COVID-19:  Between Soyinka and the Presidency

President Buhari and Prof. Soyinka
President Muhammadu Buhari and Professor Woke Soyinka

By TOM CHIAHEMEN (Abuja)and ALEX EHIME (Lagos) –

As the rampaging Coronavirus continues to hit almost all nations of the world with unimaginable casualties, the Nigerian Government and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, have been pitched in a war of words over the propriety or otherwise of some of the policy directives issued by President Muhammadu Buhari to check further spread of the virus also known as COVID-19 in the country.

It all started on March 2, 2020 when President Buhari, in long anticipated national broadcast since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, directed the lock-down of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states for an initial period of 14 days.

President 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, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States.

“All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.

“The Governors of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Minister of the FCT have been notified. Furthermore, heads of security and intelligence agencies have also been briefed.

“We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases. We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other States.”

SOYINKA:  Does President Buhari have the powers to close down state borders? 

Barely 48 hours after the presidential directive, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, criticized the lock-down order, questioning the constitutional right of the federal government to close down state borders in order to contain the rampaging coronavirus.

Soyinka said: “Constitutional lawyers and our elected representatives should kindly step into this and educate us, mere lay minds.

“The worst development I can conceive is to have a situation where rational measures for the containment of the Corona pandemic are rejected on account of their questionable genesis.

“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 focussed on measures for the saving lives, and committed to making sacrifices for the preservation of our communities, we should nonetheless remain alert to any encroachment on constitutionally demarcated powers. 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 AWOL is now alleged to have woken up after a prolonged siesta, and begun to issue orders.

“Who actually instigates these orders anyway? From where do they really emerge? 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.

“So far, the anti-COVID19 measures have proceeded along the rails of decentralised thinking, multilateral collaboration and technical exchanges between states.

“I urge governors and legislators to be especially watchful. No epidemic is ever cured with constitutional piracy. It only lays down new political viruses for the future.”

…Nigerians should trust science, not fiction – Presidency

In a swift reaction to Professor Soyinka’s comments, the presidency on Wednesday advised Nigerians not to listen to the celebrated literacy icon – somebody it described as best suited for fiction writing.

In a statement made available to NATIONAL ACCORD on April 1, Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), said:

“Yesterday, the esteemed Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka made comments on the legal status and description of 14-day lockdown announced by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Professor Soyinka is not a medical professor. His qualifications are in English literature, and his prizes are for writing books and plays for theatres. He is of course entitled to his opinions – but that is exactly all they are: semantics, not science. They cannot – and should not – therefore be judged as professional expertise in this matter in any shape or form.

“Across the world – from parts of the United States and China, to countries including the United Kingdom and France, government – mandated lockdowns are in place to slow and defeat the spread of coronavirus. All have been declared, and all have been made necessary, based on medical and scientific evidence. The guidance of the Nigerian Government’s medical specialists is to advise the same.

“Professor Soyinka has also declared, doubtless based on his specialism as a playwright, that:  “We are not in a war emergency’’.

Eminent scientists say otherwise:

“Dr Richard Hatchett, Head of the International Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (and former Director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) has said, ‘War is an appropriate analogy’.

“Professor Anthony Fauci, Director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has said of the battle against the pandemic: ‘It’s almost like the fog of war’.

“As for the legality of the lock down, the Government of Nigeria’s primary duty in law and action is the defence of the people of Nigeria. We face a global pandemic. Nigeria is now affected. The scientific and medical guidance the world over is clear: the way to defeat the virus is to halt its spread through limitation of movement of people.

“Perhaps Wole Soyinka may write a play on the coronavirus pandemic, after this emergency is over. 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.’’

Meanwhile, as the war of words rages between Soyinka and the Presidency, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed a toll of 174 cases of the coronavirus in the country, after 23 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

According to NCDC, of the 23 new cases, nine were reported in Lagos, seven in Abuja, five in Akwa Ibom, and one each in Kaduna and Bauchi states respectively.

The NCDC on its verified Twitter channel stated that “Twenty-three new cases of #COVID19 have been reported in Nigeria; 9 in Lagos, 7 in the FCT, 5 in Akwa Ibom, 1 in Kaduna and 1 in Bauchi State.

“As at 08:00 pm 1st April there are 174 confirmed cases of #COVID19 reported in Nigeria. Nine have been discharged with two deaths”.

For a breakdown of cases by states, it detailed that currently;
Lagos- 91
FCT- 35
Osun- 14
Oyo- 8
Ogun- 4
Edo- 4
Kaduna- 4
Bauchi- 3
Enugu- 2
Ekiti- 2
Benue- 1
Akwa Ibom- 5



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