No doubt, the past few years have tested the limits of the modern man in the fields of medicine and public health with the outbreak of the corona virus (christened “Covid-19” by the World Health Organisation) in 2019. The year 2020, saw the virus rise to the status of a pandemic leading to widespread death, global economic downturn and general uncertainties. So devastating was the effect of the virus that Time Magazine declared 2020, “the worst year ever”.
Thankfully, 2021 saw the production and approval of different Covid-19 vaccines by some reputable pharmaceutical companies. Among the highly-rated vaccines are; the BioNTech, Pzifer vaccine; Johnson & Johnson vaccine; Moderna vaccine; Oxford, AstraZeneca vaccine; and the Sputnik V vaccine. Despite the medical intervention in this space, there was initial massive vaccine apathy among vast majority of Nigerians. This apathy was mainly attributed to religious beliefs, conspiracy theories or simply the personal decision of the individual.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported that as of 22 January 2022, a total of 19,360,511 vaccine doses have been administered, while only approximately 5.2 million people in Nigeria have been fully vaccinated representing a meagre 2.5% of the Nigerian population. However, with better sensitization by relevant agencies, notably the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and NCDC, there has been improved vaccination of citizens. The NCDC announced that as at 26 July 2022, 26,546,970 of total eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination have been fully vaccinated while 11,783,124 of total eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination have been partially vaccinated.
In order to continue to drive the improved vaccination of Nigerians, the Federal Government, Edo State, Ondo State and Kaduna State Governments have moved to bar unvaccinated civil servants from entering into government offices. This has sparked public outrage from lawyers, activists and civil society organisations, citing that this position of the governments is against the established laws of the country.
As it is known, Nigeria runs a federal system of government with the 1999 Constitution (as amended) being the grundnorm and the fundamental law of the land (see the case of AG Abia State and 35 ors V. AG of the Federation (2003) 4 NWLR (809) 124, 1 SC (Pt. II) 1). It follows that rights of citizens guaranteed under the Constitution remain sacrosanct or must be “infringed” within the confines of the same Constitution.
Sections 37 and 38 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantee the rights of citizens to their privacy and religious thought and beliefs respectively. As such, a citizen’s refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine on religious or personal ground is well justified, and anything to the contrary by way of forced vaccination would be a direct infringement of these rights.
However, section 45 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for the derogation of these rights protected under sections 37 and 38 in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, where a contradictory law is or had been made in that regard. It follows that a validly enacted law to enforce compulsory Covid-19 vaccination of citizens may be the only ground upon which a declaration of compulsory vaccination, as currently posited by the various governments, would be legal.
Although the thought behind the governments’ forced vaccination is laudable, forced vaccination of citizens will still amount to human rights abuse if there is no validly passed law in consonance with section 45 of the Constitution, reasonably justifying the action of the governments.
For further information, please contact:
Mr. Chukwunonso C. Nweke
Tel: +234 907 036 0173
Fax: +1 646 536 8978