How legislators stirred hornet’s nest with disease control bills

Sponsored by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and two others, the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill was presented to the House of Representatives for passage on April 28, 2020 when the House resumed plenary. It aims at empowering the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and making it more proactive during outbreak of diseases. It will also empower the president, the minister of health, the director-general of the NCDC and the various institutions to regulate on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in the country. It scaled the second reading before it was stood down.

Many Nigerians have, however, criticised the move, and the controversy about what the bill entails has generated a heavy outcry against it. While some members supported the bill, others called for the amendment of most of its sections, which they argued, appeared draconian and may create more problems than it is intended to solve. One of the most contentious issues raised is the alleged unlimited powers given to the director-general of the NCDC, the police and other organs. Another issue is the compulsory subjection of Nigerians to vaccination by the NCDC, and failure to provide evidence of vaccination could result in suspension of foreign travels. According to the opponents, the bill grossly undermines human rights and personal liberty of Nigerians as guaranteed in the constitution. Others expressed surprise at the speed at which the bill was put forward for an accelerated passage without proper knowledge of its content as many members of the House of Representatives did not get a copy of the bill during the sitting.