The House of Representatives on Tuesday made a U-turn on its earlier bid to pass the contentious Infectious Disease Control Bill without subjecting it to a public hearing.
With the turnaround, the bill will now be thrown to the public to make input before it returns to the House for vetting and passage.
This is as the Senate introduced its own version of the bill titled “National Health Emergency Bill.”
The House bill titled “Control of Infection Diseases Bill 2020 sponsored by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act and enact the Infectious Diseases Control Act.
It passed first and second readings in the House last week but attracted outbursts from the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) which alleged that the lawmakers had been offered $10million to pass it,
Some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are already mobilising to shoot down the bill
Also, a former member of the Senate, Dino Melaye, filed an action at the Federal High Court Abuja, seeking to stop further consideration of the bill.
The House bill seeks to empower the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to order the administration of vaccines on all Nigerians in a bid to control infectious diseases.
Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, while addressing members at the resumption of plenary yesterday noted that since the introduction of the bill, there has been a barrage of criticisms against it, with allegations of sinister motives.
He explained that the bill was conceived because of the the “exigencies of the time” and in the best interests of Nigerians.
Gbajabiamila said the allegation that the bill was a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights was far from the truth.
The proposed law, according to him, will, because of the controversy, be subjected to a public hearing where Nigerians from all walks of life would be given the opportunity to contribute to the draft law.
His words: ”Suffice it to say that none of these allegations is true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly be characterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.
“This House will never take any action that purposes to bring harm to any Nigerian here at home or abroad.
“As we have thus far shown by our conduct, the resolutions and actions we take in this 9th House of Representatives will always be in the best interests of the Nigerian people who elected us, and no one else.
“In the recent uproar, certain fundamental truths have been lost and are worth remembering. Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.
The current law severely constrains the ability of the Federal Government and the NCDC to take proactive actions to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur.
“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.”
According to Gbajabiamila, citizens may sometimes disagree with the “how” and the “why” of policy proposals, but that the parliament is not an echo chamber.
He stated’ “It is a marketplace of ideas where only those proposals that gain currency with the majority should carry the day. However, our disagreements must be grounded in a shared recognition that our present travails demand urgent interventions. And we must not allow ourselves to become victims of the cynical assumption that every policy proposal or response is a result of personal inducement or a grand conspiracy to bring harm to the people on whose behalf we hold political office.
”Subsequently, the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill will be put forward to a public hearing where stakeholder contributions will be sought to make improvements to the bill before it is reviewed and debated by the committee of the whole.
In the Senate, the bill sponsored by the Chairman of its Committee on Communicable Diseases and Primary Healthcare, Chukwuka Utazi, scaled first reading yesterday.
Many senators, however, appeared not to be in support of the bill which second reading has been slated for next week.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu, particularly, demanded a gazetted copy of the proposed law.
Ekweremadu, who relied on Order 41 of the Senate Standing Rules, said the bill is already generating controversies in the House of Representatives.
He insisted that as a senator, he has the privilege of going through the Bill before being read for the second time.
Ekweremadu said: “I rely on Order 41 of the Senate Standing Rule. As a senator, I am entitled to know the details of this Bill.
We want to have copies of the gazetted copies. There is controversy over the same Bill in the House of Representatives.
“We don’t want to have the same issue here. We need to be guided to avoid any backlash. I need to read it and prepare ahead of time.”
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, consequently directed the secretariat of the Senate to make copies of the bill available to all the senators.
He ruled that the second reading of the bill will take place next week after Senators must have the Bill.
Lawan said: “The copies are ready and everybody will get a copy. We are not taking the second reading immediately. That will be done next week. So, members will have the time to read the contents of the Bill.”
However in an interview with journalists after the session, Utazi, explained that the content and intendment of his bill are not the same as the one before the House.
Utazi said: “Although I have not read the content of the one before the House but provisions such as compulsory vaccinations for all citizens and other compulsions for that matter, are not there.
“The main purpose of the bill is to strengthen our Quarantine Act by way of required amendments and to take care of all the issues that have to with the management of pandemic like the ranging COVID-19.
“In doing that, we want to ensure that instead of having a fire-brigade approach to solving the problem of this nature, we have a law that can handle all that. We want to put everything under a law to address health issues.
I don’t see any controversy about the bill that 102 members of the Senate sponsored. The bill is to address the issue that is posing a public health emergency around the world.
“The Bill (Senate version) does not make vaccination compulsory. If you have yellow fever, and you want to travel outside the country, they will demand a yellow fever vaccination certificate at the airport. If you don’t have it, you will be vaccinated there.”