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Nigeria: Rising People Power as Gbajabiamila Makes U-turn on Infectious Bill

The political authorities in Nigeria are increasingly coming to terms that the citizenry cannot be taken for granted always. The Nigerian people, spurred by the vibrant civic groups are determining their destiny.

This is the powerful message their opposition to Control of Infectious Diseases Bill being sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is speaking to the political potentates.

Apparently jolted by the emerging People Power on his controversial bill, Gbajabiamila, has now agreed to subject the draft bill to public hearing.

Before now, the bill was being fast tracked for passage in the Green Chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral Lrgislature.

However, according to Wikipedia, People Power is a political term denoting the populist driving force of any social movement which invokes the authority of grassroots opinion and willpower, usually in opposition to that of conventionally organised corporate or political forces.

Continuing, the free encyclopedia says People power can be manifested as a small-scale protest or campaign for neighborhood change; or as wide-ranging, revolutionary action involving national street demonstrationswork stoppages and general strikes intending to overthrow an existing government and/or political system.

‘’It may be nonviolent, as was the case in the 1986 Philippines revolution which overthrew the Marcos régime, or may resort to violence, as happened in Libya in 2011. The term was first used by members of the 1960s flower power movement which initially protested against the Vietnam War.

In his 1960 analysis of the weakness of democracyWalter Lippmann, author of Public Opinion, offered this summary of people power:

What then are the true boundaries of the people’s power? The answer cannot be simple. But for a rough beginning let us say that the people are able to give and withhold their consent to be governed their consent to what the government asks of them, proposes to them, and has done in the conduct of their affairs. They can elect the government. They can remove it. They can approve or disapprove its performance. But they cannot administer the government. They cannot themselves perform. They cannot normally initiate and propose necessary legislation. A mass cannot govern’’, Wikipedia says

Interestingly, there has been apprehension and loud criticisms by citizens and civic groups on the bill.

The bill was submitted to the House on April 28, and it seeks to make vaccinations compulsory for all Nigerians.

The draft bill, according to the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), is a duplicate of Singapore’s Infectious Disease Act of 1977, contains measures that have been described as draconian in nature and aimed at stifling the rights of Nigerian citizens as contained in the 1999 Constitution.

ICIR is an independent, nonprofit news agency that seeks to promote transparency and accountability through robust and objective investigative reporting.

Certain provisions in the bill have indeed generated controversy on social media

Many have condemned sections including the aspect which empowers security officials to arrest and detain citizens without warrant or higher level authority on mere suspicion of having an infectious disease.

A bothersome article in the proposed bill which is now sparkling outrage is section 47 (1) of the bill.

Titled Power to order certain persons to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis, the section of the bill, empowers the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to, in the case of a suspected or an infectious disease outbreak in the country, order compulsory vaccination for any person(s) in any area of the country.

The section reads: In an outbreak or a suspected outbreak of any infectious disease in any area in Nigeria, the Director-General (DG) may by order direct any person or class of persons not protected or vaccinated against the disease to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis within such period as may be specified in the order.

ICIR argues that if passed into law, this provision will empower the NCDC big boss to make any form of vaccination (if believed to treat any infectious disease) compulsory for all Nigerians, in any area of the country, at any given time.

The section also makes it compulsory for every child in the country to be vaccinated against infectious diseases and their parents must ensure adherence.

It also requires a notice for vaccination to be issued for newborns right after their birth.

For all it’ is worth, Nigerians and civic groups have protested against the proposed bill which they believe is designed to give excessive power to unelected public officials, and trample on the rights of citizens.

The obviously rattled Gbajabiamila yielded to public pressure by agreeing to subject the bill to public hearing where the citizenry will be given the opportunity to contribute to the draft legislation.

The development is coming as COVID-19’s death toll in Nigeria will be crossing a tally of 100 pretty soon. Already, NCDC says the country has recorded 98 deaths so far.

As at Tuesday night, NCDC says 148 new positive cases of the virus were recorded across Nigeria, thus shooting the total figure in the country to 2,950 positive cases.

The good news however is that 481 patients, according to the Centre, have been treated and discharged.

Of the 148 new cases, Lagos has 43, Kano 32, Katsina 9, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja 10.

While Zamfara has 14, Taraba and Borno seven each, Ogun six, Oyo five, Bauchi, Edo and Kaduna three each, Adamawa and Gombe two each, Plateau, Sokoto and Kebbi recorded one case each.

In the mean time, the Speaker is busy denying that his bill is a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research, and taking away their fundamental human rights.

Addressing his colleagues at the resumption of plenary session on Tuesday, Gbajabiamiala notes that since the introduction of the bill a week ago, there has been a barrage of criticisms against it, with allegations of sinister motives.

“As representatives of the Nigerian people, members of the House will never contemplate doing anything that will jeopardise the wellbeing of the citizens.”

“Suffice it to say that none of these allegations are true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.”

“This House will never take any action that purposes to bring harm to any Nigerian here at home or abroad. As we have thus far shown by our conduct, the resolutions and actions we take in this 9th House of Representatives will always be in the best interests of the Nigerian people who elected us, and no one else.”

“In the recent uproar, certain fundamental truths have been lost and are worth remembering. Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.”

“The current law severely constrains the ability of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the NCDC to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur.”

“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.”

“The weaknesses of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with NCDC guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria.”

“We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who fully aware of their status chose to travel across state lines on public transport’’, Gbajabiamila says.

Continuing, he adds, “it bears restating that we do not have in our country, a healthcare system or for that matter, a national economy that is sufficiently robust to withstand the dire consequences of a sustained infectious disease pandemic. We cannot tie our own hands in the fight against this disease.”

“Whether we choose to accept it or not, the world we live in has changed irretrievably. There is no ‘normal’ to return to as this present crisis has laid bare the fundamental weaknesses in our systems of law and policy and left our nation at risk of devastating outcomes on all sides.”

“Our current task is first to survive and then to set about building a new world. Inevitably, this demands that we should be willing to consider new ideas, explore novel possibilities, rejecting those ancient shibboleths we have long adhered to without benefit.’’

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