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Disease Control Bill: Some people are working on voodoo theory — Rep Igbakpa



Ben Igbakpa, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ethiope East and Ethiope West Federal Constituency of Delta State, in this interview, speaks on the intendment of the controversial Infectious Disease Control Bill, saying sponsors mean well for Nigeria.

The House is considering a bill referred to as NCDC bill. The bill appears controversial due to its speedy passage through first and second reading…

It is not an NCDC bill. It is Infectious Disease Control Bill 2020. I think the major problem here is lack of trust between the people and government. Nigerians have lost confidence in government. They don’t trust their leaders and they don’t trust their representatives because they have been emotionally bruised.

That is why whatever anyone does, there is that tendency for people to be suspicious. When the Speaker of House Representatives, Gbajabiamila, introduced the Emergency Stimulus Bill, we passed it the same day because it was an emergency bill.

Now, we are in a state of war. Mr. Speaker was one of the leaders in Nigeria to speak about special allowances for our frontliners. He also took on the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria on the ill-treatment being meted out to Nigerians in China. Suddenly, Nigerians have forgotten all that. He brought the bill with good intentions. I don’t see anything wrong in it, but like it is said, no bill is perfect. It is a work in progress. It is a proposal as it is. Nigerians have every right to look into it and make inputs.

There was this reluctance to subject the bill to public hearing and there was a U-turn after just one week. What would you say about that?

People should understand that we are a House of 360 members with divergent opinions. The sponsors of the bill including Mr. Speaker and chairmen of Health Committee, Pascal Obi and Tanko Sununu, considered it an urgent bill because of the situation we find ourselves. Let us get it done so that it can be implemented.

Members looked at it and saw that some areas are not in tandem with our constitution and they agreed that we should wait until those areas are addressed. Nobody ever said there won’t be public hearing. In looking at the public hearing, we are expecting opinions from experts, victims, civil society organisations (CSO), health workers, and even NCDC.

But I must say that the Speaker meant well.

Could one of the grey areas be the compulsory or mandatory vaccination of every person?

Section 47 of the bill is what you are talking about and there is nothing like compulsory there. The word there is “may.” Compulsory applies to people coming into the country from areas where there are infectious diseases. Today, if you want to go to South Africa, if you don’t have the yellow fever vaccine certificate, they will not allow you into the country.

You can even go with a certificate from Nigeria and if they see that it is not what they expected, they will give you the vaccine and you pay for it. You might choose not to go to South Africa if you don’t want to get the compulsory vaccination. If we have had this law in place when this thing started in China, any flight coming from China would have been subjected to such a vaccine.

Let’s look at the proposed powers of the Director-General of NCDC and minister…

We are going for public hearing and at that point, whatever it is, all voices would be heard. The mindset of the proponents of this bill is to have a law in place. One thing I want to ask and I know it is in the affirmative is, is the Quarantine Act of 1926 still in tandem with the present reality?

The answer is no. Is it true that there is a need for us to have a law in place that would be in tandem with the present situation? The answer is yes. Is it true again that if you look at the President’s proclamation, you will understand that there are some issues surrounding it because the Quarantine Act of 1926 did not really give the President the express approval to do that because he is not a professional.

It is the responsibility of the NCDC and the Minister of Health. They would have to write to notify him that there is an infectious disease in town before the President can issue the proclamation. The bill stands to reduce bureaucracy. Somebody should be able to know and take action immediately. The Act of 1926 has never been modified in any way, it was only codified I think in 1997 and 2004. Now, are people saying those things should still remain in 2020? No law is watertight. There must be room for improvement. I want to say it once again that the sponsors mean well.

What is your thought on the aspect of the bill that gives power to a law enforcement agency or the minister to get into any building suspected to be a source of infectious disease and mark it for destruction?

It would have been good in normal climes but I know in Nigeria, people can be very abusive when it comes to privileges and powers.

There is a proviso there that you can write to the Minister of Health. In the area of compulsory treatment, I don’t see anything wrong in it. Some said yes, there is need for a judicial warrant first. I listened to one of our brothers from London some days ago on it and he cited an example of somebody who is mentally ill and the person is dangerous to himself. He asked if authorities should wait for a judicial warrant. Will you still wait to run to the magistrate or the judge to get a warrant before treating the person? Those are areas we should look at. There are situations that are very bad. I think it would be unfair to Nigerians if you allow the man to be walking freely because you want to go to court and get a warrant. You have to arrest the man first and later legalise what you have done.

The coalition of opposition political parties alleged that $10million was made available by foreign interests to make the House pass the bill speedily…

I trust the leadership of the House. I believe in the Speaker and his intention for this bill. I think it is unfortunate that you could give people responsibility and don’t still trust them. They brought the bill to the floor of the House based on public interest.

A colleague of yours, Kingsley Chinda, said the bill was copied from Singapore. He said Singapore introduced it during the leadership of Lee Quan Yu in 1977. He said copying everything without reflecting Nigeria’s local realities is wrong…

There is nothing like plagiarism in legislative activities. When you see a law that is functional and effective somewhere, you bring it home and domesticate it. It takes somebody who has read and who is able to research into issues to get that.

What are the prospects of the bill?

Nobody has said the bill should not be passed. What they are saying is that some provisions are draconian and are not in tandem with our constitution. They are saying that some of them are too harsh and too discretionary. I think those are the areas some of us are already sitting down to look at. If a baby is crying, you need to check the baby to know what is wrong.

These are the areas we are looking at. The truth is that everybody knows we need a bill. They are working on this voodoo theory of somebody in America coming to implant chips in us. I would not want anybody to implant chip in me neither will I allow somebody to implant chips in my children. If I cannot take it, who is going to take it?

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