SPEAKING TO NIGERIANS, PERSONALLY, for the first time, Sunday night, March 29, on televised broadcast, since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, on February 27, with the Italian index case, President Buhari, significantly, did not depart from known measures and actions already announced, and put in place by the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, and various State Governors.
Buhari said: “Based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11pm on Monday, March 30, 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two states.
“Furthermore, commercial establishments such as food processing, distribution and retail companies; petroleum distribution and retail entities; power generation, transmission and distribution companies; and private security companies are also exempted.
“Although these establishments are exempted, access will be restricted and monitored. Workers in telecommunication companies, broadcasters, print and electronic media staff who can prove they are unable to work from home are also exempted,.”
WEDNESDAY, March 25, Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, umbrella body of trade unions in the country, in a statement signed by the national president, Ayuba Wabba, conversed national palliative package to ameliorate the hardship Nigerians would, likely, face in the event of inevitable lockdown in the country, given the rising COVID-19 cases. He insisted that workers must not be made to shoulder the burden of the lockdown.
Wabba called for “wage protection” in the event of closure of factories and work places. “As it is, we foresee a situation where more factories and workplaces will experience closure and reduction in working hours. We insist that workers must not be cannon fodder for these socio-economic fallouts. In all of these, we demand job and wage protection.
“To make this possible, factories and businesses will require fiscal stimulus, financial aids and other macro-economic support incentives at this critical time. For millions of workers in the informal sectors, including our members in the transport, in the markets and all categories of artisans who are involved in involuntary lockdown, we demand cash grant through their associations to enable them cope during this difficult time,” NLC stated.
ECONOMISTS, Financial Experts And Analysts, have equally conversed national palliatives to Nigerians, in the events of total lockdown, occasioned by the spread of COVID-19. As well as pronouncements from the president on measures the government is taking to insulate the economy from adverse effects from the global lockdown. Public pressure was mounted on President Buhari to speak to Nigerians. And he, eventually, spoke.
President Buhari was expected to focus on key national issues, that aligns, with the critical situation, at the moment, with combating the spread of the virus in the country. His address, ironically, rhetorically touched what Nigerians already know. Measures and actions already announced by the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, and State Governors, which the people have braced up themselves.
He, also, touched on what seemed “humanitarian measures” of the government. But how much will the measures impact on the people at this critical time, as palliatives? Buhari said: “Furthermore, although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with State Governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding program during this period without compromising our social distancing policies. The Minister will be contacting the affected States and agree on detailed next steps.
“Furthermore, I have directed that a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect. I have also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all Federal Government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.
“For on-lending facilities using capital from international and multilateral development partners, I have directed our development financial institutions to engage these development partners and negotiate concessions to ease the pains of the borrowers.
“For the most vulnerable in our society, I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately. Our Internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks. We also call on all Nigerians to take personal responsibility to support those who are vulnerable within their communities, helping them with whatever they may need.”
Experts and analysts said Buhari’s announced “humanitarian palliatives” are uncertain. They are not wide-range national package or palliative that will touch the lives of the larger public, who are lockdown in their homes, and had no means of fending for their families, at this time. Such as workers in the informal sectors, all categories of artisans, factory workers, among others.
HUMAN RIGHTS LAYER, Ebun Adegboruwa, faulted Buhari’s address, from another angle. That the president needed to, constitutionally, declare state of emergency, that must be approved by the National Assembly. As such, had no powers to restrict movement of persons in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States, without recourse to the National Assembly.
Likely, the concern for legislation is to avoid conflict with the federal government. Especially, by Governors who are already proactive, ahead of the federal government; and who are genuinely approaching the spread of coronavirus in their respective States. No federal government pronouncements or directives can over-ride, or interfere with measures and actions already taken, or being taking by state governments, except under state of emergency.
“We are running a constitutional democracy and it is illegal for the President to take over the affairs of any State of the Federation without the express consent of the people of that State through their elected representatives. It is only the Governor of the State through the House of Assembly of the State that can make any declaration concerning the people of that State. Little wonder that the President could not cite any law that he relied upon for his declaration.
“I support every measure taken to contain the Coronavirus pandemic but such must be in accordance with law. If we allow this to stay, then tomorrow the President may just impose total restriction on all States of the Federation for whatever reason. I humbly urge the President to reverse the restrictions and work with the States concerned in accordance with the laws of our land”, Adegboruwa said.
Nigerians resident in Abuja, the federal capital; Lagos, the commercial nerve center of Nigeria; and Ogun State — who will be on total lockdown from mid-night, Monday, March 30, expects to hear more from President Buhari, on palliatives the federal government is putting, or has put in place, to care for their pressing needs — especially, food, during the lockdown.