Appropriate Time to Enact Infectious Disease Bill, Says Gbajabiamila

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* Bill to be subjected to public hearing

By Udora Orizu

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has disagreed with critics of the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, insisting that it is appropriate to enact such a Bill at this time.

Gbajabiamila made the remarks at the plenary Tuesday against the backdrop of the controversies that have trailed the Bill after it was speedily passed through second reading at the resumption of plenary last Tuesday.

He said the allegations that the Bill is a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights is far from the truth.

He also said the House will subject the Bill to a public hearing where Nigerians from all walks of life would be given the opportunity to contribute to the draft law.

Gbajabiamila noted that the social distancing guidelines that the House and the whole country operate for the now would not allow for a usual format of public hearing but other avenues would be explored to get public input into the well conceived Bill.

He said that as representatives of Nigerians, members of the House would never contemplate doing anything that would jeopardize the wellbeing of the citizens.

According to the Speaker, “The weaknesses of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria.

“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 Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.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 of Nigeria and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health 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.

“Suffice it 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 mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.

“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill will be put forward to a public hearing where stakeholders’ contributions will be sought to make improvements to the Bill before it is reviewed and debated by the Committee of the Whole. It is from the accumulation of these myriad views, suggestions and good faith critiques from within and outside the House that we will arrive at final legislation that meets the present and future needs of our country, and which we all can support in good consciences.”