The Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, PLAC, Clement Nwankwo has frowned at the actions of some state governors who have recently been deporting almajiris from their respective states to their supposed states of origin, describing any state government doing so at this time of COVID-19 pandemic as “very, very irresponsible and the federal government needs to take action to stop such irresponsibility”. Nwankwo was also not comfortable with some provisions in the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Bill now being reviewed by federal law makers, noting that “Several provisions of the law raise concerns; indeed raise questions about the extent of powers given to the NCDC without judicial review, without administrative review”. He said for a lot of them in the civil society organization, “that is really what the issue is, not whether the law is needed or not”.
Speaking Friday as guest on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily monitored by Tell, Nwankwo, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the rights of the almajiris being deported from one state to another were being incredibly violated, stressing that “if we do have a central government, a Federal government that is active, states should be called to order”. He said what the state governors were simply doing was “dispersing the spread of COVID-19; and if you consider reports coming in, Almajiris who were taken from Kano to Jigawa, Kaduna and the rest of the states are becoming dispersals of COVID-19”. He said a responsible system of government should not allow for citizens to be deported from one state to the other, stating that “If there are citizens in your domain in a particular state who are infected, it is irresponsible of any governor to order their deportation to their so-called states of origin”.
Giving example of what happens in other climes, Nwankwo said “if you watch what is going on, the international community has hired flights to take their citizens out of several capitals across the world; we’ve seen that in Nigeria – British Airways moving citizens out of Nigeria, moving citizens out of several other countries around the world back home. Nobody is saying when you arrive as a British citizen we would deport you or make sure you go to your particular country or nation in the United Kingdom. People get in; and they are not even saying we should quarantine you. So, there are certain rights as a citizen that you have, and it doesn’t matter if a person is infected and is located and resident in any particular state. That state has a responsibility to take care of every person who is a citizen resident in their domain”.
Nwankwo argued that It is actually detrimental to the rights of people to take persons who may be infected from one state and move them to a different location where there may be no infections, adding that the whole idea should be that if any person is infected in any part of Nigeria, it’s a concern of everybody who is a citizen of Nigeria. He noted that the whole issue of Almajiris is a long-held problem in this country and that it is only recently, “and perhaps one of the consequences or fall-out of COVID-19 that people are beginning to understand that the almajiri system is unacceptable. You’ve got to send children to the right schools; you’ve got to send children to proper education and it is beginning to be recognized now that the almajiri system is inimical to our economic and social development”.
Nwankwo insisted that this is not the time to begin to ostracise almajiri children and begin to identify what state they come from and move them in that direction. He said a whole lot of people being moved to particular states, supposedly their states, may actually not be from those states. “So, I think that what is going on in terms of supposedly deporting almajiris is irresponsible and I think that the Federal government needs to call states to order”. He berated the states for sitting back, folding their hands and expecting the federal government to take responsibility for dealing with COVID—19, positing that every state has responsibility to deal with this issue. According to Nwakwo, It’s not about building structures and putting beds in there when you are doing absolutely nothing.
“The Federal government is being questioned about palliatives. What are the state governments doing? State governments get resources; what are they doing with those resources? How are they helping persons resident in their states to cope with the crisis? You look at the example of Lagos State for instance which is commendable; maybe not enough, but commendable. What are other states doing? How many states are putting in resources to deal with the crisis that we have rather than finding scapegoats and moving people and deporting people in this circumstance in this time?”
On the review of the NCDC Bill, Nwankwo underscored the importance of reviewing the Quarantine Act which he noted was enacted in 1918 and so is 92 years old. While however commending the sponsors of the review, Nwankwo said he actually had no problem with the bill but question the process. He believed that such “a very monumental Bill”, with far-reaching provisions needed to be discussed and debated publicly to know exactly what is there and what should not be there, noting that the constitution already allows for curtailment or derogation of rights in respect of public health matters and indeed several other issues, so, there must be a law that is subject to scrutiny.
“Yes, the law is needed and the legislators who have proposed this law should be commended for proposing it. But let’s have the opportunity to discuss the law; look at what it is that derogates from human rights. For instance provisions giving the NCDC powers to designate a building to be public health hazard and to destroy such a building. Those are very enormous powers; and these are personal buildings, not public buildings. The whole issue of ostracisation or stigmatization is re-emphasised in the bill because the bill says you can mark a building, and this includes personal building, as a building that are transmitters of, or could be infected buildings. The bill does not also recognize the crisis of housing that this country is faced with, saying that the NCDC can designate a particular building to be over-crowded. Please there are millions of buildings in this country that are over-crowded. In an era of challenge of COVID-19, or indeed any other infectious disease, you would have to designate millions of buildings in this country as over-crowded and open or subject to destruction” Nwankwo noted with grave concern.
Asserting that there is quite a lot that is of concern in the bill, he urge the sponsors, the chambers of the National Assembly, to open it up for public debate and discussion “so that we can have a bill that is acceptable to everyone”.