Members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday backed down from their plan to pass the Infectious Diseases Bill to third reading stage after coming under a barrage of accusations from various quarters.
They also denied collecting $10 million to pass the bill quickly and said they had opted for a public hearing and side consultations on the bill.
The lawmakers had sparked outrage after the bill, proposed by Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, and two others was released to the public.
Nigerians condemned aspects of the bill, especially where it sought to give extensive powers to the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Nigerians also expressed outrage at the provision for forced vaccination of Nigerians in the event of an epidemic or pandemic.
DG of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, had last week denied knowledge of the bill.
He said the agency was not consulted before it was drafted.
There were fears that the Federal legislature would ignore the criticisms from Nigerians and proceed to pass the bill on Tuesday.
However, Gbajabiamila in an address at the resumption of plenary, denied accusations that the lawmakers had ulterior motives in proposing and planning to pass the bill.
Gbajabiamila also debunked an allegation that the lawmakers received $10 million bribe from foreign interests plotting to impose vaccines for COVID-19 on Nigerians.
His full speech below:
“1. When the House last sat in a session on 28th of April 2020, we considered the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, amongst other things. Since then, there has been a barrage of criticisms and accusations including allegations that the proposed Bill is a product of inducement by foreign interests.
“The Bill, which is still a proposal subject to consideration, amendment and improvement has been assailed as a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights.
“2. Suffice it to say that none of these allegations are true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.
“This House of Representatives will never, take any action that purposes to bring harm to any Nigerian here at home or abroad.
“As we have thus far shown by our conduct, the resolutions and actions we take in this 9th House of Representatives will always be in the best interests of the Nigerian people who elected us, and no one else.
“3. In the recent uproar, certain fundamental truths have been lost and are worth remembering. Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.
“The current law severely constrains the ability of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of Infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur.
“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.
“I disagree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that this is not the ideal time to seek reforms of the infectious diseases and public health emergency framework in the country.
“The weaknesses of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria.
“We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who fully aware of their status chose to travel across state lines on public transport.
“The number of those currently infected by the coronavirus continues to rise alongside the number of those who have died.
“There is no timeline for when this disease will pass, and nobody can predict when the next public health crisis will occur, just as nobody predicted the present predicament.
“It bears restating that we do not have in our country, a healthcare system or for that matter, a national economy that is sufficiently robust to withstand the dire consequences of a sustained infectious disease pandemic. We cannot tie our own hands in the fight against this virus.
“6. Whether we choose to accept it or not, the world we live in has changed irretrievably.There is no ‘normal’ to return to as this present crisis has laid bare the fundamental weaknesses in our systems of law & policy & left our nation at risk of devastating outcomes on all sides.
“Our current task is first to survive and then to set about building a new world. Inevitably, this demands that we should be willing to consider new ideas, explore novel possibilities, rejecting those ancient shibboleths we have long adhered to without benefit.