The Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Nigeria has issued an official statement regarding the novel coronavirus disease global crisis and its accompanying effect. Here is the text in full:
The Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Nigeria (“MULAN”) is concerned about the various challenges which the current Covid -19 pandemic has thrown up in the World. This is not the first time a plague of great magnitude has befallen the global community. However, with the New World order, including all the advancement in technology which has turned the World into a global village, the effects of the current pandemic has been more far-reaching than any pandemic before it.
From the Wuhan Province of China where it all started through various countries in Asia, Europe, America to Africa, the story has been of devastation of public health and social-economic life of people. The danger posed to the public by the pandemic is such that there is a near total lockdown of many countries as a safety precaution to reign it in. The Nigerian Federal and various State Governments have imposed restrictions on the movement of people into and within the country.
In the Judiciary, the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria acceded to the request of the Nigerian Bar Association and directed all Heads of Judiciary at Federal and State levels to shut courts for an initial period of 14 days except for handling of urgent cases. This accords with what the Lagos State Judiciary had done earlier on.
MULAN notes that despite the spirited efforts being made by the Federal and State Governments as well as their relevant agencies, the number of cases of persons OFFICIALLY KNOWN to have been infected by this virus is on the ascendance. At the last count, over 100 persons including the Chief of Staff to the President, 3 State Governors, Speaker of a House of Assembly, Provost and Chief Medical Director of University College Hospital, Ibadan plus 2 of their colleagues, a son to a former Vice President of Nigeria have been confirmed by the National Centre for Disease Control.
MULAN commends all the persons and institutions involved in the fight against this pandemic especially the medical and health personnel, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and civil society organizations.
While MULAN encourages all persons in Nigeria to abide by the different instructions and or regulations of the Federal and State Governments and relevant agencies to curtail the spread, heal the sick and permanently solve this problem, a number of issues have arisen.
First, a section of Legal Practitioners have questioned the legality of the step taken by the President in his broadcast message and subsequently in the Regulations he made as it relates to the lockdown of some defined parts of the Federation. The persons concerned are not against the step but the procedure leading to it which they have argued is not in accordance with due process.
As a body of legal minds, we do appreciate the patriotic drive to ensure legality of steps taken by the Government in dealing with the situation. However, we hasten to add that the present global challenge which the World Health Organization (“WHO”) has since declared a pandemic does not permit the luxury of legal niceties. The Government cannot be mortgaging the health of Nigerians to await the proper legal framework under which it could act to stem the pandemic at hand.
As provided under Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
The President has made Regulations to prevent the spread of the covid-19 virus within Nigeria pursuant to his powers under the Quarantine Act, L.N. 131 of 1954. He had in his public broadcast of 29th March, 2020 given notice of the infected local areas where this virus had done damage. The definition of local area by the Act covers States because “canton” means State. Aside that, a State in Nigeria is “an agglomeration” of Local Government Areas.
The Quarantine Act has not provided for any specific form in which notice is to be given. It is our view that the broadcast suffices and the Regulations made are regular.
It is an established fact that one of the ways to curb an epidemic is to localize it and prevent it from spreading to other areas. The essence is to preserve life.
In Islam, there is a Prophetic Sunnah which enjoined mankind on what to do when an outbreak occurs as follows:
“If you hear about it (an outbreak of plague) in a land, do not go to it; but if a plague breaks out in a country where you are staying, do not run away from it”
An application of the above Sunnatic injunction was during the time of Umar bin Al-Khattab who embarked on a military expedition to Sham but on reaching Sargh, got information from his Commanders that an epidemic had broken out in Sham. He aborted the operation and returned to Medina.
It is also an established Sunnah that any person with an infectious disease or a repulsive smell is excused from going to the mosque for congregational prayer. This is to prevent the spread of the disease or irritation to other people. Personal hygiene is highly recommended. As a matter of fact, the Prophet, SAW, said that we should wash our hands once we wake up from sleep because one would not know where the hand touched while asleep.
MULAN therefore fully endorses the decision of the Nigerian Government to restrict the movement of people as well as reduce crowding among people in Nigeria. Going for congregational prayers in the mosque or church or synagogue should be put on hold by the adherents at this time.
We appeal to all Nigerians, irrespective of religious persuasion or ethnicity, to appreciate the fact that the covid-19 pandemic is real. It is a viral attack that can easily spread because of our many levels of physical interactions. It follows that the presence of the virus in any State poses great threat to people living in other States. We should not be its vectors.
In other not to be vectors of this virus, we urge all persons resident in Nigeria to, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), maintain a high sense of hygiene, wash their hands regularly, use hand sanitizers, use hand gloves and masks to cover their mouths and noses, avoid handshakes, keep social distance and avoid crowding themselves at any place to stem the spread of the virus.
MULAN appreciates that much sacrifice is expected from members of the public who are not free to move around and transact their daily businesses. As part of the constitutional duty of Government to ensure the welfare of the people, we urge the Federal and State Governments to provide sufficient palliatives to the people of Nigeria especially in the most hard hit States and the FCT.
As commendable as what the Government at Federal and State levels have done so far is, it is our view that much more need to be done. With the large army of unemployed and under-employed Nigerians coupled with the near absence of any real and efficiently run social benefits scheme before the present crisis, this is not the time for the customary latching on the commonwealth to SATIATE PERSONAL GREED. Whatever is contributed or earmarked for the benefit of the people must not be hijacked.
MULAN equally notes that the social and economic challenges cut across all fields including Legal Practice. The (in)ability of many Legal Practitioners especially those below 10 years post call to meet their financial obligations is of great concern. The Association hereby calls on the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) to factor in measures to give some palliatives to members of the profession.
For starters, we appeal that the time for the payment of Bar Practising Fee for 2020 be extended to the first week of June, 2020 to enable those who have not paid to source for money and pay. We are not unmindful of the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) and the Constitution of the NBA. However, the covid-19 pandemic is an act of God which has foisted the present social economic challenges on members of the profession. Since during court vacation and public holidays, time does not run under the Rules of Court, we appeal that same should be applied in the instant case and the computation of time for payment of the BPF for this year be deemed to have frozen in the months of February and March.
MULAN calls on Nigerians to be their brother’s keeper. We should display the true love for our neighbours in line with our religious teachings and African value of communality. As we feed, our duty to our neighbours is to ensure they do not go hungry. We commend to us the admonition of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, SAW, that no one is a true Muslim who is well-fed while his neighbour goes hungry. And, that our neighbours include those staying some 40 houses away from ours.
MULAN believes that Nigeria will come out of this challenge of covid-19 stronger and with a better re-orientation of our social values for the common good of all Nigerians. Covid-19 has laid bare the reality that most of the things we pursue are not what defines our humanity. There is the crying need for those charged with responsibility to provide public good to Nigerians to do what is expected of them going forward.
We pray that Allah, SWT, assist us to quickly solve this pandemic and put Nigeria on the path of real growth, prosperity and greatness. May our country be one in which love, peace and justice for all Nigerians shall reign. To each person or institution that has sacrificed in the fight against this pandemic, may Allah blessings be upon you.
For: MUSLIM LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (MULAN)
Prof F. A. R. Adeleke, National President Ismaila Alasa, Secretary General