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Coalition says Control of Infectious Disease Bill will promote abuse of people’s rights

A coalition of 41 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on Monday issued a warning that the Control of Infectious Disease Bill currently before the National Assembly (NASS) will promote wilful abuse of citizens’ rights.

The coalition said the bill, which already is being referred to as an ‘Act’, would accord excessive powers to the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), if eventually passed.

Members of the coalition include Global Rights, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Lawyers Alert, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Enough is Enough, Community Life Project and Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD). 

Others are Centre for Impact Advocacy, Concerned Nigerians, Lex Community NG, Centre For Liberty, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Say No Campaign.

In a document signed by the 41 organisations, they recognised the importance of legislation to contain the global Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) but noted that there are irregularities in the bill such as overlapping functions of the security operatives, abuse of institutional powers guaranteed by the constitution, ambiguity as well as inadequate regard to accountability.

They observed that the speed at which the lawmakers are hurrying to pass the bill into law despite the concerns is worrisome.

“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill vests overbearing discretionary powers on the DG of the NCDC, while making no provision for reviewing and controlling the exercise of such powers,” the groups stated.

“The Bill empowers the NCDC to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms at will, and abuse constitutionally established institutions and processes, without any form of accountability.”

For instance, the coalition cited as unacceptable Section 10 (3) of the bill, which gives the NCDC DG express powers to employ force to enter any premises without a warrant.

Aside this, the NGOs also expressed concerns about Section 19 of the bill. This confers the DG of NCDC powers to prohibit or restrict meetings, gatherings, and public entertainments. Another portion of the bill that worries the coalition is Section 15(3e), which allows the NCDC boss to authorise the destruction and disposal of any structure, goods, water supply, drainage etc.

“Section 47(1) confers discretionary powers on the Director-General to order any person to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis. All these powers can be abused for political and economic reasons if not properly checked,” the coalition noted.

On Tuesday, April 28, 2020, the National Assembly resumed legislative activities after a month of recess, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House of Representatives after resumption, however, considered the controversial bill co-sponsored by the Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, Pascal Obi and Tanko Sununu.

The ICIR earlier reported how the lawmakers plagiarised the bill originally prepared by the Singaporean lawmakers.

The development has provoked heated debate in the public space as to the rationale behind such an act, despite Nigeria being a democratic nation.

In order to avoid duplication of functions, the coalition charged the House to subject the bill to public scrutiny, by inviting relevant stakeholders to discuss the grey areas and proffer better solution or collective good.

They also advised the House to evaluate all provisions of the bill, they say fosters inter-agency conflicts and abuse of power and thus undermining constitutionally guaranteed rights and are contrary to the rule of law in the country and international human rights treaty which Nigeria is a signatory.

Read the full statement here.

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