Having held a roundtable in March to review the excesses of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020, Yiaga Africa with the support of the Luminate group has sustained its effort to review other controversial laws. This is generally aimed at reversing the nation’s shrinking civic space.
As part of its intervention to prevent the Nigerian legislature and the state from enacting laws that are injurious to human rights and the practice of democracy in the country, Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement with the support of the Luminate Group supported a public hearing to repeal the Quarantine Act 2004 and enact the Public Health Emergency Act 2021. The public hearing provided an opportunity for stakeholders and the general public to make recommendations to enrich the proposed bill aimed at establishing a comprehensive legal framework to manage health emergencies in Nigeria.
The Bill sponsored by Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Diseases, Senator Chukwuka Utazi became imperative due to the challenges that confronted Nigeria in battling the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Senator Utazi, it became apparent to the National Assembly and other concerned stakeholders that the extant Quarantine Act of 2004 which was enacted in 1926 is not only deficient for the purpose of enforcing Quarantine and self-isolation of infected persons during the outbreak of dangerous contagious epidemic.
He also said the Quarantine act is outdated in many aspects especially since ailments such as cholera, yellow fever smallpox, and typhus that warranted the enactment of the quarantine act do not require the same quarantine measures like today’s complex and deadly epidemics such as Ebola and COVID-19.
Thus, the proposed health emergency bill is an updated comprehensive legal and administrative framework for handling outbreaks of infectious and contagious diseases that portends major threats to public health safety within Nigeria or other emergencies.
Speaking after the public hearing, Dr. Ernest Ereke, Coordinator, Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement expressed satisfaction with the extent of engagement by stakeholders and the possibility of stronger legislation to battle disease outbreaks in the country. He said Yiaga Africa’s stand on the bill is that it must not derogate from citizens’ rights saying stakeholder engagements with the lawmakers revealed that the quarantine Act is anachronistic and should be re-enacted to effective legislation to react to the outbreaks in the future.
Other stakeholders who made presentations during the public hearing include the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire, and Director General of Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu. Both raised concerns around the ambiguity of key responsibility between the task force in the proposed bill and the existing responsibility of the NCDC. The minister raised concern that some key responsibility as proposed in the bill overlaps that of the NCDC in terms of preventing, monitoring, and controlling the spread of infectious diseases.
Also, Dr. Ihekweazu also called for the establishment of the Public Health Emergency funds to enable the country to prevent an outbreak of pandemics saying funds will help in conducting research and prepare the nation ahead of any pandemic. He also called for clarification on what constitutes a public health emergency, who declares the emergency, and based on the advice of whom.
Other presentations from the National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA), National Agency for the Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Veterinary Council of Nigeria, Ministry of Agriculture, Nigerian Governors Forum, Civil Society Organisations, raised other concerns which the chairman of the Committee promised to review.