Satisfied by the decision of the House of Representatives to put the controversial Control of Infectious Diseases Bill before the Nigerian public for inputs, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country have stepped up with a number of recommendations to enhance public interest, participation and transparency in the discourse.
The CSOs in a statement collectively signed by no fewer than 69 different organisations, presented a five-point recommendation which they want the House of Representatives to factor in as it considers new modalities for the bill’s hearing process.
According to them, the House should provide information on the committee responsible for the coordination of public hearing, adding that it should provide clarity on the committee(s) entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating the public hearing to ensure effective engagement with citizens and stakeholders.
This, they said, includes the composition of the committee including the gender and geo-political zone spread and the terms of reference of the committee.
The CSOs said: “Communicate a practical schedule for public engagement on the Bill: The House of Reps should generate and share a schedule and guidelines for public engagement on the Bill. This is to ensure that the public hearing and stakeholder consultations are held within a reasonable time frame.
“The timetable and guidelines should highlight the mode, structure, time, and levels of engagement to ensure effective participation of citizens and stakeholders. The Committee responsible for organizing these activities should conduct citizen outreach and share this information widely with the public through diverse media platforms.
“This is critical to ensure broad awareness and participation and enhance legislative transparency.
“Host a virtual and physical public hearing: The House of Reps should amend its standing rules on the procedure for lawmaking to integrate the newly proposed procedures as suggested by the Honourable Speaker. This includes integrating virtual public hearings on secured videoconferencing platforms to promote public participation.
“The secured videoconferencing platform selected should be published with a list of, participating organizations on the dates of the scheduled E-Public Hearing. In order to ensure massive participation, the Hearing should be scheduled to hold between two or three days with representatives of organizations given five-10 minutes for their presentations/submissions.
“Alternatively, the House can host a televised physical public hearing with strict adherence to physical distancing guidelines. In hosting a physical public hearing, the House should ensure adequate notice is provided and the event venue is accessible to all invited stakeholders from diverse constituencies; including faith and culture representatives as well as women, youth, and persons living with disabilities.”
The CSOs suggested that the House should embark on a multi-layered stakeholder consultations, saying, in addition to the public hearing, the lawmakers should strive to host virtual and limited physical consultative meetings with a diverse range of stakeholders.
They explained that “these must as a matter of due diligence include consultative meetings with federal and state Ministries of Health, the NCDC, medical professionals, labour unions, security and law enforcement agencies like the police, health organisations, civil society groups, the media and development partners.”
They also suggested that the House should Intensify publicity on the bill, saying, the lawmakers should partner with them and the media to enlighten Nigerians on the provisions of the bill.