Ebola: NBA urged to cancel annual conference

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By Innocent Anaba

The Chairman of Governing Council of National Human Rights Commission, HNRC, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, has called on the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to cancel its annual conference slated for Owerri, Imo State over the Ebola Virus Disease, EVD outbreak in the country.

Odinkalu in a statement, yesterday, said “As its contribution to the current measures to control and manage the public health emergency caused by the presence of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Nigeria, the NBA has a responsibility to defer its annual conference scheduled to take place in Owerri, from 24 until 29 August 2014. It will be ill-judged to continue with the conference in the circumstances of the present public health emergency prevailing in the country.

“On August 8, the World Health Organisation, WHO,  declared the current outbreak of the EVD in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, PHEIC. On the same day, Nigeria’s Federal Government proclaimed a nation-wide public health emergency for the same reasons.  Among other control and prevention measures, both the WHO and the Federal Government discourage large gatherings during this emergency.

“In Nigeria, government at federal and state levels have agreed to extend the current school holidays while measures are taken to assess the Ebola threat and bring it under control. Section 45(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution gives government a responsibility to take reasonable measures to manage rights in the interest of public health. These measures have been taken under this power. They are both lawful and sensible.

“The NBA conference is usually a very large gathering. Its venues usually attract well in excess of 20,000 participants, traders and visitors. It’s an excellent place for a virus in search of vectors.”

On  August 15, the NBA issued a public statement claiming that it “is putting adequate anti-Ebola precautions for its members attending the 2014 annual general conference in Owerri. It failed to say what these precautions were or who said they were “adequate.
“As a result, participants are not in a position to asses independently what risks they run in attending the conference. The most “adequate precaution” the NBA can take at this time is to defer the conference. It should do so. If the NBA declines, I would urge government at all levels to strongly request it to do so.

“I am a scheduled speaker at the Owerri conference. I have also been a person under observation for Ebola because as an out-patient I was attended on July 21 by one of the doctors in Lagos who managed the index case, i.e., on the day after he was admitted. The NBA has no way of knowing this and has made no effort to elicit this kind of information from any of the participants.

“I have decided that I will not go to Owerri. As an act of responsible citizenship, I would also urge as many intending participants as possible to consider withdrawing from the Owerri conference. To address leadership continuity in the association, in the interim, the inauguration of the new leadership of the NBA can take place at a modest ceremony at the NBA secretariat in Abuja.”

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