On its last legislative day of the year, the House of Representatives unanimously passed into law the Infectious Disease Bill.
The bill, introduced at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, was aimed at controlling infectious diseases in Nigeria.
It was sponsored by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and two other lawmakers.
It is entitled “Bill for an Act to Repeal the Quarantine Act and Enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, make Provisions Relating to Quarantine and make Regulations for Preventing the Introduction into and Spread in Nigeria of Dangerous
Infectious Diseases; and for Related Matters”.
It went through the first and second reading on April 28, 2020, and was to be passed for the third reading without a public hearing, but was later referred to the Committee on Healthcare Services who conducted a public hearing on June 12, 2020.
The Nigeria Governors Forum and the Nigeria Inter-religious Council were among those who opposed the passage of the bill.
They argued that it accorded enormous powers to the President and Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) amongst other issues.
Addressing members of the House during the last plenary for the year, Gbajabiamila recalled efforts made by the House to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
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He said some of the issues the bill was meant to cure before it was opposed are affecting the world today.
He said: “Last year, like the rest of the world, Nigeria was immersed in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, the pandemic persists, evolving in ways that portend danger for our people here at home and all over the world.
“Two areas of particular concern are the issueS of vaccine hesitancy and the international response to emerging variants in ways that seem to target the African continent.
“We have seen through years of scientific evidence that vaccines work.
“They have worked to combat yellow fever and measles and to end polio. At the height of the pandemic, we prayed for deliverance from the trap of this deadly disease.
“Vaccines are the answer to that prayer, and as leaders in our communities, we should encourage people to take advantage of the protection offered by science to prevent illness and death.
“Just as importantly, it is evident that the ability to cross boundaries and participate in global trade in the coming months will depend on proof of vaccination.
“We cannot afford to isolate ourselves or allow others to cut us off from global civilisation at a time when our national economic indices remain lower than they ought to as a direct consequence of the contraction in international trade due to the continuing pandemic.
“The troubling reality of financial hardship for many Nigerians requires that government continues to invest in infrastructure and education and diversify our economy from a dangerous over-reliance on fossil fuels.
“This is the only real long-term option for addressing the problems of unemployment and economic disenfranchisement in our country.
“Our ability to do these things will be significantly reduced if we cannot participate fully in the international order.
“Last year, the House of Representatives initiated a long-overdue effort to reform the statutory framework for public health emergency response in our country.
“At that time, our good faith efforts were willfully mischaracterised by individuals who saw the moment as an opportunity to score cheap political points and earn the passing accolades of the ignorant and misinformed.
“Today, the whole world is grappling with the issues we sought to identify and address then. There are many lessons to be learned from that experience.
“Most paramount of them all is that public policy is serious business and the welfare of the Nigerian people must never be surrendered on the altar of cheap populism or the pursuit of short term political advantage.”