Public Hearing: Govs, NMA, NLC, Others Tackle Reps Over NCDC Bill

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the  Nigeria Labour Congress and the Nigerian Medical Association on Wednesday faulted the Quarantine Act (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2020, also known as the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020.

The NGF, the NLC and the NMA at the  House of Representatives public hearing on the bill in Abuja, said the proposed law would lead to confusion.

The House organised the hearing following the uproar over the proposals as well as an alleged plan by the lawmakers to block inputs by stakeholders and members of the public.

The House,  a few weeks ago passed the bill for second reading. The proposed law was jointly sponsored by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; chairmen of the House committees on Health Institutions and Health Services, Messrs Paschal Obi and Tanko Sununu, respectively.

But protests greeted the proposed law, titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, 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.’

The bill seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act of 1926 and when passed, will also repeal the Nigeria National Health Act, 2004, National Programme on Immunisation Act, Cap N71, LFN 2004; and the Environmental Health Officers (Registration, etc) 2002.

If passed into law,  the minister of health will be empowered by law to declare any premises to be an isolation centre for the purpose of preventing the spread or possible outbreak of infectious diseases.

It also confers on the police, the power to arrest and quarantine violators without warrant.

Section 13 of the bill also seeks to give the NCDC Director-General the power to order the isolation of people having or suspected to have an infectious disease for a period of time subject to the discretion of the DG.

You didn’t consult us, govs tell Reps

At the public hearing, the Chairman of the NGF and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, criticised several proposals in the bill, saying that they would have frustrated the response to the COVID-19 pandemic if they had been passed into law.

Fayemi said, “The NGF is concerned that the governors were not consulted in putting the bill together, neither was any role created for them, in utter disregard for their constitutional functions.”

He explained that the current  Quarantine Act gave the President responsibility to provide such sanitary stations, buildings and equipment.

According to him,  Section 8 of the Act gives state governors the power to exercise the responsibilities vested in the President under the Quarantine Act, where these responsibilities are not exercised by the President.

Fayemi stated, “The Act gives governors very scant operational space to manoeuvre and regrettably, the proposed bill took away even that. This bill takes away the only authority the governors have to take specific steps and measures in their domains during an outbreak of an infectious disease.

“A situation where state governors do not have any power to make regulations in their states in the event of an outbreak of an infectious disease, or to declare any part of the state an infectious area, is not only inimical to the country’s federalism but a recipe for disaster.”

The NGF chairman stated that the current situation where the COVID-19 regulations made by the President restricted movements in only two states – Lagos and Ogun –including the FCT “would have been chaotic” had the bill been the existing legislation governing infectious diseases and curbing their spread.

The forum also noted that governors, in exercise of the powers vested in them by the Quarantine Act, issued Executive Orders to ensure the control of the spread of COVID-19 in each of their states, since the regulations made by the President did not extend to the other 34 states.

Fayemi said, “Taking away this power of the state governments in the proposed new bill would cause untold hardship and suffering in states and negate the principles of federalism.”

Vesting all powers in President, a recipe for confusion – Govs

The NGF chairman said, “The bill vests all the powers in the President. The absence of de-centralisation of powers to the states is anachronistic and a recipe for confusion.

“Given the diversity of Nigeria and the country’s varying geopolitical and social dimensions, and learning from the current experiences with COVID-19, it is imperative that state governments are actively involved in helping to curb the spread of infectious diseases in each of their states. The dis-similarity in the country’s composition means that were this bill currently before the House to pass in its present form, the NCDC is ill-equipped to adequately address the peculiarities of each state.”

Fayemi faults powers given to NCDC DG

“It is always dangerous to vest uncontrollable powers in any one person. The bill empowers the NCDC to perform certain acts, which are directly in conflict with constitutional guarantees to fundamental rights,” he stated.

The governors cited the instance of Section 6 of the bill, which mandates the compulsory testing of a person on the mere suspicion of the DG, and Section 10 (3) which gives him powers to use force to enter any premises without warrant, while the test in Section 6 would be at the expense of the person, failing which he would be liable to stiff penalties.

Fayemi said governors  should be given  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.”