The House of Representatives may be revisiting the controversial Quarantine Act (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2020, also known as the Infectious Diseases Control Bill
Among other provisions, the controversial bill makes receiving of a vaccine compulsory for Nigerians
Committee report on the bill, widely referred to as the ‘NCDC bill,’ which has been due for the presentation since June 2020, would be laid after the National Assembly resumes from recess.
The reconsideration of the legislation will be coming at a time when Nigeria is experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Federal Government’s plan to procure vaccines.
The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; Chairmen of the House Committees on Health Institutions and Health Services, Messrs Paschal Obi and Tanko Sununu, respectively, jointly sponsored the bill.
Speaking to our correspondent on Saturday, Sununu said the report by the committee on the bill would be laid when the National Assembly resumes.
The federal parliament embarked on Christmas and New Year holidays December 21, 2020, and is billed for resumption on January 26, 2021.
Sununu, however, noted that the country already has laws governing vaccination, noting that the bill covers all infectious diseases and not only COVID-19. “It is a primary health care responsibility,” he stated.
Responding to a question on the current status of the bill, the lawmaker said, “We are going to lay the report when we resume. The committee has conducted a public hearing. We have drafted our report but we could not lay it because of the budget (2021 Appropriation Bill) consideration. It will be one of the first bills (reports) that will be laid when we resume.”
Sununu explained that COVID-19 is one of the infectious diseases that the bill seeks to manage. He, however, said, “We cannot have a bill that will say ‘this is for COVID-19;’ we can only talk about the general principles (of infectious diseases and their management). We can then have different policies for COVID-19, polio, meningitis, etc. But a bill cannot be for only COVID-19. No.”
“If we say it about COVID-19 now and after this, another one comes? So, we can only have a law that governs infectious diseases generally.”
The House had on May 1, 2020, passed for the bill for second reading, with a plan to skip its referral to a committee to conduct public hearing but to consider it for the third reading same day. The stiff opposition by some members of the chamber had forced the House to suspend the process.
Nationwide protests had also greeted the proposed law, titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, and Enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, Make Provisions Relating to Quarantine and Make Regulations for Preventing the Introduction into and Spread in Nigeria of Dangerous Infectious Diseases.’
Many Nigerians had gone online to criticise the bill, raising concerns over some of its proposals. Using the hashtag, #StoptheNCDCBill, critics of the proposal, especially on Twitter, listed the controversial clauses as including Sections 3(8), 8, 13, 15, 16, 17(4)(5) and (7), 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 30, 47 and 58.
The bill seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act of 1926 and when passed, would also repeal the Nigeria National Health Act, 2004, National Programme on Immunisation Act, Cap N71, LFN 2004; and the Environmental Health Officers (Registration, etc) 2002.
The House was forced to make a U-turn and organised a public hearing on the proposal between June 10 and 11, 2020.
At the hearing, several stakeholders had picked holes in the bill especially its parts that infringe on human rights and provisions of the Constitution.
Those who made presentations at the hearing included the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, the Nigerian Labour Congress/Trade Union Congress, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Federal Ministry of Health.
Both the NCDC and the health ministry, who are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the powers proposed in the bill, had also criticised it.