Criticisms have greeted the Infectious Diseases Bill in the works at the House of Representatives to give teeth to Federal Government’s efforts to manage the special circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of Friday night had claimed 68 lives in Nigeria.
Sponsored by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila when the House convened last Tuesday, April 28, 2020, the bill would create a new legal framework to replace the National Quarantine Act of 2004.
A peep into the bill, if it becomes law, shows the Health Minister will have the right to convert any building into an isolation area, while the police would be able to arrest any individual suffering from an infectious disease, even without a warrant. Also, with a court order, government would be able to destroy any building where an infectious disease – including cholera, typhoid and dengue fever – has occurred.
Section 79 (3) of the bill prescribes a N500,000 fine and six-month jail term for persons who violate the quarantine restriction or refuse to take vaccinations in case of an outbreak or a suspected outbreak of an infectious disease in the country.
Firing the first salvo, opposition Peoples Democratic Party Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) urged the the Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila to subject the Infectious Disease Control Bill to public hearing, because failure to do so raises suspicions of sinister objectives.
The party, which gave the advice in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan yesterday in Abuja, said the bill should not be passed without recourse to the laid down procedure of public hearing to allow Nigerians participate in the process of making the law.
In his reaction, Clement Nwankwo, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, said,”A new law is needed, but the powers are too sweeping. There’s a lot of powers in the bill, which could be used for political purposes.”
According to David Hundeyin, writing on NewsWireNGR, the bill is not so much about helping to save Nigerian lives from disease outbreaks, it is one about helping the Director General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Minister of Health become disproportionately and unjustifiably powerful.
Hundeyin maintained, “It will be too early to call for the death of the bill even though it is terribly defective with several punitive measures that give the DG the powers to act like a colonial czar. “However, I will like to appeal to Nigerians to let us critically review and appraise this draft law and see whether it could be exorcised of its illegal powers and provisions. The bill bears the signature of a draft that originated from a communist republic,” he said.
The bill has also generated a Twitter storm. In hash-tag #StoptheNCDCBill, Sylvester Ebhodaghe
@Sylvester2006 said it is sad that @SpeakerGbaja will sponsor the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, which has passed second reading in less than two (2) hours. Is there an agenda by the @NGRPresident and the @NCDCgov? The sweeping powers of the DG will shock you. #StoptheNCDCBill.
Jide Akintunde @JSAkintunde, in what he titled “Femi Gbajabiamila is Coming for Your Property” tweeted: “It is in the absence of a clear national economic ideology that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, @femigbaja, and his friends in the House, would come up with a bill that proposes seizure of private properties for quarantines in Nigerian putative capitalist system. There are two other reasons. Nigeria’s copy-and-paste COVID-19 responses have now culminated in a member bill that is up to 70% plagiarised.”
Akintunde maintained that going by the number of infectious diseases listed in the Control of Infectious Disease Bill 2020, nationalisation of properties could be expected to be a regular occurrence in Nigeria. This bill will deter investments in Nigeria, if passed into law. The bill should RIP.
However, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the NCDC, said he was not involved in drafting the legislation and it requires further consultation. “I’m personally not in favour of drafting a bill in the middle of a crisis,” Ihekweazu said.