On April 28, 2020, members of the House of Representatives proposed the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill that passed 1st and 2nd reading without members sighting the bill. The bill is sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who said it is to make provisions relating to quarantine and regulations for preventing the introduction into, and spread in Nigeria of “dangerous infectious diseases” and for related matters.
There was an urgent need to scrutinize this bill and make inputs where necessary as the bill is generating some controversy all over the Country. Some legislators have raised concerns about the bill and others who are yet to set eyes on the said Bill obviously need to time to understand the provisions and its implications of our country.
This lengthy and verbose Bill does not seem harmful on the surface, a closer look reveals that it is will create more problems than it intends to solve. However find below a few things to understand about the said Bill.
1. The Act is copied verbatim from the Singaporean Infectious Disease Act of 1977.
This is really disturbing and it begs the question ‘what is the relationship between the National Assembly and Singapore that they keep plagiarizing Singaporean laws? According to David Hundeyin, “It is page after page of authoritarianism from southeast Asia with “Singapore” occasionally Tippexed out and “Nigeria” scrawled over it. In fact when you run the draft legislation through a plagiarism checker, Nigeria’s proposed legislation has an originality score of just 2 percent against the Singaporean document it was plagiarized from”.
Should laziness or lack of imagination be blamed as the cause of this embarrassing copycat brouhaha?
2. It does not just address COVID-19 but all forms of infections diseases.
3. There is utmost necessity for the Act to block some legal and enforcement lacunae around addressing public health emergencies in Nigeria.
4. It’s sort of an upgraded/updated version of the Quarantine Act and subsidiary regulations; and a consolidation of the NCDC (Establishment, etc) Act of 2018.
5. It gives very broad, mighty powers to the DG of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. It can’t be over emphasized. According to human rights activist and executive Director of Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye;
“The infectious disease act is more of a punitive bill than a draft law for addressing infectious diseases. This bill tends to confer absolute powers and illegal authorities on a Director-General, including power to “arrest without warrant.” See section 58. The bill was written with a mindset that is both colonial and autocratic. The only thing the drafter of the bill failed to do out of “shame” is not to have “as appropriate” in the context of its overreach – used the nomenclature of Governor-General for the DG. See sections 20, 25 and other punitive provisions in the bill
Not done with its scrambling for absolute control, the bill also confers an obnoxious power on the Supervising Minister in Section 20 (5) “Any person who is aggrieved by any order of the Director General under subsection (1) may, within 7 days from the date of the order, appeal to the Minister whose decision shall be final.” This is an usurpation of the powers of the Judiciary, especially the Supreme Court which has the final authority of law in the country.
It will be too early to call for the death of the bill even though it is terribly defective with several punitive measures that give the DG the powers to act like a colonial Czar. However, I will like to appeal to Nigerians to let us critically review and appraise this draft law and see whether it could be exorcised of its illegal powers and provisions. The bill bears the signature of a draft that originated from a communist republic.”
6. It provides for a range of offences relating to refusing to quarantine, escaping from quarantine/isolation, deliberate infection, obstruction of duty any person empowered by the Act, and so forth.
7. It provides immunity/protection for whistle blowers made pursuant to any information disclosed in good faith around administration of the Act. However, Section 55 lays out the framework for what is clearly an assault on journalists and whistle blowers. The clause requires any person to provide any book, document, correspondence or information requested by the Director-General and it also gives the Director-General unrestricted power to enter and search any premises without court orders. Thus, if it suspected that a journalist or whistle blower is about to go public with embarrassing information, there is a legal basis for state-sanctioned thuggery to ensure that they are silenced.
8. It empowers the Director-General to order post-mortem on any corpse suspected to have died from an infectious disease. I can help but ask if this will not conflict with the Islamic beliefs. Let us recall that only recently, a certain State refused to carry out autopsy to determine the cause of “mysterious” deaths hence Nigerians became aware of the term “verbal autopsy”.
9. The Director-General can order mandatory test or surveillance on anyone. He is also empowered to designate “any premise” as an isolation area. What you need to know here is that this bill goes after property rights, thus giving an un-elected Director-General and the un-elected Minister for Health unfettered powers to take control of private property in such a manner a military dictator would.
10. The Act provides for an “Advisory Committee” to advise the Director-General or the Centre. However, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control Act already provides for an “Advisory Council” for similar purposes. This would only lead to double jeopardy on taxpayers.
11. The Act (like the Quarantine Act) empowers the President to restrict “lock down” any part of Nigeria during public health emergency. The Act does not take cognizance of the fact that Nigeria is a Federal State and should be run accordingly.
12. Where someone has been infected, the Director-General can also order the closure, disinfection and marking of any premise that may lead to an outbreak.
13. The Director-General can stop any meeting, gathering or entertainment from holding (for 14 days), if he thinks it would further spread an infectious disease. This order can be appealed to the Minister of Health. This is found in Section 20 and this contravenes the right to freedom of association and its interpretation is at the discretion of the Director-General.
14. Destruction of building or materials that have been infected. In case of building, an order of court must be obtained. There is also the concern that this may be interpreted and executed any way given the Director-General’s discretionary powers.
15. The Director-General can prohibit the entry into Nigeria of any person(s) in order to prevent or curb spread.
16. Every person arriving or leaving Nigeria must get vaccinated for certain range of diseases.
17. The Director-General may order for certain class of persons to undergo vaccination.
18. The Director-General may order at any time without warrant and with such force as may be necessary – to enter, search inspect, search any premise/ship/conveyance etc – seize or take samples of substances… May I remind you of the unfettered powers as stated above.
19. A police officer or a “Health Officer” may be authorized in writing by the Director-General to arrest any person without warrant who has committed offences in contravention of certain sections of the Act. See Section 58. This means that the burden of proof is now on us (Nigerians) as we will be guilty until proven innocent. As we all know this is a direct contravention of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
20. The “general” penalty for many of offenses in the Act is One Hundred Thousand Naira and/or Six months imprisonment. There are other special penalties in certain sections to the tune of One Million Naira and Two Million Naira.
To some stakeholders, the necessity of the Act cannot be overstated. However, the administration of the Act is too centralized the unfettered powers of the Director-General may or may not have negative consequences. Nonetheless, the Act should take into cognizance the federal system of Nigeria. There is also the question of how States/Governors can complement efforts in the administration of the Act in times of public emergency? They state also that, it is crucial for states to have their own versions of “Centre for Disease Control” coordinated by their respective Health Ministries – with their respective Infectious Diseases policies and laws. The Federal Government and International partners can assist to make this a reality – as there would certainly be more outbreaks of infectious diseases in Nigeria, in the future – and over reliance and over centralization on the Federal Government can curb effective and timely interventions.
While I align with the above position, I urge you to take a stand for what is right and in accordance with the rule of law.
DOWNLOAD CONTROL OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES BILL HERE
Augusta Yaakugh is an Abuja based Legal Practitioner, rights activist and the Founder of Lex Community NG