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As the world battles the Corona-Virus
Disease (Covid-19), emergency legislations are being enacted globally.[1]
Some governments have invoked the provisions of relevant legislations to
declare a state of emergency, to enable them legally enforce total shutdown of cities,
provide relief packages, and fast track the mass production of health
equipment.[2]
Alongside the unified effort by the Nigerian federal government, governors have
been on the front line of combating the disease, as a couple of them have
issued directives and regulations to enforce the shutdown of their respective
states.

 Section 305 of the 1999 constitution and the Quarantine
Act[3]
serve as the legal authority for the President to take extraordinary measures
during public health crises, as we are currently experiencing. While Section
305 of the 1999 constitution empowers the president to declare a public
emergency, restricting right to personal liberty, movement and property; the Quarantine
Act on the other hand, gives the president and the country’s health authorities,
broad powers to deal with public health crises by issuing declarations and
orders.

As already stated above, the Quarantine
Act is the primary legislation governing the suppression and prevention of
deadly infectious disease in Nigeria. The Act intends to provide for and
regulate the imposition of quarantine, and to make other provisions for
preventing the introduction and spread of dangerous infectious diseases in Nigeria.
The Act provides that “dangerous infectious disease” means cholera, plague,
yellow fever, smallpox and typhus. The Act further states that the president
may by notice, declare any disease of an infectious or contagious nature to be
a dangerous infectious disease within the meaning of the Act.[4]
Till date, this authority has been used just once in the past, to categorize Sleeping
sickness as a dangerous infectious disease.[5]
As the author writes, the president is yet to declare, by notice, Covid-19, to
be a dangerous infectious disease.

The Act also provides that the
President may by notice declare any place, whether within or outside Nigeria,
to be an infected local area.[6]
Section 4 further provides that the President may make regulations which among
other things:

·       
prescribe
the steps to be taken within Nigeria, upon any place, whether within or outside
Nigeria, being declared to be an infected local area.

·       
prevent
the spread of any dangerous infectious disease, from any place within Nigeria,
whether an infected local area or not, to any other place within Nigeria.

·       
prevent
the transmission of any dangerous infectious disease, from Nigeria or from any
place within Nigeria, whether an infected local area or not, to any place
outside Nigeria

·       
prescribe
the duties of such officers as may be charged with carrying out such
regulations.

It must be noted that the Quarantine
(Ships) Regulations remains the only set of regulations that has been issued
pursuant to this provision at the national level.[7]

 

Section 5 of the Act stipulates a 6
month jail term or a fine of 200 Naira for contravening any of the regulations
made under the act. The President; and within each state, the Governor, may provide
sanitary stations, buildings and equipment and appoint any sanitary anchorages,
as he may think necessary.[8]
The magistrate courts have jurisdiction to commence and determine proceedings
for imposing any fine or imprisonment or for recovering any expense incurred or
charged by the Government in carrying out the provisions of the Act.[9]

Section 8 of the Act provides that where
the President is yet to declare, by notice, a disease to be a dangerous infectious
disease or is yet to declare, by notice, any place to be an infected area or is
yet to issue regulations as provided for in Section 4 of the Act, the State
governors are accorded the same powers as the President.

 The Kaduna state government on Thursday 26th
of March invoked the provisions of Section 2, 3 and 8 of the Act, declaring
Kaduna State a public health area, declaring Covid-19 a dangerous infectious
disease and restricting movement from midnight.[10]
 Similarly, on Friday 27th of
March, the Lagos state government issued the Lagos State Infectious Disease
(Emergency Prevention) Regulations 2020.[11]
These regulations, among other things, imposed a shutdown of the state,
declared Covid-19 a dangerous infectious disease, and declared Lagos State an
infected local area.[12]

The Quarantine Act however has two
subsidiary legislations namely:

1.     
Declaration
of Dangerous Infectious Disease: Sleeping Sickness was declared to be a
dangerous disease within the meaning of the Act.

2.     
Quarantine
(Ships) Regulations:

These regulations provide that the port
health officer is authorized to inspect any ship, already in the port or on
arrival at the port.[13]
In any instance where the master of a ship has sent to the health authority, a
notification of infectious disease on board, or he (the health officer) has
reasonable grounds to believe that there is on board, a case or a suspected
case of an infectious disease, the port health officer is authorized to inspect
on arrival, any of such ship.[14]

The regulations also provide that a
ship that has voyaged in a foreign port shall complete a Maritime Declaration
of Health Form which shall be countersigned by the ships’ surgeon, if it has
one.[15]
When before a ship arrives a Nigerian port, and a person is suspected to be
suffering from or is showing symptoms of an infectious disease, the master is
obligated to send a radio message before arrival, either directly or to the
Port Health Authority. When a person onboard a ship is suffering from an
infectious disease or tuberculosis, or has been exposed to an infectious
disease, the  port health officer, upon
request by the master of a ship or on his own volition, is authorized to take
measures, including detaining the infected person or ordering his belongings to
be disinfected.

It should be noted that there is a Bill
for an Act to Establish the Nigerian Public Health (Quarantine, Isolation and
Emergency Health Matters Procedure) Act also known as Public Health Bill 2013
in the Senate.[16] This
Bill seeks to replace the Quarantine Act 1926, but is however yet to scale the
committee stage.

In conclusion, it must be stated that
the federal government is yet to lead by example in implementing the provisions
of the Quarantine Act 1926, as Nigerian is confronted by a deadly health
crisis. In his national address on Sunday 29th of March 2020, the
President made no recourse to the provisions of the Act in combating the
current national health crisis; rather he unconstitutionally imposed a 14-day
lock down on Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. This move, though out of necessity, begs to
question the relevance of the Quarantine Act 1926, in the current realities of
the Nigerian state.

@Legalnaija



[1]
The Covid-19 Emergency Response Act Receives Royal assent, https://www.canada.ca/en/departments-finance/news/2020/03/the-covid-19-emergency-response-act-receives-royal-assent0.html

 [2]
Countries like The US, Italy, France, and Spain, among others, have declared
state of national emergency.

[3]
Quarantine Act of 1926, 14 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria Cap. Q2 (rev. ed.
2004) http://www.placng.org/new//laws/Q2.pdf

 [4]
Section 4, Quarantine Act 1926

[5]
Nigeria: Legal Responses to Health Emergencies, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/health-emergencies/nigeria.php#_ftn33

 [6]
Section 3, Quarantine Act 1926

[7] Nigeria:
Legal Responses to Health Emergencies, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/health-emergencies/nigeria.php#_ftn33

 [8] Section
6, Quarantine Act 1926

 [9] Ibid Section. 7

 [13]
Par. 3(1) Quarantine (Ships) Regulation

[14] Ibid

[15]
Par, 10 Quarantine (Ship) Regulation

[16] Available
on the Nigerian Senate website at http://www.nassnig.org/nass/legislation.php?id=1316