December 9, 2022

40 CSOs appeal to Buhari to sign mental health bill into law

…as NASS transmit document to president

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

Some civil society groups numbering about 40 have appealed to President Buhari to give assent to the National Mental Health Bill 2021 already transmitted to him by the national assembly.

It will be recalled that the bill was forwarded to the president on November 28, 2022, according to a memorandum by the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), Ojo Olatunde Amos.

In a statement by the CSOs among which were Nigerian Mental Health;  Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN); Nigerian Association of Clinical Psychologists (NACP); Association of Medical Social Workers of Nigeria (AMSWON); Association of Psychiatric Nurses of Nigeria (APNON); Mentally Aware Nigerian Initiative (MANI); Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities (JONAPWD) and Neem Foundation, the CSOs said the passage of the bill into law will help protect the rights of people living with disabilities.

“We call on President Buhari to sign the National Mental Health Bill 2021 into law on or before the expiration of the 90 days timeline to further consolidate his achievements for persons living with disabilities, which include previously assenting to the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 and inaugurating a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, as his tenure comes to an end.

“Enact other critical regulatory reforms for those with mental health conditions such as decriminalizing attempted suicide, which is illegal according to Nigeria’s Criminal and Penal Codes and penalizes citizens with a one year jail term. The World Health Organization notes that criminalizing suicide discourages people from seeking help for their mental health, which would be counterproductive to effective dispensation of the National Mental Health Bill 2021.

“The National Assembly should ensure gazetted copies of the National Mental Health Bill 2021 are available to citizens as soon as the Bill is signed into law.”

The statement quoted the President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Professor Taiwo Obindo as saying that the piece of legislation was a breakthrough.

“This legislation is a breakthrough as the country has never passed such a law since her Independence. We thank the National Assembly for transmitting this Bill to the Presidency, and we appreciate the many legislators involved in making this happen, including the Chairs of the House and Senate Committees on Health, Hon. Dr. Tanko Sununu, and Senator Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe. Representatives Henry Nwawuba, Francis Waive, and Uchechukwu Nnam-Obi, along with others such as the Federal Ministry of Health, have also been instrumental. We hope they and their colleagues continue to support mental health advocacy and Executive assent”, the statement added.

Some provisions of the National Mental Health Bill 2021 included creating a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health and a Mental Health Fund; establishing human rights protections for those with mental health conditions, such as banning discrimination in housing, employment, medical, and other social services.