Buhari signs Mental Health Bill into law

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has signed into law the Mental Health Bill harmonised by the National Assembly in June, 2021.

The Mental Health Bill seeks to establish human rights protections for those with mental health conditions against discrimination in housing, employment, medical, and other social services.

Following the signing the bill into law, it will be illegal to subject mentally ill persons to forced treatment, seclusion and other methods of restraint in mental health facilities.


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The long awaited signing by the President means the law will replace the Lunacy Act of 1958 condemned by mental health experts as “outdated and inhuman”.

The President of the Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria, APN, Prof Taiwo Obindo described the signing as “victory for Mental Health Care and practice in this nation”.

He said the law is the “final culmination to over two decades of several efforts by the Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria now has an Act/Law on Mental Health governance and we are now part of the global space with best global practice”.

Reacting, the immediate past President of APN, Prof Taiwo Shielk said: “Congratulations to APN for our tenacity and advocacy for the voiceless. Our profound gratitude to Senator Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Senator Ahmad Abubakar, Dr. Ibrahim Gambari (COS), CBM International, Johnson & Johnson and all our partners. After several attempts, We pray that The Lord will reward all those who contributed to the success of this project.”

Some provisions of the National Mental Health Bill include creating a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health and a Mental Health Fund.

Two failed attempts

A Civil Society Organisation known as the Nigerian Mental Health, last year called on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent the bill which was submitted to his office by the Clerk of the National Assembly, Olatunde Ojo.

The group, in a statement said the bill was finally passed by the National Assembly after two failed attempts since 2003.






     

     

    According to the group, “mental health regulatory reforms have languished in Nigeria’s legislative chambers for almost two decades, with failed attempts at overhaul in 2003 and 2013”.

    “In 2019, mental health legislation was again advanced, with the Senate passing it for second reading in November of that year and holding public hearings in 2020.

    “Harmonisation of the bill concluded between both legislative chambers in June 2021. Since last year, mental health practitioners have been waiting for the bill to be finalised and transmitted to the President,” the group added.

    Explaining why the bill failed in the past, founder of the group, Chime Asonye said; “There have been different types of conversations about why it hasn’t been passed, but the major conclusions were that it wasn’t high in terms of the political agenda and the roles and responsibilities of psychiatrists versus psychologists, etc”.

    He added that finance was also an issue. “When you think about health in general, we don’t finance health budget. And only a very small percentage goes to mental health, so it wasn’t even a priority in the health”, he said.

    Sinafi Omanga is a journalist with The ICIR. His Twitter handle is @OmangaSinafi and Email: [email protected]

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