A DRAFT legislation titled Infectious Disease Act, sponsored by Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila and submitted on the floor of the House of Representatives on April 28 for consideration has been found to be over 90 percent plagiarised from Singapore’s Infectious Disease Act of 1977.
The proposed legislation which aims at helping the Nigerian government coordinate responses to infectious disease outbreaks such as Lassa Fever and Coronavirus infection is a 43-page draft document copied in its entirety from Singapore – a country with a legacy of authoritarian rule.
At the time the Infectious Disease Act was enacted, Singapore was a one-party state. Though Nigeria operates a democratic system of government, copying a law of an authoritarian state such as Singapore is a contradiction of its republican status.
Abdul Mahmud, barrister and managing counsel of Ephesis Lex Law Firm deplores the idea of copying the law of another sovereignty verbatim.
It is offensive to steal laws properly passed by other parliaments of the world and lawmakers who subscribe to such act can be accused of plagiarism, he told The ICIR in an interview.
“There’s a fundamental problem of poverty of thinking and creativity which allows our legislators to go borrowing and stealing laws from other countries,” he said.
Asides from the title of the draft legislation: Infectious Disease Act which was copied verbatim, parts one to five of the Nigerian Act containing 63 sections were all lifted from the Singaporean law word-for-word. The exception was the use of ‘Director’ which is replaced with ‘Director-General’ and mentioned over 100 times throughout the document.
For instance, in part one, under the subtitle: Administration, the proposed Nigerian draft bill reads: “Except as otherwise provided by this Act, the Director-General of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control shall, subject to any general or special directions of the Minister, be responsible for the administration of this Act.”
In the Singaporean version, it reads: “Except as otherwise provided by this Act, the Director shall, subject to any general or special directions of the Minister, be responsible for the administration of Parts III, IV and VI.”
In part two of the Nigerian bill which stands as part three in the Singaporean legislation, Section four (1) reads: “Every medical practitioner who has reason to believe or suspect that any person attended or treated by him is suffering from a prescribed infectious disease or is a carrier of that disease shall notify the Director-General within the prescribed time and in such form or manner as the Director-General may require.”
In the original document section, section six reads: “Every medical practitioner who has reason to believe or suspect that any person attended or treated by him is suffering from an infectious disease or is a carrier of that disease shall notify the Director within the prescribed time and in such form or manner as the Director may require.”
This reproduction is noticed in the entire document.
Closer look at Nigeria’s versus Singapore’s Infectious Disease Act
At first glance, the similar wordings of both documents raises the questions of how infectious diseases and outbreaks affect Nigeria, its citizens and economy compared to the current realities in Singapore.
Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200 million, a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of $2,028 as of 2018 and plagued with political instability and corruption has halved its population living in extreme poverty, according to World Bank.
In an Infectious disease pandemic period, Nigeria’s most common challenges are ill-equipped and underfunded health care system, a weak economy, and struggling citizens.
On the other hand, Singapore, a sovereign city-state with a population of over 5.6 million and a GDP per capita of $64,581 as of 2018, is ranked 9th in the United Nations Human Development Index out of 187 countries – Nigeria ranks 158 out of 189 countries.
Singapore ranked ‘world’s healthiest country’ by Bloomberg and 6th in the World Health Organization(WHO)’s ranking of the world’s health systems in the year 2000, the Southeast Asian country’s major challenge in a disease pandemic is the ability to manage spread and flatten curve – the same challenge faced by other western nations with top-notch health care systems.
Nigeria is still struggling to increase the testing capacity of COVID-19 and provide adequate health care for patients.
Infectious Disease Act Versus the Nigerian Constitution
A close read of the document shows how the new bill conflicts with rights and privileges granted in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended.
For instance, part of Section 15 of the Act states that: “A person who leaves or attempts to leave or is suspected of having left an isolation area in contravention of an order under subsection (3) may be arrested without warrant by any police officer, or by any Health Officer authorised in writing in that behalf by the Director-General.”
The law invariably empowers the Nigerian law enforcement agents who are notorious for disregarding human rights, to arrest people based on suspected intent (as covered in ‘attempts to leave’) or suspicion (suspected of having left an isolation area) and to do so without a warrant from any higher-level authority.
Recall that as at when Nigeria recorded 407 cases of COVID-19, while the virus had killed 12 people, security officers had killed 18 people as they enforce the lockdown order by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also reported that it has received more than 100 complaints of human rights violations perpetrated by security officials across 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states – including Lagos, Ogun and Abuja.
Enforcement and consequences
In granting powers of arrest, Section 58 of the bill proposes that: “Any police officer or any health officer authorised in writing in that behalf by the Director-General, may arrest without warrant any person committing or who he has reason to believe has committed any offence under section 11(1), 20(2), 22(4), or 55(8).”
By implication, the law aims to empower security officials and health officers to rely on their judgment to detain citizens on the basis of their belief of someone having committed an offense.
David Hundeyin, a Nigerian journalist, said this provision rests the burden of proof on Nigerians, and is a direct contravention of the 1999 Constitution.
In what appears to be a recipe for abuse of power, the bill in Section 71, proposes that: “No liability shall lie personally against the Director-General, any Health Officer, any Port Health Officer, any police officer or any authorised person who, acting in good faith and with reasonable care, does or omits to do anything in the execution or purported execution of this Act,” thereby granting power without checks or accountability.
A worrying precedent
Though the Infectious Disease bill leaves cause for worry if passed into law, the document in its present form is a mere duplication of the original taken from another jurisdiction, an act which has become characteristic of the 9th Assembly.
On November 5, 2019, a bill titled ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019′ aka social media bill, aimed at criminalising the use of social media in peddling false or malicious information was introduced on the floor of the senate.
Just like the Infectious Disease bill, the social media bill, sponsored by Mohammed Sani Musa, a senator representing Niger East, was plagiarised from a Singaporean law.