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Ekweremadu advocates law reform to address COVID-19 disruptions

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Former Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has called for the reform of Nigerian laws to properly address challenges thrown up by the Coronavirus pandemic as well as future challenges of Covid-19 proportions.

Ekweremadu also observed that the Coronavirus pandemic and the post-EndSARS protest looting was a wakeup call on the need to make Section 2 of the 1999 Constitution justiciable to properly cater to the welfare of the poor.

The lawmaker spoke while delivering a lead paper entitled “Law and National Development Under Covid-19 Era: Charting a Legislative Response to Disruptions of the Legal Order” at a Virtual Conference organised by the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus on Wednesday.

He said: “We never projected that a day would come when the parliament, courts, government offices, and indeed the country and the world would shut down for weeks or months, not by war, not by unrest, but by a plague of Covid-19 proportions. But it has happened and the threats are still with us.

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“It therefore means we have to think outside the box, taking measured steps to reform our laws and possibly create new ones where necessary to cater to both the present and future realities in order to ensure smoothness, effectiveness, efficiency and equally confer legitimacy on governance”.

Citing various constitutional provisions as well as the Guidelines and ruling of the National Judicial Council and the Supreme Court, respectively, Ekweremadu called for constitutional amendments to expressly authorise both the legislature and the judiciary to conduct their businesses virtually.

“While virtual conduct of legislative business might be permissible, the safest route would be an amendment of the Constitution to expressly authorise virtual plenaries, committee meetings, public hearings, etc.

“Important also is the need for constitution amendment to expressly legalise virtual court sessions. What the Supreme Court and the NJC have done, which are welcome in the present circumstance, could be likened to the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity to deal with an unforeseen, unprecedented, and unlegislated situation”, he stated.

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The lawmaker, who joined the conference from Jordan, where he is currently observing that country’s parliamentary election, said the hardship so far experienced by Nigerians in the Covid-19 had justified the decision of the constitution amendment efforts he chaired in the 7th National Assembly to make social welfare compulsory, regretting that it was not signed into law.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed our weakness in the area of social welfare. One of the major reasons for the unfortunate situation is the non-justiciability of Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

“I equally believe that the lootings that followed the EndSARS protests could have been avoidable or less if there was a reliable social welfare scheme to cater to the basic needs of Nigerians. But what we saw is enough warning on the urgent need for a sustainable and reliable social welfare system”, he stated.

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Ekweremadu equally called on the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to re-evaluate its Code to settle the issue of user-generated content, UGC, which he said was at the heart of citizen journalism that had become key to modern broadcasting, especially in emergency situations. He observed that rigid sanctions on media houses could hurt press freedom that democracy ought to promote.

Other speakers, including the keynote speaker, Justice Mary Odili and the Dean of UNN’s Faculty of Law, Dr. Samuel Nwatu, canvassed reforms in various areas of the nation’s governance and national life to guarantee development in the era of Covid-19.

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