Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), speaks on latest developments in Rivers, Kogi and Lagos state in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
There has been controversy over some actions taken by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state on his efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The latest being the demolitions of two hotels for flouting lockdown directives. What is your take on that?
In terms of attitude, I think he is very hostile and aggressive and he is exhibiting it in the middle of this crisis. I remember the speech he made to the traditional rulers in the state; he treated them like rascally school boys that you can talk to anyhow without any regard. That is his attitude, so I’m not really surprised. Now, on this issue of Coronavirus and his response to it, he has totally ignored the authority of the federal government. He is behaving as if the federal government has no authority in the state and that he is completely in charge. I think the federal government has been very patient and accommodating in spite of the idiosyncrasy that has occurred.
On this matter, when the federal government actually makes a pronouncement, no state authority can contravene it. It is when the federal government doesn’t say anything or give any directive that the state is free to give its directive. You all can see the way Lagos state responded. The federal government gave the directive on lockdown and there was no resistance because the state government knows that the federal government has overriding authority both under the Quarantine Act of 1926.
States can operate, provided they don’t clash with the federal government. When the federal government gives a directive along that issue, states can no longer do that because it is a constitutional matter. So, the way Wike has been carrying on is as if there is a republic of Rivers state of which he is the President. He has done it so far and gotten away with it because the federal government is very accommodating. We have a President who is very gentle, who doesn’t want to make trouble with anybody but wants things to go on peacefully in the country.
However, Wike wakes up and keeps raising all forms of hostility against the federal government endlessly and yet; the federal government keeps on accommodating him. If the federal government decides to respond or take any action, it will be a one-sided affair and the state will have nothing to say or do. You cannot compare the two in terms of law and in terms of force. They are not comparable. Anything the federal government wants to do in this particular issue, it will do it and nothing will happen.
In any case, aside the Quarantine Act, even the Constitution has a provision that some aspects of human rights can be suspended to enable the federal government make law and take actions when there is a major health crisis. Wike should know that the final authority belongs to the federal government. Where the federal government gives any directive in that situation, the state governments just have to comply. Wike should try and calm down a little bit and not behave as if he is the head of a republic of Rivers state because there is no such thing.
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state last week ordered the isolation of NCDC’s officials who came to ascertain the claim by the state to be COVID-19 free and they had to flee. Do you think the governor’s action is justified?
That is a clear act of illegality. It is a clear case of provoking a more powerful entity than you and he got away with it. Even as a layman in medicine, nobody needs to tell me that Kogi state is probably full of COVID-19 infected people”. From all that Yahaya Bello is doing, he is covering up. It’s as if there is a prize he will win if he continues to say there is not a single case of COVID-19 in the state. It is very childish and infantile act.
Now, he is covering up but what it means is that when the thing spreads and death toll continues to rise like the case in Kano, then he will be overwhelmed and nobody will tell him before he crawls back to the federal government.What he did was illegal. He has no power to send back the NCDC officials who are acting under federal authority in this matter in which there is federal supremacy. There is no question about that.
If the federal government wants, it can send those NCDC officials back to Kogi state with full security and they will go in, do all the tests they want. Nobody will lift a finger against them, nobody will talk. They will do the tests well and be satisfied with the might and law behind them.
So, Yahaya Bello is just testing an authority that is far stronger than him but he should thank God that we have an accommodating Federal government. The NCDC officials know there are COVID-19 infected cases in the state and the whole thing is just a cover up. I suspect it is the same situation in Cross River which is also claiming not to have a single case. If you look at Kogi state, it is at the centre of Nigeria where everybody passes through. It doesn’t make sense to claim the state is free from the virus. I have no doubt in my mind that if there is proper testing by the NCDC, quite a number of cases will be found.
I think it is better for them to carry out these tests so that we will be able to assess the level of infection and then treat those who are infected so that they can survive. It is unfair to hide and allow people to die, and then you are now claiming it is due to ‘unknown disease’.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu last weekend said he will not hesitate to re-impose total lockdown in Lagos state if residents continue to violate guidelines on the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown. Don’t you think a total lockdown in Nigeria’s commercial capital is improper?
I won’t blame him. My only plea to him is to give us 48 hours so that we can all stock up foods. If he locks us up for another month or two, I will not blame him because Lagosians are behaving irresponsibly. I have been coming out these past four days to the office and I see them all over the place. More than 50 percent of them are not carrying any facemasks at all. Of the remaining 50 percent, half of them are carrying the facemasks under their chins; only 25 percent are wearing it properly. If you don’t cover the mouth and nose, you defeat the purpose because the idea is that those who are infected will be ejecting the virus from their mouth and nostrils on innocent people.
So, when others are protecting you by wearing these masks, and you are not wearing, it means you are endangering them because you are going to spread the disease and make the pandemic take a whole more time, kill a lot more people and reduce our economic capacity simply because of indiscipline. So, I won’t blame the governor for threatening a total lockdown but I will suggest that he should give an ultimatum that if he doesn’t witness 90 percent compliance, he will close down the state for one month in the first instance, and he may extend it if after one month people are still not complying. Nobody will blame him for doing that.
However, It is my view that the Lagos State government is not making enough efforts to enforce its own directives. It has been very laid back in that regard. Because of that, we now find that people refuse to wear facemasks, they fail to observe social distancing and also gathering together very tightly at banks and other places. Also, we are now also seeing commercial motorcycles (okada) that has been banned riding in areas where they have been banned without anybody challenging them.
I have seen okadas in Surulere, Eko Bridge, Lekki Phase 1 and in several other places. Some even carry two passengers holding tightly to themselves in areas where the state government said they have been totally banned and there is no LASTMA, RRS, Police or any Lagos state official to arrest them.In other words, the ban on okada which was being observed is now being flouted in addition to others who are not even observing the safety guidelines on Coronavirus. So, it is a double problem now in Lagos. Okada men are now riding recklessly on the roads without any arrest whatsoever. I blame the Lagos state government for that.