Mar 31, 2020

The 1926 Quarantine Act and the Nigerian Reality



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

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