Written by Williams ABAH

CSOs urge Reps to hold hearings on infectious diseases bill

A group of civil societies in Nigeria has urged the House of Representatives to hold both virtual and physical public hearing on the controversial infectious diseases bill.

While the coalition, consisting 65 CSOs, commended the House for bowing to pressure to subject the bill to a public hearing, it said the hearing would only matter if all key ‘stakeholders’ are given an opening to add to the discourse.

This, in a statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES, it said requires “a review of the format for the public hearing and all other forms of citizen engagement to enrich the bill.”

Since its introduction, the infectious diseases bill, which is sponsored by House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and two others, has been faced a fierce push back from the public and even some members of the green chamber.

The provisions of the bill empower the director-general of the NCDC and the minister of health to wield some discretionary powers which some have described as draconian and unfit for a democratic dispensation.

Coupled with the swift scaling of second reading of the bill, some observers have kicked. This, therefore, made the call for a public hearing louder as an ex-senator even sued the National Assembly.

 

Mr Gbajabiamila, in his address during Tuesday’s plenary, buckled to pressure, hinting that the House would hold public hearing on the bill. He also debunked the allegation that the bill has a sinister motive, saying his intent was genuine.

But with the physical distancing directive by health authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic still in place, he said “If a socially distant public hearing becomes workable, we will certainly explore that option.”

To this end, the civil society organisations have urged the House to amend its standing rules to allow for virtual public hearings on secured videoconferencing platforms which should be between 2 or 3 days. It also said a physical public hearing could be properly managed.

The statement by the groups also urged the House to consult wide while also being transparent with the handling of the bill and ensuring inclusiveness in it legislative process.

“The House of Representatives should as a matter of urgency partner with civil society groups and the media to enlighten Nigerians on the provisions of the bill,” the coalition’s statement read.

“Considering the sensitivity of the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, we cannot afford a rushed or haphazard process,” it said. “It is important that the National Assembly prioritise and invest in building public trust and confidence to limit the spread of disinformation or misinformation on the bill.”

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