CONTROL OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE BILL

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Femi Gbajabiamila

There is no sinister move at Gbajabiamila’s House, writes Michael Abulu

The outbreak of novel Coronavirus pandemic which is currently ravaging nations has obviously put everyone on the edge. Conspiracy theories fly daily on the origin of the dreaded virus. Most of the narratives peddle via social media are conjectures lacking scientific backing. However, the messages are doing the intended damage to the minds of vast majority.

The saturated atmosphere of false stories and rumour suffocated the good intended proposed bill titled, “Control of Infectious Disease Bill” introduced on the floor of the green chamber by the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila.
The is intended to replace the obsolete National Quarantine Act which provides guidelines for the management of infectious diseases and protection of other citizens from contracting the deadly disease.

The pronounced criticism of critics of the bills was that it is dictatorial and undemocratic. Yes, the nation’s grundnorm which is the constitution guarantees freedom and rights, privileges for citizens but these rights are not absolute. In other words, the government as the manager of peoples’ affairs has the duty to ensure that in exercising those rights, right to life of other citizens is not endangered.

That is exactly what the law intends to do. We have seen in recent times how certain people behave as if they were immune from COVID-19. They flagrantly violate rules and guideline of conduct during this trying time and carried on as business as usual. No responsible government will not intervene through a legislation to arrest the looming danger.
Nigerians must show understanding and cooperation at this moment. We can’t afford to a have full blown pandemic in our land. It will be disastrous and overwhelming. To start with, we have grossly inadequate health facilities and personnel to contain a massive outbreak. Secondly, there is global shortage of medical gadgets, supplies as every nation struggles with the scourge.

The speaker buttressed the above argument when he submitted that, “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 Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.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”.

He argues further, “I disagree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that this is not the ideal time to seek reforms of the infectious diseases and public health emergency framework in the country. 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 NCDC guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria. We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who fully aware of their status chose to travel across state lines on public transport.

“The number of those currently infected by the coronavirus continues to rise alongside the number of those who have died. There is no timeline for when this disease will pass, and nobody can predict when the next public health crisis will occur, just as nobody predicted the present predicament. It bears restating that we do not have in our country, a healthcare system or for that matter, a national economy that is sufficiently robust to withstand the dire consequences of a sustained infectious disease pandemic. We cannot tie our own hands in the fight against this disease”.

We need both moral suasion and strict orders to save the people from collective peril. In advanced democracies, that is the practice. People were implored to wear face masks in public, maintain physical distance and keep good respiratory hygiene. And in few cases, the strong arm of the law deployed to keep defiant in checks.
By the way, the House of Representatives would still subject the bill to public hearing which is the custom. The people will have input in the law making process.

The speaker captures aptly, ‘ We may sometimes disagree with the how and the why of policy proposals. The parliament of the people is not an echo chamber. It is a marketplace of ideas where only those proposals that gain currency with the majority should carry the day.

“However, our disagreements must be grounded in a shared recognition that our present travails demand urgent interventions. And we must not allow ourselves to become victims of the cynical assumption that every policy proposal or response is a result of personal inducement or a grand conspiracy to bring harm to the people on whose behalf we hold political office.

“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill will be put forward to a public hearing where stakeholder 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 conscience”.

Gbajabiamila since inception as leader of the 9th House of Representatives has left no one in doubt that he is out to champion the cause of the Nigerian people. It is preposterous for some characters to then allege without any iota of proof that Gbajabiamila and his men had been compromised by western interests to use Nigerians as Guinea pigs to experiment COVID-19.

“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.

“This House of Representatives will never, take any action that purposes to bring harm to any Nigerian here at home or abroad. As we have thus far shown by our conduct, the resolutions and actions we take in this 9th House of Representatives will always be in the best interests of the Nigerian people who elected us, and no one else”, the speaker refutes baseless allegations.

Abulu wrote from Abuja