Home » Articles, Columnists, COVID-19, Headlines, Health, NNP Columnists, P » The Dangers of the Infectious Disease Bill – By Prof. Phil Alalibo

The Dangers of the Infectious Disease Bill – By Prof. Phil Alalibo

By Prof. Phil Alalibo | NNP | May 6, 2020 | The Nigerian House of Representatives is on the cusp of overturning the National Quarantine Act of 2004, and replacing it with the Prohibition and Control of Infectious Disease Bill that has scaled second reading in just two hours. This is a process that usually takes far more seasoned legislative bodies in other countries several days to flesh out the nuances of the proposed bill. But Nigerian legislators took just two hours to achieve the same outcome. This cannot be a thoughtful and methodical endeavor that would inspire confidence in Nigerians. The rush of this bill (which it has been alleged is plagiarized from a law already on the books in Singapore) through the legislative process is very curious, rife with suspicion and calls into question the motives of the principal sponsor, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila. It comes at a time when Nigerian leaders should be leaving no stone unturned to combat the pandemic that is still ravaging through the globe.

It is worrisome that this bill accords sweeping absolute powers to various officers of the Nigerian state, such as the president, minister of health, the Director-General (DG) of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and/or his/her designates. In a country where law and order is still an aspiration, such powers could be used to settle political scores and perpetuate the violation of basic human rights of Nigerians with forced vaccination as deemed fit in the public interest. The bill makes it a crime and prescribes a penalty of N200, 000 to N5 million fine or jail term for anyone refusing the order of vaccination or violating other aspects.

If passed into law, the police can arrest any infected persons without a warrant, and the minister of health is empowered to forcefully use any property as an isolation centre (including those owned by members of the political opposition). The DG of the NCDC is empowered in the interest of the public good to restrict access or close off buildings that are likely to be breeding grounds for an infectious disease due to congestion. The bill also gives him or his underlings the authority to arrest or detain anyone without the benefit of an arrest warrant.

The most vexatious aspects of the bill give the DG the power to compel anyone in the event of an (or suspected) outbreak to be vaccinated. Diaspora Nigerians (traveling with Nigerian passport) seeking to visit home are not exempted from the reach of this proposed law as they must be vaccinated or show proof of vaccination. Where they refused vaccination, they will be in violation of the law and subject to fine or jail. Diaspora Nigerians who have taken citizenship elsewhere may be deported upon refusal of the vaccine or inability to show proof of vaccination.

While in developed countries the building where an infection occurred is disinfected or as they call it “deep cleaned” and declared safe for habitation, under the proposed law, an enforcement officer may get an order from the nation’s compromised judiciary (court) to destroy the building, a case of throwing the baby away with the bath water. As though not enough, the bill adds to the angst of Nigerians by requiring (at the risk of prosecution) medical professionals treating an infected person to provide the DG with the medical details of that person. Again, you guessed right, this is done in the interest of the public good in gross violation of age-old medical ethics of privacy that obtains even in the most primordial societies.

The powers entrusted to the DG to compel anyone in the event of an (or suspected) outbreak to be vaccinated may explain the urgency with which the bill is rushed. Since there is a current outbreak on the scale of a pandemic, the quick passage of the bill will provide the legal basis for mass vaccination of Nigerians should a vaccine be  discovered in the next several months. There is little argument that the timing of the bill is suspect, fueling suspicion among Nigerians and others that its “urgent status” may be in line with the nefarious agenda of some global personalities playing God and advocating for the reduction of the world’s population through vaccines. Already, there are suggestions of programs touted by some international organizations designed as vaccination scheme whose true objective is to achieve a depopulation agenda.  The angle of profit cannot be ignored. With mass vaccination of 200 million Nigerians, Western pharmaceutical companies will realize huge profits. This prospect is not far-fetched in a country that is rife with corruption and unholy alliances in furtherance of self-interest and self-aggrandizement.

Nigerians should be equally worried that this bill has not been duly vetted by the relevant stakeholders, neither has any public input been sought to ensure that it is in the best interest of Nigerians. Even the Director-General of the NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, indicated recently that he is not involved in the drafting of the bill, noting that it requires further consultation. What are Nigerians to make of the fact that a bill as intrusive as this with far-reaching medical implications has no input nor involvement from the person entrusted with the critical role of disease control and prevention in the country? This is a person so empowered by the bill on many levels as though an emperor, yet with no input in the drafting of the bill. One wonders if the lawmakers are truly interested in robust debate and substantive input from all stakeholders? It ought to be a source of grave concern and inquiry that the often lethargic legislators who have hardly passed any meaningful bills to address the pandemic of social, economic and political challenges facing the country, are the ones sprinting with Olympic-like precision to pass a forced vaccination bill.

This appears to be a case of Nigerian legislators crying more than the bereaved. Whereas legislative bodies in far more advanced countries, such as the United States, Italy, France, Spain and UK, where the virus has caused the most deaths to the collective tuned (as of today) of 178,000 (out of 258, 328 global deaths), have not had the time to meet, let alone contemplate legislative actions to address the virus, it is Nigeria where as of today, only 2802 (out of 200 million plus) have tested positive with 93 deaths, that is rushing a tyrannous vaccination bill to frost on its citizens. In China, the known origin of the virus, there has been no such totalitarian legislation draped over its citizens, but Nigeria ranking 65 on the infection index out of 208 countries. What manner of legislators, if not for self-serving motives, would choose the middle of a once-in-a-century deadly pandemic to dismantle an existing Quarantine Act and replace it hurriedly with a new law that has not been scrutinized in any meaningful way?

While a more aggressive bill that puts the government on a proactive footing is needed to adequately address future outbreaks, this bill in its current form portends grave danger to civil liberties of Nigerians and an erosion of constitutional guarantees. It is a powerful tool to exact political vendetta and ethnic oppression in the absence of credible checks and balances. In one of the sections, it is stated that aggrieved Nigerians could appeal to the minister of health whose decision is final. The minister of health, an interested party whose power is being challenged or decision appealed cannot be the same person to receive and adjudicate such appeal.

If this bill passes against all odds, it will mean that Nigerians will be the healthiest people on earth, well vaccinated and protected from infectious diseases only to be killed by the relentless stress of high unemployment, bad roads, lack of safe drinking water, crime and decades of systemic rot. Nigerians should be weary of the abrupt “goodwill” disposition of the House leadership and resist this draconian bill through the democratic process.

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Prof. Alalibo teaches political science and global politics.

Short URL: http://newnigerianpolitics.com/?p=55174

Posted by on May 6 2020. Filed under Articles, Columnists, COVID-19, Headlines, Health, NNP Columnists, P. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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