Senior advocates of Nigeria and constitutional lawyers in the country have punched holes into the federal government’s plan to sanction Nigerians who refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine, saying it lacks the legal basis to do so.
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that the federal government had on Thursday said it would soon make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for civil servants.
Conspiracy theories have continued to dog COVID-19 and its vaccines, with many hesitant to take the available vaccines despite assurances from health and government authorities that they are safe and can save one from the virus.
However, secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, who gave the hint, said the federal government would not make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory until there was enough to go round.
Speaking during a meeting with the state commissioners for health in Abuja, Mustapha said, “The vaccine mandate will obviously come. Before now, simple yellow fever vaccine, you couldn’t travel without the card until Nigeria exited from the list of endangering countries. The world is gravitating towards that direction. By the time the western world vaccinates its people, you won’t be able to get to any of the western countries without the vaccine certificate. It is happening.”
But senior lawyers who spoke exclusively with LEADERSHIP Weekend on the matter urged the government to exercise restraint, while others said the government had the right to protect the citizens.
A senior lawyer, Abdul Balogun (SAN) argued that the law must first be amended for the vaccine to be made compulsory for Nigerians to take.
The learned silk said, ‘’You cannot force something on Nigerians, especially something that has to do with their health.’’
Also a constitutional lawyer, Barrister Paul Omoluabi, said the law needs to be amended first before Nigerians can be compelled to take the vaccine, adding that there is no legislation to make it mandatory for Nigerians to take the vaccine.
The plan is strictly against the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, they said, contending in medical practice, a vaccine or drug cannot be administered on a person without his consent.
He said he expects a court action against the federal government in the next few days that will get to the Supreme Court where it will be decided one way or the other.
Barrister Omoluabi said, ‘’There is no clear legislation to make the vaccine compulsory for Nigerians. The executive policy is clearly against the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. In the medical line, you have what we call medical consent and if a patient does not consent to a treatment, you cannot compel that patient to take the treatment.
‘’Aside from that, Chapter 4 section 33 to 44 of the 1999 Constitution clearly provides for the fundamental rights of Nigerians. The executive arm of government cannot come up with any kind of policy,” he said, adding that Nigerians should compulsorily take the COVID-9 vaccine unless the National Assembly enacts a law to back it up.
On his part, another s senior lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), told the government to await the outcome of the case against the Edo State government on the implementation of sanctions against those who fail to take the vaccine.
Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, had told the people of the state that the government would begin to sanction those who fail to take the vaccine by the first week of September.
Not satisfied with the decision, Edo State people staged a protest against the government. They went further to secure a court order barring the state government from going ahead with its decision.
Kalu said the federal government should await the outcome of the case before the court in Edo State before proceeding with any punishment.
‘’Already, a court in Edo has stopped the state government from going ahead with the decision to compel people to take the vaccine. I think they should await the determination of that case before going ahead with any sanction’’, he said.
Another lawyer, Professor Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), said the move by the government to make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory is premature because the country does not have enough vaccines to go around.
“Nigeria has received less than eight vaccines. When we have enough we can then discuss who must have it. It’s clearly premature for the government to mull compelling Nigeria to take the vaccine,” he said.
Professor Gbenga Ojo of the Law faculty, Lagos State University, said it would be a good case if it is tested in court, saying it is good for the jurisprudence and the constitutionality of this country.
He advised that all grievances should be vented in court.
He said, ‘’When a matter is filed in the court, the first issue the court must resolve is the issue of locus standi of the claimant. This is to prevent professional litigants from turning the court to a playing ground.
‘’How does the breach of APC Constitution concern the PDP as a live issue? It was a live issue in Jegede v Akeredolu. I do not think that it is a live issue in the present case.
‘’The Supreme Court does not give advisory opinions or academic opinions – because it is not an academic institution. Let persons affected by that in the APC seek the interpretation of the law and not the ‘busy body’ which PDP is in this case.
‘’Of course, there are bound to be contrary opinions; that is the beauty, until the Supreme Court determines the case. For me, PDP has no locus standi. There is no dispute with APC. They want the Supreme Court to give advisory judgment for which the court lacks competence.’’
On his part, Chief Oba Maduabuchi (SAN), however, said a person has the right to take the vaccine or reject it, but should stay in his house. According to him, the government has the right to regulate the health of its citizens.
He said, ‘’You have the right to say you don’t want to take the vaccine but you don’t have the right to expose other people to risk because of your refusal to take the vaccine.
‘’Where your right not to take the vaccine stops is where my right to health and life starts. I am entitled to the protection afforded by science with respect to COVID-19.
‘’Your refusal to take COVID-19 vaccine simply means that you will stay in your house and not go outside. You cannot refuse to take the vaccine and then come outside to the public.
‘’It is just like when you decide not to wear a mask, you should know that you will stay in your private premises. The government has the right to regulate the health of Nigerian citizens,’’ he stated.
Edo Records 4 New Deaths, 28 New Infections In 24 Hours
Meanwhile, with almost daily deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Edo State government yesterday called on residents to make themselves available to be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
The state government, while reiterating its commitment to ensure the safety and protection of all Edo people, announced that in the last 24 hours, it had recorded four new deaths from the pandemic.
It, therefore, maintained that vaccination remained the only known answer to curbing the spike of virus in its third wave across the state.
Addressing a press conference at the Government House, yesterday, the team lead of the state’s Case Management Task Force on Covid-19 Response, Dr. Ebomwonyi Osagie, said the Godwin Obaseki-led administration remained committed to ensuring the health and safety of citizens and would explore every option available for the protection of the best interests of Edo people.
Ebomwonyi said the state had in the past 24 hours witnessed 28 new cases of COVID-19 infections, four new deaths and no new recoveries, with a test positivity of 11.2 percent.
According to that the government was commencing intensive enforcement of the use of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) – like face and nose masks) to curb the current spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
“These measures include compulsory wearing of face masks, regular washing of hands under running water and/or use of hand sanitisers, and maintenance of recommended social and physical distancing in public places, among others,” it said.
Present at the daily media briefing were the Edo State Coordinator, World Health Organisation (WHO), Mrs. Faith Iyere; Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) representative in Edo state, Dr. Pius Ononigwe, and the permanent secretary, Edo State Ministry of Health, Dr. Osamwonyi Irowa.