Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has replied critics of the Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020, saying it will be subjected to a public hearing for Nigerians to make their input.
Gbajabiamila stated this during plenary on Tuesday in reaction to the backlash generated by the bill’s introduction on 28 April.
Several Nigerians had through the traditional and online media criticised what was described as “hurried passage” of the bill, which is sponsored by the Speaker. Some persons claimed that the proposed law was directly reproduced from Singapore, adding that some clauses of the bill will subjugate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
But Gbajabiamila described the allegations as “conspiracy theories”, stating that claims that Nigerians would be turned into guinea pigs for medical research are untrue.
He insisted that the Quarantine Act, 2004, the current law empowering government to fight diseases, must be updated as the provisions have underwhelmed the capacity of the Federal Government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to tackle the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The Speaker added that he faults the arguments of persons who are opposing the timing of the bill’s introduction, saying there is no normalcy to return as the world is being ravaged by the disease.
He said: “I disagree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that this is not the ideal time to seek reforms of the infectious diseases and public health emergency framework in the country. The weakness of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines led to the further spread of coronavirus in Nigeria.
“We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who are fully aware of their status chose to travel across state lines on public transport.
“The number of those infected by the coronavirus continues to rise alongside the number of those who have died. there is no timeline for when this disease will pass, and nobody can predict when the next public health crisis will occur, just as nobody predicted the present predicament.”
Gbajabiamila stated that despite the disagreements, the House “is not an echo chamber” but “a marketplace of ideas where only those proposals that gain currency with the majority” should be adopted.
He, however, warned that there is an urgent need to fast-track the bill’s passage, adding that disagreements should not be viewed as a plot to either ensure personal inducement or implement a grand conspiracy.
“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.
“It is from the accumulation of these myriad views, suggestions and good faith critiques from within and outside the House that we will arrive at final legislation that meets the present and future needs of our country, and which we can all support in good conscience,” the speaker said.
He stated that the House will consider different options to hold the public hearing as the current social distancing guidelines practised across the country would nullify the current format of such hearing.