A bill that seeks to replace the Quarantine Act with a Control of Infectious Disease Act quickly passed first and second reading at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, has 82 clauses and has since generated controversy among Nigerians.
The contention surrounding the bill is not only regarding its provisions but also the speedy passage it got from the lower chamber.
Many are also angered at the fact that the legislation appears to be a plagiarised copy of existing law in Singapore.
Presenting the bill, Mr Gbajabiamila said the bill seeks to strengthen the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and make it more proactive and "not just reactive and function when there is an outbreak."
While the Quarantine Act provides a penalty of N500 for defaulters, the new bill proposes a penalty of between N200,000 and N5 million as well as jail terms, he said.
While the lawmakers agreed to suspend the House Standing Rules to allow the bill pass through all stages, the process was cut short as some members said they had not seen or read the bill. This is even as they called for caution and asked for time before giving it further consideration.
It was for this reason that the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill was postponed to next Tuesday.
Even at that, the second reading of the bill was approved despite the resounding rejection during the voice vote.
Provisions of the bill
The content of the bill has triggered outrage among Nigerians.
While it seeks to empower the president, the minister of health, as well as the director-general (DG) of NCDC, and the institutions they head, to make regulations on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in Nigeria, many say the stipulations are draconian and give the NCDC chief too much power.
Some of the provisions are:
- The NCDC DG shall be responsible for the Act and shall appoint any public officer or employee of a prescribed institution, to be a Health Officer.
- The president may (by an order) declare a public health emergency if he satisfied that there is an outbreak or imminent outbreak of an infectious disease that could be fatal to humans or the country.
- The president may declare an area as a restricted zone. He may also restrict entry, stay, public meetings or other gatherings in that area.
- Such order will remain for 14 days and can be renewed by the president from time to time.
- The National Assembly can pass a resolution to annul the president's order and it (the order) will cease to have an effect.
- An authorised public officer or police officer may direct people at a public gathering within the restricted area to disperse. And anyone who fails to comply without reasonable excuse may be arrested without a warrant and may be removed from the place.
- Medical practitioners, laboratory workers, anyone aware of a carrier of an infectious disease or one who dies from such disease, must inform the NCDC DG. Failure to do so, such person will be tried in court for knowing about a disease - until he/she proves otherwise.
* Autopsy report/disposal of corpses, animals etc.
- The DG may order an autopsy report when a person dies of an infectious disease or suspected to have died of the disease. This will be done to determine the cause of death or investigate any outbreak or suspected outbreak as well as prevent possible spread.
- Healthcare professionals are required to provide the DG with information of their patients for the purpose of investigating or preventing read or possible outbreak of an infectious disease. Anyone who fails to comply, shall be found guilty of an offence.
- The DG may prohibit the wake-keep over an infected (or suspected) corpse. Or impose conditions fit for removal or disposal of the corpse.
- The DG may also order the destruction of any animal and the disposal of any food or water if he considers such animal, food or water to be a source for the transmission of an infectious disease. Failure to comply makes a person guilty. And a health or police officer may without a warrant and necessary force, enter the premises and take the necessary cause of action.
* Isolation of certain persons/area
- The DG may also order anyone affected (or suspected) of an infectious disease to be detained and isolated in a hospital or other place for such period of time and subject to such conditions he may determine.
Same for anyone who has recently recovered from or been treated for such disease. And where it is a minor, a parent or guardian may be asked to accompany such person to the isolation centre.
- The minister may declare any premises to be an isolation area - which shall be effective until the expiration of such period or until it is revoked by the minister.
- No one shall enter or leave the area without the permission of the DG who can also restrict movement of persons and goods in the area.
- If the DG feels a building is overcrowded and may cause the risk of an infection to the occupants, the DG may direct the occupier to abate the overcrowding or to close the building or part. Anyone who fails to comply, is guilty of an offence . And a health or police officer mat take necessary measures without warrant and with the force required.
- Any person who is aggrieved by the order, may within seven days from the date of the notice, appeal to the minister whose decision shall be final.
- Also, if the DG feels that a premise is at risk of infectious disease, he may order the closure of the premises for a period not exceeding 14 days or prohibit the sale or distribution of food or water in the premises. The DG may also order that the place be disinfected.
This applies to trades or businesses that the DG feel could pose a threat.
* An enforcement officer may place a mark on or about a premises in which any case of infectious disease has occurred and may keep such mark affixed for such time as necessary.
Any person removing mark without the authority of an enforcement officer commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or to a non-custodial sentence.
*An enforcement officer may obtain an order of court to destroy any building in which a case of infectious disease has occurred, or of any article or thing which may be considered necessary in the interest of the public health.
*Prevention of international spread
- The president can declare an area 'an infected area' where he believes an infectious disease may be introduced into the country. He may also issue an order prohibiting entry into the country.
* Vaccination and other prophylaxis
- Every person on an international leaving or arriving Nigeria must have undergone vaccination against all or any of the diseases as may be prescribed and produce valid international certificates of vaccination to a Health Officer.
- Notwithstanding, a Health Officer may require such person to undergo vaccination and may subject him to isolation as he thinks fit. He may also return any non-citizen (who fails to comply) to their place of origin, if he thinks fit.
- No person shall import into Nigeria any vectors capable of transmitting a disease without first obtaining the written permission of the DG and offenders shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N5 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
- No corpse other than cremated ashes, shall be brought into or exported from Nigeria, unless accompanied by a medical certificate or other evidence showing the name of the deceased, the date and cause of death and the measures adopted to preserve the body.
- The DG may order all or any persons arriving in Nigeria to undergo any medical examination specified in the order.
- In an outbreak (or suspected) of any infectious disease, the DG may order any person not protected or vaccinated against the disease to undergo vaccination.
- All vaccinations shall be carried out by a medical practitioner, nurse or any other suitably trained person.
- An exemption from vaccination may be granted where there s a valid medical reason.