Infectious diseases bill: Governors Forum, other stakeholders make recommendations

…House will consider views of Nigerians, says Gbajabiamila

By Gift Chapi Odekina

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other stakeholders have all agreed on the need for the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill.

The stakeholders, who expressed their views at a public hearing organised by the joint House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services, Health Institutions and Justice, agreed that the 1926 Quarantine Act should be repealed.

Most of the stakeholders commended the bold steps taken by House to come up with the draft law at this time, which they described as desirable.

By the action of the House, some of the stakeholders noted, the lawmakers have shown that they are truly representatives of the Nigerian people, by taking the bull by the horn at this time.

However, some of the stakeholders noted that there are certain provisions of the proposed legislation that should either be expunged or amended to accommodate some concerns.

For example, some of the stakeholders like the NGF expressed reservations on the “overbearing discretionary powers” given to the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Others expressed concerns about what they perceived as provisions that may negatively affect the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

But the Speaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, represented by the House Leader, Rep. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, assured that the House would consider the views of Nigerians in passing the Bill.

“In the one month since the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill was first brought forward for consideration by the House of Representatives, we have witnessed an unprecedented amount of engagement by a cross-section of the Nigerian public. This is a good thing.

“What we have here is a critical piece of legislation that deals with matters of public health that affect all of us. If we have learned one thing from the last few months, it is that public health issues can drastically change our lives in ways we cannot always predict, and yet must be prepared for.

“The House of Representatives is grateful for, and we welcome the enthusiastic participation of our fellow citizens in the legislative process. We look forward to producing final legislation that reflects our own best intentions as well as the considered contributions of all people of good conscience.

“However, it is necessary to note that a lot of the engagement on this proposed legislation has been ill-informed and outrightly malicious. There are those in our society, who benefit from promoting the falsehood that every government action is cynical, and every policy proposal must be the product of malignant influence.

“We must never succumb to the impulses that these elements represent, and we must reject them always as doing so is an act of excellent service to a nation we love and are beholden to.

“This public hearing, the conversations that would hold here today and tomorrow, the numerous written contributions we have received and will consider as we work towards improving this Bill are a bold statement of our resolve to continue to act in the finest democratic traditions.

“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill is a legislative proposal. It is imperfect as is the nature of such proposals, and will be improved substantially through interactions with stakeholders, civil society and citizen groups in pursuit of the common objective of achieving policy interventions that will enhance the wellbeing of all our people.

“I ask all of you who have taken the time to be here today, to participate in these hearings with an open mind. I assure you of three things; the first is that no part of this Bill is the product of any external influence.

The second is that we will not ignore your contributions and recommendations, as the House of Representatives is wholly committed to refining this Bill until we have a document that solves our present problems without creating new ones or exacerbating unforeseen challenges. And finally, I assure you that now, and always, our first commitment is to the Nigerian people, our fellow citizens, on whose behalf we hold office and in whose name we act.”

The Chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, Rep. Tanko Yusuf Sununu, had earlier noted that over 130 memoranda were received from different groups of Nigerians.

He said the contributions of all stakeholders matter enough and that the conduct of the joint committee will be fair to all.

Speaking, the chairman of NGF and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, commended the House for its efforts in coming up with the Bill, noting that the forum was on the same page with the House Bill but with some recommendations.

He said as far as governors were concerned, the 1926 Quarantine Act is inadequate, noting, however, that both the Act for repeal and the Bill leave governors with no powers to act during an outbreak of any infectious disease.

He said the Bill gives overbearing discretionary powers to the NCDC DG, which he said should be looked into, saying the powers may be well-intentioned, but they’re overbearing in nature.

“So, we believe the House should take in to cognizance some of the provisions of the Bill. This is a well-intentioned Bill.”

The forum suggested that a provision be made to allow state governors to declare a place an infectious area and take necessary regulations so that it is not only the NCDC boss that exercises those powers.

He also suggested that states should be given powers to establish centres for diseases control and appoint the heads that will work with the NCDC and that the sections that are in contravention with the constitution should be expunged.

Representatives of organisations such as NAFDAC, Centre for Social Justice, Jama’atul Nasirul Islam (JNI), Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Equity International Initiative, Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Action Group of Civic Space, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service, Society of Environmental and Public Health of Nigeria, National Council of Women Societies of Nigeria (NCWS), among others, all expressed their support for the Bill.

But some of them expressed fears about the powers vested on the NCDC DG and the president, calling for decentralisation of powers.

They also argued that the powers of arrest given to the police should be amended so as not to trample on the fundamental human rights of the citizens.

However, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Catholic Women Organisation of Nigeria said in their considered opinion, the Bill should be stepped down until further notice.

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