The raft of new measures announced last night by the President obviously represents a ratcheting up of restrictions on the right to freedom of movement, moving us closer to the ‘stay at home’ end of the lockdown spectrum in designated parts of Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi, though they fall short of a ‘total lockdown’ even in the applicable areas. Altogether, a good move, including the measures designed to give relief to taxpayers, businesses and other targeted populations.

Here is what I heard and understood (or failed to understand) the President’s speech to say or mean:

  • No curfew announced in the affected areas.
  • Outside-the-home traffic in the affected areas is to be limited to errands to get household essentials (food, beverages (which includes booze), water, toiletries, petrol, gas, electricity, medicines), cash from the bank or ATM, or to use the community toilet (free-range included?). Presumably, then, markets and shops, including filling station shops and neighbourhood retailers, selling these items may stay open to serve the public. What about chop bars and restaurants, which, of course, prepare and sell food to the public? Are they to stay open too? Not clear, but looks like a yes. If so, then customers may go there to eat too, anaa? Or are they limited to deliveries and take-away? Not clear.
  • Looks like all other businesses and offices, except those engaged in the production or distribution of the named household essentials and others expressly named, are to shut down. Since courts are to remain open, presumably lawyers and their clients may go to court too. How to tell while in transit.
  • Taxis, trotros and trotro stations may continue to operate, but taxis and trotros are “advised” or urged to carry less than full capacity to allow for social distancing. Not sure how many they are allowed to carry or whether this is intended to be enforced as a command. Does not appear so. Motorbikes, on the other hand, may not carry any passengers. Clear enough.
  • “No intercity movement of vehicles or aircraft for private or commercial purposes FOR THE AREAS OF THE RESTRICTIVE MEASURES.” This obviously doesn’t ground all domestic (passenger) flights. But which ones are grounded? Does this ground all domestic flights between, say, Takoradi and Accra or Tamale and Accra? Doesn’t appear so. Same query with respect to inter-city vehicular transportation.
  • Other than transportation between Accra/Tema and Kumasi (are points along the path, like Nkawkaw, included?), it is not clear if vehicular entry into or exit from the city limits of Accra/Tema and Kumasi are barred. Can STCs and VIPs and other long-distance passenger buses enter or leave Accra/Tema and Kumasi to and from towns and cities outside these areas? Not at all clear.

Of course, all of this may be perfectly clear to the Police and other security personnel who will be enforcing these measures on the ground. As far as they are concerned, the enforceable order probably appears simple: “Stay At Home”.

But as long as there is unclarity or confusion in the minds of a large number in the affected population, there’s going to be lots of needless disagreement and conflict in implementation, which, of course, will undermine the effectiveness of the measures and create room for abuses.

In any case, for the sake of procedural (legal) regularity and to minimize divergent or conflicting interpretations by the security agencies (enforcers) and the general public (compliers), I presume and hope the details and specifics of the measures which were outlined in summary form in the President’s speech, together with the previously announced measures, have been or promptly will be more fully and clearly spelt out and contained (ideally with accompanying maps) in a published Executive Instrument (EI), pursuant to the Imposition of Restrictions Act (2020) (Act 1012); an EI being the only legally sufficient way by which Act 1012 is to be triggered and put into force as law.  

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but only if what is intended as law has been properly published to give you notice and the text is clear enough to enable reasonable comprehension and compliance or obedience.

In the meantime, “as much as possible, STAY AT HOME.”