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Published On: Wed, May 6th, 2020

Diseases Control Bill: Speaker says Nigerians not guinea pigs

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By Christiana Ekpa

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila has stressed that, the allegation that the Infectious Diseases Bill is a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights was far from the truth.
The Speaker further disclosed that, Control of Infectious Diseases Bill was conceived in the best interests of the Nigerian people and no one else.
He said the House will subject the Bill to a public hearing where Nigerians from all walks of life would be given the opportunity to contribute to the draft law.
Addressing his colleagues at the resumption of plenary session on Tuesday, Gbajabiamila said since the introduction of the Bill a week ago, there has been a barrage of criticisms against it, with allegations of sinister motives.
However, the Speaker said, as representatives of the Nigerian people, members of the House would never contemplate doing anything that would jeopardize the wellbeing of the citizens.
“Suffice it to say that none of these allegations are true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.
“This House of Representatives will never take any action that purposes to bring harm to any Nigerian here at home or abroad. As we have thus far shown by our conduct, the resolutions and actions we take in this 9th House of Representatives will always be in the best interests of the Nigerian people who elected us, and no one else.
“In the recent uproar, certain fundamental truths have been lost and are worth remembering. Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.
“The current law severely constrains the ability of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur.
“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.
“I disagree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that this is not the ideal time to seek reforms of the infectious diseases and public health emergency framework in the country.
“The weaknesses of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria.
“We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who fully aware of their status chose to travel across state lines on public transport.”
He said as the number of those currently infected by the coronavirus continues to rise alongside the number of those who have died, there is no timeline for when the disease will pass, “and nobody can predict when the next public health crisis will occur, just as nobody predicted the present predicament.”
“It bears restating that we do not have in our country, a healthcare system or for that matter, a national economy that is sufficiently robust to withstand the dire consequences of a sustained infectious disease pandemic. We cannot tie our own hands in the fight against this disease.”
“Whether we choose to accept it or not, the world we live in has changed irretrievably. There is no ‘normal’ to return to as this present crisis has laid bare the fundamental weaknesses in our systems of law and policy and left our nation at risk of devastating outcomes on all sides.
“Our current task is first to survive and then to set about building a new world. Inevitably, this demands that we should be willing to consider new ideas, explore novel possibilities, rejecting those ancient shibboleths we have long adhered to without benefit.”
The Speaker added that citizens may sometimes disagree with the how and the why of policy proposals, but that the parliament of the people is not an echo chamber.
“It is a marketplace of ideas where only those proposals that gain currency with the majority should carry the day. However, our disagreements must be grounded in a shared recognition that our present travails demand urgent interventions.
“And we must not allow ourselves to become victims of the cynical assumption that every policy proposal or response is a result of personal inducement or a grand conspiracy to bring harm to the people on whose behalf we hold political office.”

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