Much ado about proposed health bills in NASS

The controversy generated by the introduction of bill in both chambers of the National Assembly is yet to think out. TAIYE ODEWALE writes.

The first of such emanated from the House of Representatives sponsored by the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, along with two other lawmakers, namely Hon Pascal Obi and Hon Tanko Sununu as co – sponsors.

Titled “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act and Enact the Control of Infectious Diseases, it seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act and replace it with Infectious Diseases Control Act and proposes several sweeping powers for whoever occupies the position of director general of Nigerian  Centre for Disease Control ( NCDC) as regards medical examination on whoever is suspected to be infected with a virus.

The provisions states that, “The director general may require any person who is, or is suspected to be, a case or carrier or contact of an infectious disease to submit to medical examination or medical treatment within or at such time and at such place as the director general may determine.

It states further that, “Where any person has died whilst being, or suspected of being, a case or carrier or contact of an infectious disease, the director general may order a post-mortem examination of the body of that person for the purpose of determining the cause or circumstances of the death of that person or carry out investigation into any outbreak or suspected outbreak of, or preventing the spread or possible outbreak of that disease.”

Resistance to the bill

Immediately, the proposed bill was given expeditious consideration of first and second reading on the floor of the House the very day it was introduced, barrage of attacks were launched against it by concerned Nigerians.

Such attacks came from  the  Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) which alleged that the  lawmakers had been offered $10million bribe to pass it.

Also, a former member of the Senate, Dino Melaye,  filed an action at the Federal High Court Abuja seeking to stop further consideration of the bill.

A week after, speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, while addressing members at the resumption of plenary noted   that since the introduction of the bill, there has been a barrage of criticisms against it, with allegations of sinister motives.

He explained that the bill was conceived because of what he called exigencies of the time and in the best interests of Nigerians.

Gbajabiamila said the allegation that the bill was a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights was far from the truth.

“In the recent uproar, certain fundamental truths have been lost and are worth remembering. Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.

“The current law severely constrains the ability of the federal government and  NCDC to take proactive actions to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public emergencies when they occur.

“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.”

Bill surfaces in Senate

Ironically , while Gbajabiamila was busy  defending bill in the House last week Tuesday, a similar bill titled: ‘National Health Emergency Bill 2020’, was introduced in the Senate and it was instantly kicked against.

The bill sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi ( PDP Enugu North) was vehemently opposed by Senator Ike Ekweremadu ( PDP Enugu West).

Opposing voice

Ekweremadu in kicking  against the bill through order 14 (1) of  the Senate standing rules, said his privileges and that of the other senators would be breached if details of the contents are not made available to them before given further legislative consideration.

Consequently, the Senate president, Ahmed Lawan, directed the sergeants at arms to distribute copies of the bill to all senators ahead of its consideration for second reading.

Bill sponsor’s explanation

However in an interview with journalists after the session, sponsor of the bill, Senator Utazi said its contents and intendment are not the same with the one before the House of Representatives.

“Although I have not read the content of the one before the House but provisions such as compulsory vaccinations for all citizens and other compulsion for that matter are not there.

“The main purpose of the bill is to strengthen our  Quarantine Act by way of required amendments  and to take care of all the issues that have to with the management of pandemic  like the ranging COVID-19.

“In doing that, we want to ensure that instead of having firebrigade approach of solving the problem of this nature, we would have a law that can handle all that. We want to put everything under a law to address health issues,” he said.

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