential implementation.

Yet, at least four Nigerian States have now instituted far-reaching restrictions on human and economic activities within their respective domains, with additional States predicted to take similar cues in the coming days.

With confirmed coronavirus cases projected to rise in the coming weeks, the emergency measures so far adopted by Governors to combat the pandemic, have varied from State to State. But, they all share a common flaw: the lack of coordination from a central authority.

Wike, who has led Rivers State since 2015, appeared the first of Nigeria’s 36 Governors to impose a ban on road and water traffic within his domain, thereby crippling inter-State commerce.

Although Wike acknowledged that he lacks the power to prohibit air traffic, he maintained that passengers who fly into Port Harcourt would not be allowed to leave the Airport.

Shortly after Wike’s announcement on Wednesday morning, Ganduje imposed similar measures in Kano. Even though Kano has yet to confirm any Covid-19 case, the Governor, nonetheless, banned all transport buses from entering the State, citing the disease.

On March 26, Governor Okowa, in a Statewide broadcast to Delta residents, said that he has ordered the closure of all land routes across the State.

Ebonyi, Anambra, Jigawa, and Akwa Ibom States, have also instituted one form of restriction on land transportation or another, within the past two days.

Nigeria has recorded a few number of disease outbreaks in the past, but like most of the world, has never been assailed with anything as disruptive as the raging Covid-19, which was first reported in China, last November.

Besides Lassa fever and monkey pox, the most recent nationwide outbreak was Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever that devastated West Africa, in 2014. The disease was reported in Nigeria, but was quickly traced and arrested with negligible disruption to social and economic well-being of the citizens.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, State and Federal authorities have a sensible reason to panic and impose draconian measures deemed critical to keeping everyone from being infected”, a Lawyer, Abdul Mahmud, said. 
He added: “But the pronouncements coming from the Nigerian Governors, most of them without any deference to the President or existing laws, are scary.”

Mahmud stated that Nigeria has had a Quarantine Statute in place for decades, and Governors are refusing to invoke, it because they want to circumvent its responsibility.

“The Quarantine Act of 1926, permits Governors to take necessary measures to keep residents safe, in the absence of any Presidential pronouncement”, Mahmud noted. 
“But it also required that residents who are locked at home must be fed by the government, which many State Governors are reluctant to do.”
Among the Governors who have announced measures to keep people at home, to enforce the highly recommended social distancing approach against the coronavirus, only Governor Nasir El-Rufai has invoked the Quarantine Act, in Kaduna State.

El-Rufai in his order, said that all residents must stay at home, and State Officials would make food available. Rather than shut all routes in and out of Kaduna State, the Governor allowed movement of vehicles on Federal trunk roads, but said that Drivers would be checked, to ensure that they are not bringing virus into the State.

“The approach by the Kaduna Governor is the most commendable implementation of the provisions of the Quarantine Act, because it was carried out without usurpation of Presidential powers”, Mahmud said, adding that, all Governors should immediately take a cue.

“You cannot take such painful measures, without legal instruments that would define how law enforcement Officers must behave”, Mahmud noted. “It would be counterproductive.”

Mahmud stated further that although the Quarantine Act allows Governors to lock down their State boundaries, it cannot override the Constitution, however.

“The Quarantine Act must be exercised within the confines of the Constitution”, he said. “What the Governors are doing is clearly unconstitutional powers. They are irresponsible and dangerous.”

Inibehe Effiong, Another Rights Activist and Legal Expert, in Lagos, said that the Governors should have issued their directives based on the Quarantine Act, or pass a new law as it was done in the United Kingdom, UK, with the Coronavirus Act of 2020.

“No responsible or serious country disregards the rule of law”, Effiong stated.

Despite concerns around the Governors’ decision, Federal Authorities have shown no interest in checkmating the apparent duplication of Presidential powers across the country. No Minister or other senior member of the cabinet has spoken publicly on the legal consequences of the directives.

Buhari himself has not been seen in public since March 19, when he made a brief appearance at a gathering to commission Federal emergency telephone lines, in Abuja. His failure to publicly address a nation in crisis, has fuelled rumours about his health.

His Media Aides have however, continued to issue statements attesting to his firmness, saying that, his silence at a time Leaders across the world are vigorously providing leadership and guiding their people, is deliberate.

On March 22, a 23-second video purporting to show the President talking about the coronavirus was abruptly deleted, after exposing him as being unable to pronounce Covid-19 properly, one of the most used words in the world at this time.

In the last one week, Nigerians online have increasingly asked questions about the President’s whereabouts, using multiple trending hashtags on Twitter and Facebook to seek answers.

On Thursday, after the hashtag, #WhereisBuhari, trended for hours, the Presidency released two statements within hours, in what appeared as a quick attempt to damp the uproar.

The statements by Presidential Spokesperson, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari as praising the efforts of Health workers and other Nigerians, in responding to the pandemic, and outlined steps taken by the government.

On Friday, another statement quoted the President as urging national unity to defeat the virus, saying that, together that can be achieved.

In the absence of a Federal directive, Security Agencies have stated that they would enforce the Governors’ orders.

“Right now, we have a situation at hand”, Onome Onovwakpoyeya, the Delta State Police Spokesperson, said. Delta has not recorded any confirmed case of the coronavirus, as at March 28.

The Police Spokesperson noted that she did not know that only the President could issue directives on closure of Federal Roads.

“You are just educating me on that now”, she had said.

In Kano, the Police also stated that they took part in deliberations to impose a lock down, and would ensure its implementation.

“The Governor has issued a directive, and the job of the Police is to enforce it”, the Kano Police Spokesperson, Haruna Abdulahi, said, brushing aside constitutional questions around the State’s decision.

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