COVID-19: Lawyers Sue FG, Demand Categorization Of Legal Practice As Essential Service

Mr Folarin Aluko

By Joshua Oriola 

Lawyers in Nigeria have dragged the Federal Government to court, demanding the categorization of legal practice and the Judiciary as essential services, particularly during periods of emergency. 

In suit no FHC/ ABJ/CS/467/2020, filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, against the Federal Government, the lawyers said their services would be required at all times to uphold the Rule of Law and Human Rights.  

The Plaintiff, Lawyers Network Against Corruption in conjunction with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Abuja Branch are urging the Court to designate the Judiciary and Legal Practitioners as essential services personnel during the exercise of the President’s emergency powers under the Quarantine Act or any other Legislation. 

The action also asks the court to recognize Nigerians’ Constitutional rights of access to the Law Courts guaranteed by Section 6, (6) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution, as well as the Right to Legal Counsel, provided for under Section 36(6) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

In the originating process, the Plaintiffs, represented by a team of lawyers led by Mr. Ezenwa Anumnu and the NBA Abuja Chairman, Mr. Folarin Aluko, argued that the President’s powers to impose curfews or lockdowns during periods of emergency cannot restrict the constitutional power of the Judiciary to determine disputes, the right to access the courts and Nigerians’ fundamental right of access to legal practitioners.

The Plaintiff urged the court to declare that the imposition of lockdown, curfews or states of emergency do not operate as a temporary suspension of the rule of law, or the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.

Aluko and Anumnu prayed the court to declare that all enforcement and security agencies authorized to enforce lockdown, curfews or states of emergency are bound to observe the fundamental rights of Nigerians guaranteed by the Constitution.

Other reliefs sought by the lawyers include the declaration that the public’s right of Access to the courts is necessary at all times, in a free and democratic society and that even in cases of lockdown, curfews or states of emergency, the courts must operate so as to check against any excesses by the executive.

The Plaintiff also seek an injunction restraining the Federal Government of Nigeria from restricting or attempting to restrict legal practitioners in the course of providing essential legal services.

Meanwhile, a legal practitioner in Abuja who is also a member of NBA Abuja Branch COVID19 Task Force,  B.Y. Atsen, Esq, said the move by Plaintiff is right and and very imperative.  

His words “This is a good move. While the Judiciary is the last hope of the common man, legal practitioners are watchdogs of rule of law. They are  fundamental to the operation of a democratic society, especially during the lockdown because Justice is not on lockdown.”

“There have been many human rights incidents during the lockdown and there must be remedies for these violations. It is however important that lawyers and judges on essential duty should follow the necessary safety protocols”. 

It would be recalled that the NBA Abuja branch provided Pro Bono legal services to persons accused of violating the COVID-19 Regulations 2020, at the various mobile courts sitting across the Federal Capital Territory.

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