EYEBROWS have been raised over plans by the House of Representatives to introduce a controversial bill sponsored by speaker Hon Femi Gbajabiamila seeking the give the federal government sweeping powers to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Under the terms of the bill drafted by Hon Gbajabiamila and two of his colleagues, the federal government will have the power to convert any property including private ones into isolation centres. Apart from members of the House who protested that they were not served copies of the bill while it was read at a plenary session 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.
On Friday, the bill trended on Twitter amid 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% of the content was plagiarised from Singapore’s law.
Titled Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, it was sponsored by Hon Gbajabiamila, Hon Pascal Obi and Hon 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. On Thursday, the director-general, Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, had said at the presidential task force on Covid-19 briefing that there was a need for more isolation centres as the number of cases surge.
Dr Ihekweazu 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. However, 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.”
Health minister Dr Osagie Ehanire, 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 2m tests, there would be more cases, which would give rise to the need for more isolation centres. If passed into law, the bill will empower the minister of health to declare any premises to be an isolation centre for the purpose of preventing the spread or possible outbreak of infectious diseases.
Also Section 17, prescribes that if in the opinion of the NCDC director-general, a building is so overcrowded as to expose the occupants to the risk of infection by an infectious disease, he may by written notice direct the owner or occupier of the building to abate the overcrowding or to close the building or part thereof within the time specified in the notice. Any person guilty of an offence under the Act for which no penalty is expressly provided shall in the case of a first offence be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both.