Ndubuisi Orji and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Barring any last minute change, the House of Representatives will undertake a clause-by-clause consideration of the controversial Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020 at the Committee of the Whole level today.
This is coming as anxiety continues to mount over the bill which seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act. Daily Sun learnt that some lawmakers are opposed to the bill even as a cross section of Nigerians have faulted the decision of the House to pass the proposed legislation without subjecting it to public hearing. They have also been allegations that the bill is a plagiarised version of an existing law in Singapore.
The House had resolved to give the bill sponsored by the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, Paschal Obi and Tanko Sununu, who is chairmen House Committees on Health Institutions and Health Services expedited passage.
The bill was introduced last Tuesday and passed the first and second reading the same day. However, the consideration of the proposed legislation at the Committee of the Whole, which is the last stage before its eventual passage into law was deferred till today, owing to protests by some lawmakers who complained that they were not served copies of the bill.
The proposed bill seeks to empower the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to order for vaccination in any part of the country where there is an outbreak of infectious diseases. It also empowers the agency or the police to arrest defaulters without a warrant even as it empowers the Minister of Health to declare any place, including private property, as Isolation Centres.
Daily Sun gathered that ahead of today’s plenary, proponents and opponents of the bill have been meeting and mobilising support for the position.
A source told Daily Sun that the leadership of the House is likely to call for an executive session over the controversial bill before the commencement of plenary..
No fewer than 41 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in a statement yesterday faulted the bill as giving discretionary powers to the Director General of the NCDC and a threat to the rights of Nigerians.
The CSO coalition consists of Centre For Liberty, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Yiaga Africa.
“We are alarmed by the House of Representatives’ attempt to give accelerated passage to such a critical legislation like the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill without consultation and inputs from relevant stakeholders and the public. We understand that the House is resolute to pass the bill and it has fixed Tuesday, May 5, for presentation of the report of the Committee of the Whole and clause by clause voting on the bill without public hearing or consultation with relevant stakeholders. This runs contrary to the principles of effective and inclusive lawmaking,” the coalition said.
“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill vests overbearing discretionary powers on the Director General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) while making no provision for reviewing and controlling the exercise of such powers. The Bill empowers the NCDC to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms at will, and abuse constitutionally established institutions and processes, without any form of accountability. For instance, Section 10 (3) gives the Director General express powers to use force to enter any premises without warrant; Section 19 confers the Director General with powers to prohibit or restrict meetings, gatherings and public entertainments;in addition, Section 47(1) confers discretionary powers on the Director General to order any person to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis. All these powers can be abused for political and economic reasons if not properly checked.”
However, the chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu told Daily Sun that the controversy trailing the bill was unnecessary. He noted that the interest of the House is to block existing lacuna in the Quarantine Act.