BY SENATOR DINO MELAYE (SDM)
Nigeria, as a democratic society, is built and run on the values of civil rights and democratic principles. Consequent upon this, fundamental rights which are codified in numerous international treaties, are accepted as inalienable to every human. These rights are enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the grundnorm of the land.
Among these fundamental human rights are; rights to life, personal liberty, freedom from degrading and inhuman treatment, private and family life, privacy, right to acquire and own property, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, etc. These rights are held sacred and inviolable except on clearly defined occasions as provided for, by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.Thus, the courts in Nigeria, on numerous occasions, have struck down Acts of Parliament and legislation, including executive orders of government, which do violence to any of the fundamental rights provided for in the constitution.
With the above understanding, and looking at the contents and provisions of this proposed Bill, one wonders whether our lawmakers or indeed the sponsor of the said Bill, who swore to protect and uphold the constitution of Nigeria, are interested in keeping the pledge they made. A critical assessment of this Bill and the timing of it’s tabling before the green Chambers, makes one wonder what the true intention of the promoters of this Bill, and what they are truly after. Certainly, the promoters of this Bill are not interested in any sincere control or prohibition of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
The world is presently battling a virus that has devastated several nations with no officially announced cure yet. Palpable fear has been stirred up in the minds of people across the globe, by the media, about the destructive effect of this disease. It is this fear that the agents of darkness who are behind this Bill wanted to ride on, in their celerity to pass this Bill into a law. After all, it ought to be a highly sellable proposition, to present the Bill as a legal instrument that will help Nigeria fight and defeat the COVID 19 pandemic. Behind this seemingly laudable objective, is the sinister objective to subjugate Nigerians by this instrument, to forceful vaccination in respect of a disease which has no known cure yet. Why the rush in passing a bill in the middle of a pandemic which has no known cure? Why make provisions for the forceful injection of unknown vaccinations for unknown diseases in the Bill?
A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE PROVISIONS OF THE BILL
In the first place, apart from the first 3 sections of the Bill, which made mention of declaration by the president of Nigeria, of public health emergency, like the Covid 19, all the other over 77 sections of the Bill talk about matters and or issues that are not of any urgent public importance now. It is therefore shocking that the elected members of the National Assembly, would break the lockdown order, with the attendant risks to themselves and their immediate family members and their various communities at large, to gather in Abuja, to surreptitiously pass the law without any input by public health workers and other stakeholders in Nigeria.
SOME STRANGE PROVISIONS OF THE BILL.
- Section 3(8) of the Bill which empowers the DG of NCDC by himself or any officer under him or a police officer on his direction, to enter into any premises or gathering of people in an area declared by the president as a public health restricted zone, without a warrant is clearly in breach of the right of Nigerians to freedom of assembly, right to liberty, etc. This kind of power in the hands of an overzealous police officer or NCDC official can cause serious civil unrest.
- Section 5(3) of the Bill empowers the DG to compel any person SUSPECTED by him, of having an infectious disease, to take medical examination or test he(DG) prescribes and allow the DG to take blood or other samples from the person for purposes of public health surveillance. This, of course, is in breach of the constitutional right of every Nigerian to his privacy and right to respect of the dignity of his human person. It must be noted that this section, like the other provisions of this Bill, has nothing to do with whether there is a public health emergency or not. It is meant to be the permanent provision of the law exercisable at any time at the whims of the DG, even the minister of health. A person who refuses to allow the DG to take his samples or do the prescribed test is guilty of an offence. Sect 6 also has a similar provision. This is dangerous. Even in the developed world, testing for COVID 19 is voluntary despite the ravaging effect of the deadly virus on the health and lives of people. These Developed nations, which are by far, worst affected by this pandemic, are yet to pass any such devilish legislation as now being introduced by our own lawmakers in Nigeria.
- Section 8 makes it obligatory for health personnel treating anybody to release to the DG, his client’s medical details and records, without any regards to the age-long norm and professional code of confidentiality between a doctor and his patient. It is a crime to refuse to release the information requested. This is against the ethics of medical practice and an infringement upon the fundamental rights of Nigerians and must also be resisted.
- Section 13 EMPOWERS THE DG UPON MERE SUSPICION, NOT INFORMATION, that a person is infected with an infectious disease and or recovered from an infectious disease, to arrest the person and detain him for as long as he deems necessary without a warrant or court order at any isolation centre of his choice. It is an offence to resist the DG. Again this section infringes on the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
- Section 15 of the Bill, empowers the Minister of Health, to declare any premises whether public or private as an isolation centre and the moment this declaration is made, nobody is allowed to enter or leave the premises without the authorization of the minister. The right to property of Nigerians is thereby taken away without compensation as required by the constitution. This provision too is in conflict with constitutional provisions.
- By section 16 of the Bill, the DG can declare any building or gathering as overcrowded and without any court order or warrant, enter the premises using such force as he deems necessary to disperse the group and may also close the building. A similar provision is in section 17. This section gives the DG unlimited powers to make such declarations any time it wills. These unlimited powers are prone to gross abuse.
- SECT 19 empowers the DG to close any meeting or public gathering or event he considers to likely increase the spread of infectious disease without any court order.
- Section 23 of the Bill authorizes the DG or an enforcement officer of his agency or police, to seize anybody walking on the street whom he SUSPECTS of having an infectious disease without any warrant. This also portends danger to the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
- Section 30 of the Bill makes vaccination, for no known specific disease, compulsory if you are either leaving or arriving in Nigeria.
- Section 47 of the Bill Empowers the DG to direct compulsory vaccination in an outbreak or a suspected outbreak.
- Throughout the different sections of the Bill, any failure to comply with the directives of the DG of NCDC is a criminal offence. THE ESSENCE OF THIS IS THAT THE BILL SEEKS TO TURN THE AVERAGE NIGERIAN into a Criminal on a sensitive issue of health.
- The Bill, specifically in section 9, will make the donation of blood a very difficult issue in future, as it criminalizes blood donation tainted with so-called misinformation or misleading information. This section is notwithstanding the fact that any blood donated by donors, is subjected to screening.
- The Bill gave so much power to the NCDC Director -General with the attendant risk of gross abuse by the occupier of that position and the officers of NCDC.
- The Bill fails to take into consideration the federal status of the country with the overbearing powers given to NCDC DIRECTOR -GENERAL and the Minister of Health on all issues without any form of control or checks by either the legislature or the judiciary.
- The Power to take over the PRIVATE PROPERTY OF NIGERIANS and turn into ISOLATION CENTER in Section 15 of the Bill at the instance of the DG and the Minister of Health in any part of the Federation is a banana peel and potential abuse of the rights of Nigerians to property and also an abuse of the powers of states government and Local Government as guaranteed under the constitution.
LASTLY, THIS LAW SAYS THAT ANYBODY WHO IS AGGRIEVED WITH ANY DECISION OF THE DG OR HIS ORDER CAN ONLY APPEAL TO THE MINISTER AND THAT THE MINISTER’S DECISION ON THE MATTER IS FINAL. THAT IS TO SAY, LIKE DECREE 4 THE JURISDICTION OF THE COURTS ARE OUSTED.