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Controversial Infectious bill arrives Senate, passes first reading

The Infectious Disease Control Bill was introduced in the Nigerian senate today May 5, under a new name “National Health Emergency Bill”. 

The bill sponsored by the Chairman Senate Committee on Communicable Diseases and Primary Healthcare, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North) scaled its first reading on Tuesday. 

A similar bill in the House of Representatives is brewing storms of controversy with a leading Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), the Center for Peacebuilding and Socio-Economic Resources Development (CePSERD) raising alarm of the “unintended consequences” that would be triggered should the Federal House of Representatives proceed with and enactment of the Infectious Diseases Bill 2020 presented on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.

Noting the haste and novelty in designing the Bill as “an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act and Enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Act, make Provisions Relating to Quarantine, make Regulations for Preventing the Introduction into, and Spread in Nigeria of Dangerous Infectious Diseases, and for Other Related Matters, the body said that the bill, if enacted into law, would breach national interests and security, continue the abuse and breach of legal and policy frameworks (bordering on seeming impunity and disregard for statutes) and abrogate governance services systems and administrative procedures in the health sector.

Former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, reportedly made a demand for a gazetted copy of the Bill while also pointing out that it was generating controversies in the House of Representatives.

He said: “I rely on Order 41 of the Senate Standing Rule. As a senator, I am entitled to know the details of this Bill.

“We want to have copies of the gazetted copies. There is controversy over the same Bill in the House of Representatives.

“We don’t want to have the same issue here. We need to be guided to avoid any backlash. I need to read it and prepare ahead of time.”

The Secretariat of the Senate was subsequently directed to make copies of the Bill available to all Senators by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan. He said Senators must have the bill before its second reading next week. 

Lawan said: “The copies are ready and everybody will get a copy. We are not taking the second reading immediately. That will be done next week. So, members will have the time to read the contents of the Bill.”

If enacted and signed into law, the Minister of Health will have the right to convert any building into an isolation area while the police will be able to arrest anybody suffering from an infectious disease, without a warrant.

It also gives the NCDC Director General the power to close down premises deemed to be overcrowded while officials authorized by him will be able to detain individuals without any warrant.

In the proposed bill, officials with a court order will be able to destroy any building where infectious disease like cholera, typhoid and dengue fever occurred.

Under the new bill, the “omnibus NCDC Director-General” has exclusive rights to cause any person to provide any book, document, correspondence or information requested and it also gives the unrestricted power to enter and search any premises without the need for small matters like court orders.

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