Infectious Diseases bill: Governors kick against President, NCDC overbearing powers

•It’s a potentially dangerous piece of legislation, unconstitutional – Falana • Compulsory invasive medical examination, treatment or vaccination unethical ― NMA

Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) on Wednesday kicked against overbearing powers conferred on the President and Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020.

The NGF Chairman, Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State who stated this at the open of the public hearing on the Repeal of Quarantine Act and enactment of Control of Infectious Diseases bill, however, harped on the need to give requisite powers on the State Governors to declare a place to be an infectious area.

Specifically, the Governors recommended that the “Provisions along the lines of section 8 of the Quarantine Act should be inserted in the new Bill to allow State Governors the power to declare a place to be an infectious area and to make regulations and directives towards prevention and further spread of an infectious disease within the State, where the President is yet to do so.

“It is the position of the NGF that powers beyond those granted by S. 8 of the Act should be conferred on the Governors so as to strengthen their ability to act in this regard. Governors should be conferred the power to declare any place within their State an infected area within the contemplation of the Act.

“State Governments should be given powers to establish States Centre for Disease Control and appoint Directors to work with the NCDC as its sub-national units (very much like the Federal Ministries and their State equivalents) to adequately tackle any outbreak of infectious disease in the States.

“The discretionary powers of the President and the Director General of the NCDC should be reviewed with the aim of spreading same among the authorities of the three tiers of Government. This would ensure that everyone is adequately involved in the efforts to confront any outbreak of an infectious disease.

“Provisions like S. 21 (5) that are inconsistent with the Constitution should be expunged as they are without more, unlawful and cannot stand scrutiny,” Governor Fayemi urged.

In the same vein, Interim Chairman, Alliance on Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Barr. Femi Falana who presented the Group’s position paper explained that: “having carefully perused the provisions of the Bill, we can confidently say that we consider it a potentially dangerous piece of legislation that we recommend should be completely rejected in toto. For convenience, we divide the disturbing implications of the Bill into two, and make an attempt at addressing the constitutional, legal and policy issues arising therefrom.”

Barr. Falana who described the bill as “smacks of dictatorship”, observed that the bill “only reinforcing and overwhelming voice is that of dictatorship. The Bill grants unfettered discretionary and overbearing powers to the Director-General of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, the Police and Health Officers. The reproduction of some of the provisions of the Bill would be helpful, in driving home this point,” he urged.

He maintained that “the Bill is superfluous, potentially illegal and unconstitutional,” maintained that the proposed legislation “poses a danger to the human rights of the Nigerian People.

“We acknowledge that all rights are important and inseparable, but some are so fundamental that they have attained the stature of being the hallmark of constitutional democracy. State actors and fellow citizens ought not to put fundamental rights in jeopardy but must duly observe, uphold and respect them. Concerning fundamental rights, all actors must maintain utmost self-restraint. Amongst these rights are the right to life and the means of sustaining life, the Right to Liberty, Freedom of Association, the Right to Ownership of moveable and immovable property, as well as the Right to the Dignity of the human person.

“We recall that these rights historically were not conferred gratuitously by governments, whether of the slave-owning type, or that under the control of feudal lords, and even the so-called modern State. Records confirm that the history of the struggle for human rights is one of gargantuan battles against absolutism and arbitrariness, commencing precisely from that moment when society became divided into the classes of oppressors and the oppressed and at that time when subjugation reared its head in society.

“We are however fully cognizant of the contending argument that no rights are absolute, in the sense that exceptions may be created in the law, which are deemed necessary for the protection of the public interest, public health and safety.

“In presenting this memorandum, we choose to uphold our concern that the claim of commitment to protection of public health and safety, does not turn out to be an excuse for the provision of a tool in the hand of an autocrat, empowered to ride roughshod over the fundamental rights of the Nigerian People.

“We observe that the powers conferred on the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control are so pervasive as to touch on every aspect of the life of a citizen, and that no objective standards have been created for preventing arbitrariness in the claimed exercise of these powers; further that there is generally no room allowed for judicial scrutiny which makes the bill in our view a recipe for tyranny.

“In the hands of a power-drunk autocrat, the Bill if passed into law, as it is, would pose a clear and present danger to the realization of an ordered society founded on the rule of just laws, which we, the Nigerian People, continue to yearn for,” he stressed.

On its part, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), opposed the provisions for compulsory invasive medical examination, treatment or vaccination, as it against medical ethics despite the alluring appeal that it protects public health.

The NMA position paper which was co-signed by its National President and Secretary General, Prof. A. O. Ujah and Dr. Phillips Ekpe also called for inclusion of new section 72 for the mandatory provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), life insurance and risk allowances and not leave it to regulation or the discretion of authorities.

While declaring the public hearing open, Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill has witnessed an unprecedented amount of engagement by a cross-section of the Nigerian public within one month of its introduction.

He, however, argued that “a lot of the engagement on this proposed legislation has been ill-informed and outrightly malicious. There are those in our society, who benefit from promoting the falsehood that every government action is cynical, and every policy proposal must be the product of malignant influence.

“We must never succumb to the impulses that these elements represent, and we must reject them always as doing so is an act of excellent service to a nation we love and are beholden to.”

 

 

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