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‘NASS must consult stakeholders on Infectious Diseases Bill’

Rafsanjani

Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Head, Transparency International (Nigeria) Office, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, in this interview, applauds the decision by the National Assembly to initiate the Infectious Disease Bill but says key stakeholders must be consulted before its passage.

What is your take on the controversial Infectious Diseases Bill?
FIRST and foremost, members of the National Assembly, especially the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, are concerned and conscious about the health situation in the country and wants to do something that can help prevent diseases, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a very commendable legislative initiative.

It is also important that whatever law the National Assembly would make, should be one that is to the benefit of the Nigerian people and one that Nigerians have buy-in on because if you make a law and the general public misunderstand it, then there is a problem. There has to be the buy-in; there have to be contributions from the general public and stakeholders in whatever law we are going to have in Nigeria.

Having looked at the current bill as presented by the House of Representatives, it is very clear that Nigerians have some concerns. And those concerns need to be looked into. Given the concerns over the issue of human rights and abuse of power as contained in the draft bill by the House and then also the tendency for inter-agency rivalry and conflict, we need to make sure that concerns like these are addressed in whatever laws that we eventually have.

There is a need to have the buy-in of the executive, legislature and the general public. This is because if the legislature is able to come up with this bill and the executive does not support the initiative, the country will succeed in wasting taxpayers’ money. 

We had the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the petroleum industry bill and many other bills that the National Assembly worked very hard on but because there was no buy-in from the executive, no consultation and discussion and understanding, all the efforts went like that. So, it is important that when we have very important legislation like this, all the necessary stakeholders must be consulted.

After some of the civil society leaders met with the Speaker last week, he agreed that there would be a public hearing to subject the bill to public scrutiny. My prayer is that if this public hearing happens and suggestions are put forward to the National Assembly, they would mainstream those recommendations as part of the final outcome of the bill.

It is very important to take the views of medical, human rights, security and other experts before it is eventually signed into law.

What is your take on the notions held in certain quarters that the bill is aimed at enforcing vaccination on Nigerians?
In the context of Nigeria, I am sure you can’t compel parents to subject their wards to any vaccination. Before you do that, there must be sensitisation and education of the public on the repercussions and benefits of having the vaccination.

If you are able to enlighten and educate Nigerians very well, we would not repeat the experience that we had in Kano where many children were vaccinated and there were some negative consequences. 

We need to make sure that there is a safe landing provision before you can insert that sort of mandatory clause even though there was an argument that in other legal frameworks, it is mandatory to vaccinate children. But I think Nigerians need to be more convinced. 

These are the reasons for public engagement so that Nigerians can see whether it is something useful for themselves and their children or something that should be avoided so that we do not make the mistake of Kano where the state government had to sue Pfizer pharmaceutical company for deforming their children. 

Are you aware of any underhand dealings in the House of Representatives to ensure passage of the diseases control bill?
I have heard this rumour but I doubt very much if this is true. I am aware that the House has inaugurated and constituted an investigative hearing on the matter. I don’t think in my opinion it is correct. 

I do not see what somebody would give the National Assembly leadership to do that looking at the resources at their disposal. They have a lot of money in their budget; even the Speaker himself has been in the Assembly for about 16 years. 

So, I don’t think that the amount they mention would buy the conscience of the leadership of the National Assembly to do things, not in the interest of the Nigerian people. I am not convinced that anybody has bribed the National Assembly for that. You have 360 members in the House of Representatives. If there is anything like that, they would have been fighting among themselves. I don’t think it is a credible allegation.

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