The Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch (The Lion Bar) has taken note with grave concern, the enforcement of the directive by the Edo State Government on the restriction of access to public facilities to persons who have not been vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is not in doubt that there is need to take the vaccine to protect members of the public from the effects of the pandemic and build herd immunity. While we acknowledge the need for Government to protect the lives of its citizens both in areas of health, security and other spheres, the Government must be and indeed is duty-bound to also respect constituted authority.

As officers/worshipers in the temple of justice, we do not intend to delve into the substantive suit bothering on the legality or otherwise of the action of Government as same is sub judice. We shall however state that as a noble Profession under an umbrella body whose motto is 'Promoting the Rule of Law' and as the Peoples' vanguard, the sanctity and integrity of the Judicial arm of Government must be respected. Accordingly, we release this statement for the following reasons which are of concern to the Bar:

1. News reports which circulated a few weeks ago stated that the vacation Judge of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, restrained the Edo State Government from carrying out the planned move. While we acknowledge that the intentions of the Government may be noble, but without compulsion, the Edo State Government must be seen to be law-abiding while going about this move. The Court of Appeal decision in the case of Nigerian Army v. Mowarin (1992) 4 NWLR Pt. 235 p. 354, "An order of court must be obeyed, even if such order is perverse until such a time that the order is set aside by a competent court."

2. Edo state is said to have a population of over 3 million people, the vaccines which have been sent to Edo state from publicly available information is at most 600,000 doses (this is a generous estimate). Most of these vaccines are double dose vaccines, which means that Edo State currently can vaccinate 300,000 persons assuming they take both doses. This, therefore, means that 2,700,000 persons will automatically be left behind even if they were all willing to take the vaccine. This represents more than 70 per cent of the Edo people. The mandate by the Edo State Government though "nobly-intended" is very premature for the simple reason that the vaccines are insufficient to go around. If and when the vaccines are abundant and available to go round, the vaccine mandates may therefore become logical.

While we understand the strenuous task of governance and how cumbersome these decisions can be, we advocate the vaccine mandate be reconsidered for the above reasons. As a famous saying goes “a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action.”

Moreover, the decision not to obey the said court order will be tantamount to flagrant disregard of the rule of law and the Constitution which the Government operates. We further submit that Public health and safety cannot overide the fundamental rights of citizens especially when it tends to alienate and subjugate a valid order of a court of competent jurisdiction whether rightly or wrongly given which enforces such right. The present action of Government will no doubt affect, limit and restrict members and citizens access to justice in the circumstances.

The Bar will as always ensure the promotion of the rule of law and the enforcement of citizens' rights.

Pius I. Oiwoh

Chairman, Benin Branch.

O. A. Lawani

Secretary, Benin Branch.

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