From its’ original source, which is speculated to have been copied from Singapore and therefore lack real Nigeria’s customary local content; through its motivating spirit which some suspected is mired by offshore financial inducement; to its’ prescribed method of enforcement that has also been flawed for concentrating too much executive powers on NCDC and its’ Director-General, without due regards to citizens rights; the infectious disease control bill courted multiple troubles from birth, and therefore died on arrival despite plan to force the bill down the public throat.
By Tony Enebeli
The Nigeria infectious disease bill may have been thrown away but amongst Christians it was like the mark of the Beast is here and among other followers of other faiths, something was about to happen. Yet amongst the nation’s legislators it got so much legislative attention at National Assembly, NASS.
Curiously, the bill was sponsored on account of the notoriety Covid19, the global pandemic, has so far assumed in world reckoning. It would be recalled that the outbreak of corona virus in Wuhan, China in late 2019, rapidly spread to other parts of the world including Nigeria.
Its unprecedented increase record in number of infection cases and harvest of deaths, became a compulsive trigger for countries to revisit those extant laws that empower them to infringe on citizens’ rights to freedom of movement, to legitimize official safety protocols needed to check its’ spread in order to save lives.
Thus, in Nigeria, the National Assembly, the Speaker of the green chamber, Femi Gbajabiamila, with Pascal Obi and Tanko Sununu, as co sponsors, picked up the gauntlet to birth a new piece of legislation that will enable government through the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, to contain the spread of the infection and save citizens’ lives. The House of Representatives and its’ leadership rightly considered the Infectious Disease Bill necessary because of the inadequacies of the Quarantine Act of 1926 which predated it. But QA of 1926 only superficially dealt with isolation of persons suffering from infectious diseases. The Quarantine Act of 1926, lacked adequate legislative backings to protect government from ensuing litigations for infringing on citizens’ rights. The Infectious Disease bill was therefore envisioned to adequately empower both government and the National Center for Disease Control, NCDC, to enforce recommended safety protocols by local and international expert agencies namely, the NCDC and the World Health Organisation, WHO.
Summarily, the new bill, titled: ‘Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020 in the House of Representatives and Its’ equivalent in the Senate was christened National Heath Emergency Bill,2020. That of the Senate was sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health.
From the stand point of the Green Chamber, it was a Bill meant to repeal the Quarantine Act of 1926 as well as enact the Control of Infectious Disease Act 2020. Those with inside knowledge told this magazine reporter that the failed bill was aimed at making provisions to quarantine and make regulations to prevent introduction and spread of dangerous infectious diseases in Nigeria.
Curiously, the bill covers such life threatening health challenges like: Tuberculosis, Avian Influenza Polio, Lass Fever, HIV and AIDS, Hepatitis and Malaria. Others include: Dengue fever, Measles, Meningitis, Corona Virus and so on
On the floor of the house, the bill was greeted by scepticism after it was presented by Mr Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila. For instance, Sergius Ogun of Edo State PDP) urged the House to think twice and avoid giving so much power to the NCDC to solely manage infectious diseases in the country. According to him’ such could give rise to conspiracy’. His counterpart Representing Abia State on the platform of PDP, Nkem Abonta equally opined that the bill came at the wrong time especially as public hearing would not be heard to harness public opinion on the controversial bill.
Investigation by the magazine on the Infectious Disease Control bill revealed that if the bill had been passed as drafted, it would have infringed on rights as well as run into collision with long existing customs and traditions of some people. Those with inside knowledge equally, noted that the bill if passed would have encouraged dictatorial powers to NCDC and its’ Director General who would have been inadvertently empowered to ride rough on Nigerians.
For instance, the bill prohibits person with coronavirus from leaving their isolation areas without permission. Also,the bill empowers the NCDC and its DG to carry out autopsy on bodies of persons who had died of suspicious coronavirus symptoms without regards to the deceased family’s approval.
These clauses are at variance with citizen’s constitutional rights as well as some long cherished customs and traditions of citizens. Even though the IDC bill is intended to save lives, the move by the legislators to have it expeditiously passed generated controversies some of which bothered on dearth of trust between the national lawmakers and the public. For instance, citizens who have been unimpressed by their experience with the 8th Assembly and some others before it, have had reasons to be suspicious of lawmakers’ sincerity with the IDC bill in terms of conception and hasty moves to have it passed. Their mistrusts according to people who spoke to the magazine reporter were aggravated by confusing signals peddled by conspiracy theorists who did not only link the expected bill that was being hurriedly cobbled together with ungodly motives, but also accused lawmakers of having received financial inducement to the tune of $10m, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to have the legislation speedily passed.
Apart from condemnation of the bill by newspaper and magazine columnists who believe there was nowhere in the world where universal vaccination is made mandatory, not a few uphold that Nigerians must be saved from a death sentence being orchestrated by the Western World and their racist agencies within government.
Curiously, one of the most virulent criticisms came from the Coalition of United Political Parties CUPP through its’ social media agents. For instance, the CUPP alleged that lawmakers in the House of Representatives were offered $10million for the speedy passage of the Vaccination Bill by Microsoft founder, Bill Gates. In a statement signed by CUPP Spokesman, Ikenga Ugo Chinyere, the CUPP spokesman noted that the opposition is in possession of intelligence report that the leadership of House is determined to pass the compulsory vaccine bill without subjecting it to the traditions of legislative proceedings. In its own words, “Opposition Coalition CUPP, has intercepted very credible intelligence and hereby alerts Nigerians of plans by the leadership of the House of Representatives led by Femi Gbajabiamila to forcefully and without adherence to the rules of law making to pass the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020 otherwise known as the Compulsory Vaccination Bill which is proposing a compulsory vaccination of all Nigerians even when the vaccines have not been discovered”.
The allegations went further to posit that the Bill is a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into experimental guinea pigs for medical research without as little as respecting their fundamental human rights by securing citizen’s consent as well as their involvement in birthing the law.
Other points of public disagreement with the bill include the enormous powers it plans to accord the Director General, NCDC, to carry out its’ responsibilities as the agency charged with infectious diseases and control. For instance, the NCDC Director-General will be empowered by written order, to prohibit any person or class of persons from entering or leaving the isolation area without his permission. He could prohibit or restrict the movement of any person or class of persons within the isolation area. And he may authorize the destruction, disposal or treatment of any goods, structure, water supply, drainage and sewage system or other matter within the isolation area known or suspected to be a source of infection. Goods brought into or removed from an isolation area in contravention of an order shall be forfeited to the government and could be seized, dealt with and disposed of. The DG is equally accorded power to order an autopsy on bodies of persons, who had died of suspicious symptoms and so on.
But a good number of the provisions conflict with personal rights and religious beliefs of citizens for which they can drag the authorities to court. Especially, those clearly contentious provisions like empowering the NCDC DG to deny family members burial rights for their own diseased relations according to their custom, on the suspicion they died of an infectious disease. Just as by the same bill, people on suspicion of having the infectious disease are liable to isolation for a period to be determined at the DG’s discretion. And still at The DG’s whims, a building he thinks is over-crowded and therefore could spread infectious diseases may be pulled down and the occupants dispersed after a mere written notice.
Those who spoke to the magazine reporter opined that the most worrisome, is the forceful provisions of the bill which resides in sections 30 and 46. The sections, permit vaccination of citizens against infectious diseases even against their will. And to make it more brazing, section 70 of the bill avails NCDC and its DG immunity against prosecution in any court of law. This forecloses citizens chances of seeking justice in the courts should they be forcefully vaccinated against any infectious diseases. And even the Minister of Health and the law enforcement agents (police) involved in forceful vaccination are all insulated by the bill. Then as a clincher, violators of the law could be fined N500, 000, or suffer prison term of up to 6months or even both.
Additional shortcoming of the Infectious Disease Bill was that major stakeholders relevant to professional backing of the bill we’re not part of its’ drafting. A development that made many who spoke to this reporter- how deep would a bill dealing with infectious disease in Nigeria go, without input from NCDC? If experts like the DG NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, DG of NCDC and many others were not part of the drafting, where else did NASS drafters of the bill find requisite information to enrich the bill.
And another flaw attending the failed bill was that it looked like a whole replication of the infectious disease law of Singapore. And critiques believe this may be responsible for the obvious neglect of certain parts of Nigerian custom including the fundamental rights of citizens while working the bill of particular note is the feeling that the enormous power the bill accords NCDC DG, takes away the constitutional powers of the courts to determine the criminality of an action against erring NCDC and its DG. The compulsory subjection of people to vaccination nonetheless, further raises the suspicion that there is a grand plan to inoculate Nigerians against their wishes amid the conspiracy theory beclouding the origin and dimensions surrounding coronavirus pandemic. It is shocking that not a few still believe Covid19 is still a fluke. A situation where every minor ailment taken to the hospital is passed for corona virus some people say, is only intended to make a less serious health condition look more than serious because people are benefiting from the infection. It is alleged that for every patient certified Covid19 positive, the satisfying nurse gets a reward of N25,000. And for every covid19 certified death, the certifying doctor is paid N150,000. Even though these are still within the realm of allegation, they fall in line with the general mistrust dogging both the NASS infectious disease control bill andCovid19 pandemic itself.
In his reaction public allegations against the bill, House of Reps Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, defended the intention of the House stoutly. Especially the allegations that the Bill is a decoir to make Nigerians items for experiments in medical research. He vowed that as representatives of Nigerian citizens, the overall wellbeing of citizens who elected them cannot be mortgaged. And in his own words, he stressed: “suffice to say that none of these allegations are true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterized and misconstrued to raise the specter of sinister intent and ominous possibility”. Continuing, he added, “This House of Representatives will never take any action that purposes to bring harm to any Nigerian here at home or abroad. As we have thus far shown by our conduct, there solutions and actions we take in this 9th House of Representatives will always be in the best interests of the Nigerian people who elected us, and no one else.
The Speaker drew attention to such basic facts as the obsolate approach to management of infectious diseases as provided for by the Quarantine Act and which necessarily have to be amended for government and NCDC to be on the safe side of the law. The Quarantine Act he pointed out severely constrains the ability of the Federal Government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC, from taking proactive actions to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur as it is currently. Besides, if the framework of the Quarantine Act is to be relied on, government and NCDC may not have sufficient grounds in defense should an aggrieved citizen slams them with a law suit for infringing on their rights to movement and prolonged isolation. But to ensure that citizens and the authorities are on the same page regarding the infectious disease bill the house promised to subject it to a public hearing to receive inputs from the public. But all that is now history with the bill being withdrawn. For Christians who likened the compulsory vaccination to the mark of the beast, the withdrawal of the bill was the biggest testimony of this century.