In response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the National Assembly (NASS) considered a revision to the Quarantine Act of 1926, which provided little legal guidance on how to deal with infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.
NASS presented a Public Health Emergency Bill in the Senate and the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill in the House of Representatives. However, both bills were greeted with scepticism by citizens due to the seemingly the powers and control the bills gave the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Many also raised concerns about disregarding the rights of citizens with some aspects of the bill.
RESPECTING CITIZEN AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, organised a stakeholder roundtable to review and revise the Senate version of the bill. This addressed the contentious aspects, including testing, vaccination, shut down or lock down of buildings, communities, cities and the entire country. For example, citizens were concerned about the protocol for shutting down areas perceived or identified as high risk or having high level of infected persons.
The new version of the bill, when passed into law, will provide a human rights complaint system; a robust and detailed framework for quarantine, isolation, testing and identification of infected persons; the treatment of infected persons and their care givers where necessary; the restriction of movements; the use of certain buildings for housing infected persons; the development of vaccines or treatment drugs; and the administration of a vaccine, where one exists.
INCLUSIVE CONSULTATION PROCESS
RoLAC played a role in ensuring that the process of reviewing the Senate bill was more inclusive. The review was held in three parts: a virtual meeting with key stakeholders, two physical clause-by-clause deliberations with a wider number of stakeholders, and a vetting process to ensure that a clean copy of the bill was submitted to the Senate.
Stakeholders involved in the review process included representatives from the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Nigeria Medical Association, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Nigeria Police, and non-state actors such as Yiaga Africa, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and the Nigerian Union of Journalists.
It is expected that the revised bill, now known as the Public Health Emergency Bill, will be presented on the floor of the Senate before the end of June 2020.
‘Revising this piece of legislation will produce a more robust and viable law that will address key issues of public health, especially when there is an emergency like COVID-19.’
Senator Chukwuka Utazi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases