By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja
Against all odds, the House of Representatives on Tuesday, December 21, 2021 at its last plenary day in the year, passed into the law the controversial infectious diseases bill.
It will be recalled that at the peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, the House came up with the bill to control infectious diseases in Nigeria.
Sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila and two other lawmakers, the bill was titled “Bill for an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act 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; and for Related Matters”.
It scaled through first and second readings on April 28, 2020.
The public hearing on the bill was held on June 12, 2020.
However, the bill stirred up controversies with the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF through Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State asking the House to step it down.
Also at its public hearing, many stakeholders mounted opposition to some provisions of the bill, arguing that it accorded enormous powers to the President and Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) amongst other issues.
In his remarks to mark the last plenary of the year, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila recalled the efforts of the House to battle COVID-19 pandemic.
He said: “Last year, like the rest of the world, Nigeria was immersed in the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, the pandemic still persists, evolving in ways that portend danger for our people here at home and all over the world. Two areas of particular concern are the issue of vaccine hesitancy and the international response to emerging variants in ways that seem to target the African continent. We have seen through years of scientific evidence that vaccines work. They have worked to combat yellow fever and measles and to end polio. At the height of the pandemic, we prayed for deliverance from the trap of this deadly disease. Vaccines are the answer to that prayer, and as leaders in our communities, we should encourage people to take advantage of the protection offered by science to prevent illness and death.
“Just as importantly, it is evident that the ability to cross boundaries and participate in global trade in the coming months will depend on proof of vaccination. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves or allow others to cut us off from global civilisation at a time when our national economic indices remain lower than they ought to as a direct consequence of the contraction in international trade due to the continuing pandemic. The troubling reality of financial hardship for many Nigerians requires that government continues to invest in infrastructure and education and diversify our economy from a dangerous overreliance on fossil fuels. This is the only real long-term option for addressing the problems of unemployment and economic disenfranchisement in our country. Our ability to do these things will be significantly reduced if we cannot participate fully in the international order.
“Last year, the House of Representatives initiated a long overdue effort to reform the statutory framework for public health emergency response in our country. At that time, our good faith efforts were willfully mischaracterised by individuals who saw the moment as an opportunity to score cheap political points and earn the passing accolades of the ignorant and misinformed. Today, the whole world is grappling with the issues we sought to identify and address then. There are many lessons to be learned from that experience. Most paramount of them all, is that public policy is serious business and the welfare of the Nigerian people must never be surrendered on the altar of cheap populism or the pursuit of short term political advantage.
At the plenary, yesterday, the Chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, Hon. Tanko Sununu moved a motion for the consideration of the report on the bill.
“That the House do consider the Report of the Committee on Healthcare Services on a Bill for an Act to
Repeal the Quarantine Act 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; and for Related Matters; (HB. 836) and approve the recommendations therein”, he said.
With the motion, the House then considered the clauses in the bill and adopted them.
The bill was later read for the third time and passed into law.