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Controversial bill empowers FG to convert private properties to isolation centres

A controversial bill sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, and two of his colleagues, seeking to empower the Federal Government to convert any property in the country, including private properties, to isolation centres has continued to attract criticisms.
Apart from members of the House who protested that they were not served copies while it was read at plenary on Tuesday, before it hurriedly passed first and second readings on the same day, lawyers and many other Nigerians have described the bill as draconian and suspicious.

Also on Friday, the bill trended on Twitter as there were accusations that the sponsors plagiarised the law on disease control in Singapore. Those who made the accusations, included the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, which alleged that over 90 per cent of the content was plagiarised from Singapore’s law.

The bill, titled, ‘Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020’, obtained by Saturday PUNCH on Thursday, was sponsored by Gbajabiamila, Pascal Obi and Tanko Sununu. They said the proposed law was designed to prevent the spread or possible outbreak of infectious diseases.

This is coming amid the shortage of isolation centres in the country owing to the increasing cases of the coronavirus across the states. As of Friday, the number of cases stood at 2,170, with number of deaths at 68, while 319 have so far recovered. Across the world, the number of cases rose to 3.3 million, with 237,440 deaths and about 1,069,023 recoveries.

The cases were Kano (92); FCT (36); Lagos (30); Gombe (16); Bauchi (10); Delta (8); Oyo (6); Zamfara (5); Sokoto (5); Ondo (4); Nasarawa (4); Kwara (3); Edo (3); Ekiti (3); Borno (3); Yobe (3); Adamawa (2) and one case in each of Niger, Imo, Ebonyi, Rivers and Enugu.

The new bill, which passed first and second readings at the plenary on Tuesday, was described as, ‘A bill for an act to repeal the Quarantine Act (1926) and enact the Control of Infectious DiseaseAct, make provisions relating to quarantine and make regulations for preventing the introduction into and spread in Nigeria of dangerous infectious diseases, and for other related matters.’

On Thursday, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, had said at the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing that there was need for more isolation centres as the number of cases surge.

He said, “Concerning the availability of bed spaces for the management of patients, there is no doubt that we are struggling in certain places especially in Lagos State, and to an extent Kano State and Abuja. But the biggest challenge right now is in Lagos where bed spaces are really tight.

“Across the country we have about 3,500 bed spaces identified as available for coronavirus patients but in Lagos we are already struggling. So, we are going to work with them to keep trying to make more spaces available.”

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, also at the briefing appealed to people to make their properties available, noting that there was already a surge and that with the plan of the NCDC to do two million tests, there would be more cases, which would give rise to the need for more isolation centres.

He said, “I’m appealing not only to state governments but to citizens to make properties available temporarily for this purpose.”

Meanwhile, if passed into law by the two chambers of the National Assembly and assented to by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), the minister of health would be empowered by law to declare any premises to be an isolation centre for the purpose of preventing the spread or possible outbreak of infectious diseases.

Section 15 (1) of the bill reads, “The minister may, for the purpose of preventing the spread or possible outbreak of an infectious disease, by notification in the Gazette declare any premises to be an isolation area.”

Subsection 2 reads, “A notification under subsection (1) shall be effective until the expiration of such period as may be specified in the notification or until it is revoked by the minister, whichever occurs first.”

Subsection 3 reads, “The Director General may, in relation to an isolation area, by written order prohibit any person or class of persons from entering or leaving the isolation area without the permission of the Director General; prohibit or restrict the movement within the isolation area of any person or class of persons; prohibit or restrict the movement of goods; require any person or class of persons to report at specified times and places and submit to such medical examinations, answer such questions and submit to such medical treatment as the Director General thinks fit; authorise the destruction, disposal or treatment of any goods, structure, water supply, drainage and sewerage system or other matter within the isolation area known or suspected to be a source of infection; and prohibit, restrict, require or authorise the carrying out of such other act as may be prescribed.”

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