Apparently interested in doing the job of navigating Nigeria and Nigerians out of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic than engage in politics, the Director General of Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu has washed his hands off the new bill seeking to repeal the current Quarantine Act.
Answering questions from reporters at the daily press briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic in Abuja on Thursday, Dr Ihekweazu said he was more interested in the war against COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country than get involved in the controversial new bill in Nigeria’s House of Representatives.
The Bill is seeking to repeal the Quarantine Act and, in its stead, enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, which has already scaled through the second reading in the House.
Said he, “I believe this is not the time to embark on such exercise as coming up with a new Bill. It should not be in this time of pandemic. Let us focus on how to get out of the situation before talking about a new Bill.”
The NCDC boss may have inadvertently added his voice to the call by some members of the Federal House of Representatives who have opposed the new bill.
Some members of the House have vehemently opposed the new bill sponsored by House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, who said when the House resumed plenary after the lockdown that Quarantine Act which had existed for many years, was now ‘primitive and weak’ to meet the current demands hence he was introducing a new Bill.
The bill, he argued, sought to empower the NCDC and make it more proactive and leading the debate, Gbajabiamila said that the NCDC had very little powers to carry out its mandate even though it was a body with great professionals.
Gbajabiamila said that the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, sought to empower the NCDC to make it more proactive and not just reactive and function when there was an outbreak, adding that “when the bill is signed and becomes law, @NCDCgov will be empowered and may administer necessary vaccines to curb the spread of pandemics.
The lawmaker said that the bill also sought to make provisions relating to quarantine and make regulations for preventing the introduction and spreading of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
However, some lawmakers were not comfortable with the speed at which the Speaker of the House wanted the bill to be passed.
Rep. Chris Azugbogu (PDP- Anambra), said that the Quarantine Act did not only involve human but animals. He noted as well, that there was need to carry all relevant institutions along to ensure maximum productivity.
Rep. Sergius Ogun (PDP-Edo) said that there was need to be very careful with the powers that would be conferred on NCDC to administer vaccines.
According to him, rather than pass the bill and send it to the Senate for concurrence, it should be sent to the relevant committee for more work to be done on it.
Also, Rep. Bamidele Salam (PDP-Osun) said that pandemic times such as this, offered an opportunity for all to critically look into procedures and processes of doing things.
Salam said that the bill which was supposed to have been circulated among members ahead of debate in line with the procedures of the house, had not been given to him.
“I have not seen the bill and I have asked some colleagues around here and they do not have either.
“I do not know if the bill compels states to establish centers for emergencies, I do not know if the bill makes it compulsory for palliatives measures under such circumstance.
“I suggest this bill is stepped down and distributed to all members to give us the opportunity to look at it very well,’’ he said.
Rep. Nkem Abonta (PDP-Abia) said that he had only seen the title of the bill but had not seen the bill itself.
Abonta expressed fear that the vaccination might be made compulsory giving the conspiracy theories all over social media on vaccination.
He said if the house was to do away with Public Hearing on the bill which was an integral part of lawmaking, there was need for time for members to critically look at it, before it was passed.
“We need to see all the details and make sure we do not create another problem when the bill is passed into law,’’ Abonta said.
The contributions of Abonta and Ogun, attracted a round of applause from some members of the house even though applause was not encouraged in the chambers. #StopTheNCDCBill