Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari announced the mandatory use of face masks or coverings in public spaces on 27 April.
“We will strictly ensure the mandatory use of face masks or coverings in public in addition to maintaining physical distancing and personal hygiene,” he said in a national broadcast. “State governments, corporate organisations and philanthropists are encouraged to support the production of cloth masks for citizens.”
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control told Africa Check that this was a presidential directive. Nigeria’s Quarantine Act of 1926 allows the president to impose regulations to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious disease.
Any person contravening the act’s regulations could be liable for a fine of N200 (about 50 US cents), imprisonment for six months, or both.
Nigeria’s parliament is deliberating a new control of infectious diseases bill to repeal the old act.
The presidential directive is being enforced at local levels.
On 25 April, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced it was compulsory to wear face masks in public. And in Abuja, the federal capital territory, motorists and pedestrians caught without face masks are now being arrested and prosecuted.
But legal practitioner Monday Ubani, a former president of the Ikeja branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, told Africa Check’s Nigerian editor David Ajikobi that any arrests, prosecutions and punishment had to be in line with the Quarantine Act. Anything else would be illegal.
“Whatever regulations the governors are making or punishment for not wearing masks in public places, penalties cannot be higher than those prescribed in the Act.”
*Africa Check’s Nigerian editor David Ajikobi in Lagos