Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, has condemned the directive of His excellency David Nweze Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State, ordering local government officials and law enforcement agencies to flog anyone who appears in public without wearing face mask in Ebonyi State.
In a letter dated 3rd May 2020 and signed by LEDAP national coordinator, Chino Obiagwu SAN, stated that “flogging is an inhuman treatment prohibited under Section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which guarantees every person’s right to the respect of his or her dignity and prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Flogging or any such corporal punishment also amounts to torture and therefore a crime under Section 2 of the Anti-Torture Act 2017, which has national application including in Ebonyi State. Flogging also violates the provision of Section 2 of the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 and African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 1990.”
The organization called on the Governor to withdraw the statement forthwith and to direct officials to refrain from flogging any offender but rather those suspected of flouting the Covid-19 Regulations in the State should be charged and given fair hearing in the courts, including mobile courts, to ensure that due process of the law is complied with.
The organization and its allies working to protect and promote human rights in Nigeria especially during this Covid-19 lockdown stated that they will take steps, in line with their mandate, to initiate criminal charges under the Anti-Torture Act 2017 against any official in the state who flogs a citizen as punishment for any offence or for any reason whatsoever and shall also hold the Governor accountable at the end of his immuned tenure, under the principle of command criminal responsibility.
LEDAP further drew the Governor’s attention to the fact that ”most citizens in Nigeria including in Ebonyi state, live under the poverty line and daily subsistence. With the Covid-19 lockdown, most of our citizens are struggling to find food for themselves and their families, and would rarely afford to buy nose masks, considering that the cost of these masks has increased in recent weeks. Without your government providing the mask free of charge to your citizens, it will be morally and legally wrong to enforce your order for mandatory wearing of masks. Your government has the primary purpose under section 13 of the Constitution to cater for the ‘safety and welfare of the citizens’ and this is an important aspect of your governance duties to your people.”
The Ebonyi State Governor was urged to provide the masks to citizens of Ebonyi state free of charge if his government is going to enforce the compulsory mask wearing directive because without such support to the citizens especially the rural and urban poor households, the government has no moral and legal right to demand that everyone should wear a mask, not the least, to punish anyone who cannot afford to buy one.