We know that the House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila’s withdrawn Bill to repeal our antiquated Quarantine Law and make the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, stronger and more effective will be reintroduced. But it must first be purged of all its objectionable contents.
The Bill was stood down after undergoing the second reading on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. No well-meaning Nigerian would argue against the need for a new legislation to replace the Quarantine Law of 2004 which has now proved inadequate for an effective response to outbreaks of pandemic proportions such as Coronavirus.
Imagine an Act that prescribes N200 fine for offenders or a six-month jail term or both. With our governors looking to avoid further overcrowding of our correctional centres, most offenders would simply walk home after paying the N200 fine.
However, Gbajabiamila’s Bill was too problematic to stand. He did not properly circulate the draft among his colleagues, and many of them complained they had not even seen a copy of it. Yet, the Speaker attempted to get the Bill passed and sent to the Senate for concurrence without a public hearing.
This immediately raised conspiracy theories in several quarters, especially on Twitter where a #StopNCDCBill trended last week. Some referenced the allegation that some African leaders were being lobbied by Western vaccine promoters to enforce the administration of deadly vaccines in their countries. It was under this atmosphere of distrust that Gbajabiamila withdrew the Bill with an apology.
Perhaps, the Speaker meant well. Gbajabiamila probably used the recent COVID-19 break to show his patriotic response to the emergency by creating a new legislative framework to replace the old one. But he touched the raw nerve of our ever-vigilant watchdog community with provisions seen as means of unconstitutionally tampering with the civil liberties of Nigerians in the guise of fighting infectious diseases.
Gbaja’s Bill empowered the President, Minister of Health and Director-General of the NCDC to brazenly trample on the constitutional rights of Nigerians during epidemic outbreaks. Any place can be declared an isolation area, people can be arrested without court warrant, fines can range from N200,000 to N5 million and people can be prevented from travelling into and out of Nigeria without evidence of vaccination.
In his haste Gbajabiamila did not consult enough and failed to accommodate the roles of a plethora of stakeholders who are, even right now, deeply involved in the COVID-19 war.
We totally agree with the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who cautioned that the prevailing atmosphere is not conducive for enacting a new disease control law. Let us defeat the pandemic, then deploy our experiences holistically to create an effective and acceptable new law.