LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

THE PLACE OF HUMAN RIGHTS AMIDST BATTLING EMERGENCIES IN NIGERIA: PRESENTATION BY BLESSING E. ETAGHENE

Anchor: The proposed Infectious Disease Bill has been with furore and strong opposition from the populace in Nigeria. Give us a brief overview of the bill and what it seeks to do. 
Blessing Etaghene: Basically the bill was named for short, Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020. It is aimed at controlling Infectious diseases. Note that this bill seeks to repeal the extant Quarantine Act of 1926.
What are Infectious Disease?
Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Thus it is disease caused by these organisms, of which COVID-19 is no exception, that the bill seeks to control. 
Truth be told, the bill goes beyond the control of Infectious diseases, to the control of diseases of any nature based on the discretion of the Minister of Health, by virtue of section 5(1)(b).
A close look at the Bill, you’ll find out that the bill made provisions for immunization.
Note: The National Programme on Immunization Act, Cap. N.71, LFN 2004, Vol.9. Section 6 of the Act covers some contagious diseases like tuberculosis (TB), whooping cough etc, with an omnibus clause in Section 6(f) which empowers the minister to make provisions regarding any other disease he deems fit. These are the same diseases the present bill seeks to take care of. The Immunization Act is a specific law on immunization, whilst the present bill has immunization as one of the items covered in the bill. Thus, it is comfortable to say that there is duplication as regard what the Immunization Act contains with that of the present bill.
Finally, it will interest you to know that this bill has been faulted on several ground. Notable amongst it is the fact that the bill is a replica of the Law regulating infectious diseases in Singapore.
Anchor: By virtue of this bill, the Director – General of the National Center for Disease Control  would effectively become the most powerful unelected public official in Nigeria. What is the exact scope of his powers? And are those powers justified? 
Blessing Etaghene: So true, because if you peruse the Bill, you’ll find out that the Director of the National Center for Disease Control has powers even more than State Governors in certain circumstances. For instance by Virtue of Section 8 of the Quarantine Act, coupled with section 2 and 3 of the same Act, State Governors are to make regulation on issues concerning health through an executive order. But by the Bill, such powers are left solely in the hand of the Director of the National Center for Disease Control.
Section 15 of the Bill, empowers the Director – General on mere suspicion to take over the property of any citizen and make it an isolation center, without recourse to any court order. Under this section, the victim has no cause of action as the Director – General is protected against liabilities by the copious provision of Section 70 of the Bill. The question here is, does this provision not violate Section section 44 of CFRN on compulsory or forceful acquisition of properties or does this not undermine the powers of the Governor to give permission before any land can be used as provided for under the Land Use Act?
Section 14, grants the Director – General, on mere suspicion, to place any citizen on surveillance and the Director – General incurs no liability even when the suspicion turns out to be false. Again you will agree with me that this is a “James bondnic” attempt on the violation of Section 37 CFRN on right to live private and family life. Also Section 13 also empowers the Director – General to detain any citizen on mere suspicion that he’s contracted an infectious disease – an open confrontation on section 35 and 41 on right to personal liberty and movement.
Its sadonic just as Hon. Ogbaigbon would say that our rights which are considered fundamental by the CFRN are been violated on mere suspicion without recourse to Section 45 CFRN
The list is almost endless but for want of time I’ll stop here.
Anchor: As an implication of the bill, can a Nigerian be forcefully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus for example? Is this not an infringement of the Human Rights of the individual?
 Blessing Etaghene: On this I would agree but disagree. Reasons: Because forceful vaccination as postulated in section 46 and 47 of the Bill may be against the religion of citizens; for example the Muslims detest swine, but these vaccines are made from animal’s gene which could be swine’s and which may not go well with the Muslims and some Christian sect;
Forceful vaccination is not ideal because it could lead to chaos.  While preparing for this discussion, I had a chat with my brother’s wife who had  previously lived in the UK, on whether its a must to be given malaria vaccine. Her answer was in the negative, but she made a strong point by saying that, if you visit the UK and complain of malaria, if due considerations are not made, you will be taken to an isolation center and quarantined. A close friend of mine narrated his experience when he visited the UK and complained of having symptoms of malaria, he was told not to say it out loud because he stands the risk of being quarantine in an isolation center. 
What I’m trying to say in essence is that forceful vaccination is not ideal as it could lead to chaos like it were in Kano state, where vaccine turned killer vaccine and in South Africa, where Blacks where forcefully given HIV vaccines. But on certain circumstances it should be compulsory but not forceful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Blessing E. Etaghene is a law student of the University of Benin, Edo state, Nigeria  and a speaker at the LIFIN webinar. He is an avid legal researcher and author.
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