‘Politics has friendship, enmity, intrigue and even humour.”
Remarkable of his nature not to stomach any act of perceived blunder from leaders, particularly those in his fatherland without challenging it, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Monday came hard on President Muhammadu Buhari as he questioned the legality of the lockdown ordered by the president.
Recall that, Buhari as part of the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, last Sunday in a national broadcast directed the restriction of all movements in Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11:00p.m, Monday, March 30, 2020.
That decision did not go down well with Soyinka, as he condemned not only the rationality, but also the legitimacy of the order.
For Soyinka, it is necessary to generate deep intellectual discourse on the issue so as to ascertain whether the president is acting within the limits of his constitutional powers and not taking the people for a ride in the present enlightened age.
Perhaps, part of his fears may be that Buhari being a product of a command order background may develop the temptation of relapsing government into dictatorial tendencies which would result in the abuse of his powers.
In a statement he made available to newsmen on Monday, Soyinka argued that Nigeria was not in a war to necessitate such an order, demanding answers on whether Buhari had such powers to declare a lockdown.
He, therefore, asked the federal lawmakers, among others, to intervene in the situation to avoid or perhaps checkmate undue encroachment on constitutionally demarcated powers by the president.
Soyinka who at different times had lashed out at some of the errors of the Buhari administration had expressed surprise that a president who has the reputation of always being on AWOL more than any other before him has now woken up from slumber to dish out anti-people order.
Soyinka did not mince words in his observation. He said: “The worst development I can conceive is to have a situation where rational measures for the containment of the Coronavirus pandemic are rejected on account of their questionable genesis. This is a time for unity of purpose, not nitpicking dissensions.
“So, before this becomes a habit, a question: does President Buhari have the powers to close down state borders? We want clear answers. We are not in a war emergency.
“Appropriately focused on measures for the saving of lives, and committed to making sacrifices for the preservation of our communities, we should nonetheless remain alert to any encroachment on constitutionally demarcated powers.”
The playwright added: “We need to exercise collective vigilance, and not compromise the future by submitting to interventions that are not backed by law and constitution.
“A president who has been conspicuously on AWOL, the Rip van Winkle of Nigerian history, is now alleged to have woken up after a prolonged siesta, and begun to issue orders.
“What happens when the orders conflict with state measures, the product of a systematic containment strategy – `including even trial-and-error and hiccups – undertaken without let or leave of the centre?”
Expectedly, the presidency has hit back at Soyinka, informing him that he is not a medical scientist or medical specialist as regard issues concerning diseases and lacks the competence to speak on all that is involved in it.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu in a statement from the presidency enjoined Nigerians to trust information coming from scientists rather than listening to voices such as that of Soyinka whose “qualifications are in English literature, and his prizes are for writing books and plays for theatres.”
The presidency had said: “In the meantime, we ask the people of Nigeria to trust the words of our doctors and scientists-and not fiction writers at this time of national crisis. Prof Soyinka is, of course, entitled to his opinions, but that is exactly all they are, semantics, not science.”
But Soyinka is not alone in this adventure as other legal minds, social critics and public analysts have also questioned the constitutional validity of the pronouncement.
For instance, human rights activist, Femi Falana, said although the president is empowered to adopt any measures deemed fit to combat the dangerous disease, such measures have to be spelled out in a regulation made according to Section 305 of the Constitution or under the Quarantine Act otherwise, the Presidential Order on the restriction of movement in the affected areas cannot be enforced by the police.
Also, human rights lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa concurred to what Falana said, arguing strongly that Buhari has no right to make such proclamation without recourse to the National Assembly.
But Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and a Senior Advocate, Prof. Itse Sagay, did not waste time to berate Adegboruwa and those with such view, saying that he was merely trying to show off that he has knowledge of the law when the country is going through a crisis that involves life and death.
“Adegboruwa’s points are totally incorrect because in any law, either in the constitution or at any other level, there are exemptions. Like somebody said, even though the president has emergency powers, he needs to send it to the National Assembly. He doesn’t need to do that,” Sagay counseled.
But the president following much pressure from the public last Monday announced the signing into law the COVID-19 Regulations, which declared the disease an infectious one and, thereby giving him legal backing to adopt measures to combat it.
As the fireworks continue, Nigerians are waiting to see how the 14-day lockdown order would be complied with as they seem to be feeling fed-up, given the hunger and frustration that the majority are presently facing.
Prof Soyinka born in July 1934 into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta, Ogun State, is a playwright, poet, and essayist. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African to be honoured in that category.