CSOs Threaten Nationwide Protest against Infectious Disease Bill

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By Seriki Adinoyi

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have threatened to mobilize a nationwide protest to express their disapproval of the Infectious Disease Bill currently being debated at the National Assembly if the bill is not dropped, noting that such anti-people bill should not be allowed to see the light of the day.

The CSOs, made up of Equity International Initiative (EII), Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO) and Bege Foundation (BF), among others, jointly addressed a press conference in Jos, Plateau state, describing the position of the House of Representatives as being autocratic over the bill.

The Director of CLO, Steve Aluko, expressed worry that at a time when most parts of the nation are on lockdown and movement is restricted as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, the National Assembly is in a hurry to organize public hearing and pass the bill without giving a room for robust public participation.

He said: “If we don’t stop it, this may just be a landmark of precedence to further legislative impunity in the nearest future. That is why we must call on all Nigerians across all shades of opinion, religions and tribes to rise up.

“Whatever is going on in the National Assembly today cannot be said to guarantee fair hearing on the basis of good representation of Nigerians’ opinion. The question is why the rush; why is the National Assembly in a rush to present a bill when the pandemic is still on if there is no sinister motive? There is a provision in the bill that talks about compulsion; are we in another military era when totalitarian was the order of the day? Where the fundamental right of Nigerians as is enshrined in the constitution, which should be the bedrock of governance at all level?

“Critical to this bill is the power it will give to the enforcement agent to have access to private information. Such overriding power where an agency or one person can declare that any part of this country be quarantined is unacceptable and negates the principle of rule of law.

“Therefore we are saying ‘No’ to the bill. We are not even asking for an amendment to the it; we are saying it should be suspended for now until the pandemic is over; and until such an auspicious time that Nigerians with expertise to such bill can all make inputs to it, such that at the end of the day we can have something that is acceptable to all and will not infringe on our right and tenet of democracy. This bill must therefore die a natural death.”

The Country Director of Equity International Initiative (EII), Mr. Chris Iyama, who said his organization has submitted a memorandum to the National Assembly regarding the bill, also condemned the move by the lawmakers in which some of the few people that were at the purported public hearing were shut down from making their free input.

He said: “If they decide to force the bill down the throats of Nigerians, we have the right to march out to the streets against the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, and the entire House of Representatives. We say in clear terms that we totally condemn the bill, and the House should drop it.”

Also speaking, Shamaki Gad, also of the CLO, queried why the National Assembly has not deemed it necessary to go back to their various constituencies to deliberate on the bill with the people that sent them to represent them.

“We must let them know that we have the right and capacity to protest against any bill that infringes on our right. Rather than spending money on renovation of a place where people only sit once or twice a week, I think such money should be channelled to better our health facilities in the country. I must also add that it is not the absence of law that is the problem of Nigeria; it is proper implementation that is the issues. So, I call on all well-meaning Nigerians to rise up against such anti-people bill that does not allow us for an input. They cannot lock us down and yet expect us to participate in a public hearing that is held only in Abuja. Even the Nigerian governors have said ‘No’ to the bill.”

A journalist, Mr. Lukeman Bello, and Miss Remikat Ayuba of Bege Foundation also lent their voices to rejecting the bill which may be used as political tool against opponents. They rather suggested that resources be channeled into empowering health research institutes.