Judgement against movement’s restriction not vacated –Adegboruwa
In this interview with MUDIAGA AFFE, a lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, says plans by the Lagos State Government to reintroduce environmental sanitation will be challenged if it impedes free movement of people
What is your reaction to the latest move by the Lagos State Government to reintroduce the monthly environmental sanitation?
Well, I’m fully in support of any move by the state government to clean the environment and there is no gainsaying the fact that Lagos seems to have been littered with refuse here and there. We have been working on how to achieve cleaner Lagos for a long time. So, it is a welcome idea which one supports but the methodology and the strategy may be the issue. Before the emergence of this administration, led by Babajide Sanwo-Olu, sanitation had always been a priority for any regime and so we support the effort to clean. But when it comes to the illegal policy of restricting movement of citizens is another thing entirely. For us as citizens and Lagosians, we are happy to have this new regime and would support all its policies and programmes, especially on sanitation. However, whether he has the right to restrict peoples’ movement in law is a different kettle of fish altogether.
You had once dragged the state government before the court over the restriction of movement during sanitation. Do you still maintain this position?
We are still in court on the matter. In 2015, a Federal High Court in Lagos delivered a judgement against the Lagos State Government and the Inspector-General of Police; it issued an injunction restraining the government and the police from restricting movement and disturbing people in the name of environmental sanitation. That judgement is still valid and the state government appealed against the judgement. We have been on the appeal but they refused to file their brief. So, we still have a judgement of the Federal High Court that is subsisting and valid. Every government has a duty under Section 287 of the Constitution, which says that the executive arm of government has a duty to obey the decisions of the court. The Lagos State Government has no choice in this matter because there is a judgement in force that cancelled the restriction of movement, but it did not cancel the observance of the environmental sanitation. If you want to do sanitation for a whole Saturday in a month, nobody is opposing that. We welcome it and will participate in it. But it cannot lead to the restriction of movement of people because that is illegal and unconstitutional. The constitution in sections 35, 38 and 40, grants freedom of movement to all citizens. It is beyond any state government in Nigeria and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to restrict the movement of citizens and the court has made a pronouncement on that. We are a country of democracy that is governed by the rule of law. There is no basis at all for the government of Lagos State to be tinkering with the idea of restricting movement. But we are all enthusiastic about this new government and we would participate in the environmental sanitation any time that the government declares. It should not lead to the restriction of the movement of people. If they try that, it would amount to contempt of court and that is punishable by law. I do not think that the governor would want to start his administration with a confrontation with the judiciary. From the language I have seen about Governor Sanwo-Olu, he is a peaceful and law-abiding man who swore to an oath on May 29, 2019 to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is less than one month, he cannot start his regime by violating his oath of office. I do not think the government has any plan to restrict people from moving; it will be totally unconstitutional.
Although the government says it is consulting with the people over the matter, what, if it decides to resume the exercise, what options will you seek?
Well, I feel that we should not encourage the government to embark on deliberate act of impunity because when those in authority, holding power in trust for us, set out to deliberately violate a judgement of the court, the signal to the rest of society is very bad. I will honestly believe that part of the consultation of the governor is to talk to lawyers and I am sure he will be consulting with lawyers and civil society. When a government, on its own, decides to violate a court judgement, it is sending a signal of lawlessness and impunity and a society that is governed by total disregard for the law and this will be bad. If it does that, it is for us to go back to the court and set up a process for the court to interpret the decisions or policies of the government. The history of this whole struggle to free the people from the compulsory stay at home for three hours was on June 29, 2013, I got an invitation to appear on a national television station to discuss a national issue. On my way, I had the access card with me, but when I got to the Ojota/Ketu end of the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, I was stopped by LASTMA and policemen and they did not allow me to proceed. I was arrested and detained on the claims that I violated environmental sanitation law. But I told them that there was no such law in existence; they refused to listen. Thereafter, the following week, I approached the Federal High Court to determine whether the government of Lagos has the power to restrict movement of citizens in the name of environmental sanitation. The court examined the matter; the state government was in court and the court said there was no such law. That is where we are. Another citizen also approached the Court of Appeal on the same matter for which a decision was also taken. This is not about me.
Over the years as a resident of Lagos, did the compulsory restriction of movement help to achieve cleaner environment?
Those were the arguments before the court. I had said that there was no need to restrict movement because it was not achieving anything. I gave examples of Saturdays when children use the opportunity to play football on the roads. There are existing LAWMA and PSP operators that we pay monthly to carry out the task. If I am paying for it, why do you then restrict my movement? It is double jeopardy. Restricting movement of pregnant women and other sick people was too much and it was not achieving the purpose for which it was set to achieve.
Credit: The Punch