A coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria has called on lawmakers of the House of Representatives to host a virtual and physical public hearing on the controversial Control of Infectious Disease Bill.
In a statement released in Abuja on Thursday, May 7, 2020, the over 70 CSOs including the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Yiaga Africa, Girl Child Africa, Centre for Liberty, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Say No Campaign, Amnesty International, EiE Nigeria, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, International Press Centre, IPC, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Community Life Project (CLP), ActionAid Nigeria, CLEEN Foundation, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Rule of Law and Accountability (RULAAC), Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON) urged the House of Representatives to amend its standing rules on the procedure for law-making to integrate the newly proposed procedures suggested by the Speaker.
The Infectious Disease Bill was sponsored by three members of the House including Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
The bill which has since passed first and second reading at the lower House seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act of 1929 and enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill among many others.
Rejecting the actions of the lawmakers on the bill, the coalition of CSOs said the attempt to give accelerated passage to such legislation without inputs from stakeholders and the general public is contrary to all the principle of effective and inclusive law-making.
However, commending the resolve by the House of Representatives to heed their earlier advice, the CSOs in said the public hearing should include integrated virtual public hearing on secured videoconferencing platforms to promote public participation.
The CSOs demanded that the secured videoconferencing platform selected – scheduled to take place between two and three days with five to 10 minutes allocated to organisations – should be published with a list of organizations to participate in the e-Public hearing and the dates for the hearing.
“The House must promote inclusion to ensure that diverse interests are represented. This includes engagement with religious and traditional leaders, women, youth, and persons living with disabilities,” the statement said.
The coalition also called on the House to provide information on the committee responsible for the coordination of public hearing and make clarifications on the composition of the committee including the gender and geo-political zone spread and the terms of reference of the committee.
According to the coalition, the communication of a reasonable schedule for public engagement on the Bill should be made available including timetable and guidelines which will highlight the mode, structure, time, and levels of engagement to ensure effective participation of citizens and stakeholders.
The statement added: “The committee responsible for organizing these activities should conduct citizen outreach and share this information widely with the public through diverse media platforms.”
In addition, the coalition called for a multi-layered stakeholder consultative meeting which will provide an opportunity for critical debates on the Bill and facilitate the inclusion of voices that represent the diversity of the Nigerian population.
The meeting is expected to have representation from federal and state Ministries of Health, the NCDC, medical professionals, labour unions, security agencies like the police, health organizations, civil society groups, media and development partners.
Most importantly, it is expected that the House would ensure all safety measures including compulsory use of hand sanitizer and face masks are enforced during these meetings.
“In strict adherence to physical distancing guidelines, the House is advised to adopt a timebound multi-layered approach by engaging specific stakeholders on different days to minimize the risks of a large congregation,” the CSOs said.
An intensified public outreach should also be organised in partnership with civil society groups and media to enlighten the Nigerian people on provisions of the Bill. This will enhance the quality of engagement on the Bill.
Reiterating that the legislature remains the hub of democracy, the organisations said the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill must be futuristic in nature, and in conformity with; the Constitution, Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, and democratic principles.
“Any process that does not guarantee the active and free participation of the people fails in fulfilling its purpose and will not be accepted,” the statement concluded.