A move by the House of Representatives to repeal the Quarantine Act and enact the Control of Infectious Diseases bill stirred controversy on Thursday.
The bill, which scaled second reading before it was stood down on Tuesday, has 82 sections.
Sponsored by House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, the bill seeks to strengthen the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and make it more proactive and “not just reactive and function when there is an outbreak.”
The piece of legislation seeks to empower the president, the minister of health as well as the director-general of NCDC, and the institutions they head, to make regulations on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
Mr Gbajabiamila, while presenting the bill, said the Quarantine Act provides a penalty of N500 for defaulters, but the new bill proposes a penalty of between N200,000 and N5 million as well as jail terms.
While some members of the House backed the bill, some called for caution and asked for time before giving it further consideration.
Some of the members who opposed the bill said they did so as they had not seen or read it.
“I have not seen the bill and I have asked some colleagues around here and they have not either,” Bamidele Salam (PDP, Osun) noted.
“I do not know if the bill compels states to establish centres for emergencies, I do not know if the bill makes it compulsory for palliatives measures under such circumstances.”
To the observations, Mr Gbajabiamila apologised, but insisted that tough times require tough measures. The bill was later withdrawn.
Other provisions of the bill
Just as possession of the yellow fever card is mandatory to move from one country to another, the bill seeks to make similar provisions for international travellers leaving or arriving in Nigeria.
By this, travellers are expected to “have undergone vaccination or other prophylaxis against all or any of the diseases as may be prescribed.”
This means they are to produce valid international certificates of vaccination or other prophylaxis to authorities before travelling.
Nigerians have raised varying concerns about the bill on Twitter. While some welcomed some provisions of the bill, many of the commentators on the microblogging site opposed it.
Those who opposed the bill see it as draconian as its section 48 proposes that the director-general of the NCDC “may by order” direct unvaccinated persons “to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis within such period as may be specified in the order.”
Also, sections 55 and 56 of the bill say the DG of NCDC and the police may at “any time without warrant” enter, inspect and search any premises or conveyance where a suspected outbreak has taken place.
Others noted that the wording of the bill has a striking semblance with Singapore’s Infectious Diseases Act of 1976, which was introduced under the dictatorship of Lee Kuan Yew.
The DG of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, while commenting on the bill Thursday, said while he takes the propositions in good faith, he would advise against a rushed legislation during this time of crisis.
Having been withdrawn, the bill is now up for reintroduction on another legislative day. If it is passed by the House, it will be subject to the Senate’s concurrence as well the president’s assent before it becomes law.
Below are some of the tweets by Nigerians: