CSOs reject controversial infectious diseases bill

More civil society organisations have risen against the controversial Infectious Diseases Bill pending before the National Assembly, a bill sponsored by House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and two other lawmakers.

A coalition of 11 CSOs in Lagos on Tuesday called for the rejection of the bill, saying it is a violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians as enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution.

The group of 11 CSOs said at a press conference that of part of the shortcomings of the bill is its conflict with existing acts, including the Environmental Health Officers Act (2002) and the constitution of Nigeria.

The group is the latest in a long list of CSOs criticising the bill and seeking for a review of several sections of the draft.

The Control Infectious Disease Bill, which has scaled the second reading has birthed several controversies and received many criticisms from well-meaning Nigerians.

The 36 state governors in Nigeria also condemned the bill and have called for it to be stepped down, saying the bill lacks proper consultation.

As projected by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, the new bill will replace the Quarantine Act and tackle the limitations of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on curbing the spread of diseases.

While supporting the bill, the sponsor, Mr Gbajabiamila said this is the ideal time to seek reforms of the public health emergency frameworks.

The bill which has 82 sections was stood down at the House after it scaled the second reading. The public hearing of Bill is scheduled for June 11 and 20 at the House of Representatives.

‘Power to the police’

Speaking on the bill, Achike Chude, the Director of Foundation for African Cultural Heritage said the bill is an infringement on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, as reflected in the arbitrary power given to the DG of NCDC to administer vaccinations without seeking the consent of the people concerned.

“Another area of concern is the empowering of the police to arrest people without warrant, merely on the suspicion of an infection. The unjustified and extra-judicial killings of Nigerians by the police during the various lockdowns in the country is enough indication of the danger of more powers being given to the security agents.”

Mr Chude added that the bill does not take into consideration the federal structure of the Nigeria state as the Director-General of NCDC has overriding jurisdiction.

He said the bill limits the ability of the states to intervene in cases of Infectious diseases as there are no specified roles for other tiers of the Federation.

“We are worried with the attempt to pass this obnoxious bill by a key democratic institution of the state, the status of the Nigerian Federation as a constitutional democracy is being questioned because of the nature, character and content of the proposed legal instrument that has all the hallmarks of a military regime whose modus operandi is the abridgement of rights of citizens, ” he said.

Speaking on the bill, Sonnie Ekwowusi, a legal practitioner, said the proposed bill is draconian in nature and should be killed.

“The provisions and sections of this bill are out to infringe on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians; Sections 4, 5, 15, 20, 35, 46, 48 and 51.”

Mr Ekwowusi said the constitution is the highest law of the land and any law that is in conflict with the constitution is null and void, adding that the bill is dead on arrival.

The CSOs called for the rejection of the bill at the upcoming public hearing of the bill.

“The bill currently pending before the National Assembly is a vitiation of all those fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is on the basis of these that we call for a total rejection of the proposed bill in the present form and format.”

The group called on other CSOs, lawyers, medical personal, faith-based organisations and other stakeholders to attend the public hearing and reject the bill.