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Wole Soyinka: Between COVID and Constitutional Encroachment

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Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka

By Wole Soyinka

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. 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 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, the Rip van Winkle of Nigerian history, 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. The Centre is obviously part of the entire process, and one expects this to be the norm, even without the epidemic’s frontal assault on the Presidency itself. Indeed, the Centre is expected to drive the overall effort, but in collaboration, with extraordinary budgeting and refurbishing of facilities.

The universal imperative and urgency of this affliction should not become an opportunistic launch pad for a sneak RE-CENTRALISATION, no matter how seemingly insignificant its appearance.

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.

Prof SOYINKA writes from Self-Quarantine at ARI, Ijegba.