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Senate dares critics, considers health bill

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan (left); his Deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege and Senator Peter Nwaoboshi during a plenary at the National Assembly in Abuja…yesterday.

Gbajabiamila faults opponents of the proposed law
• Stop unpopular legislations, CNPP warns N’Assembly
• Urges lawmakers to present selves as guinea pigs

The Senate yesterday began work on the controversial Health Emergency Bill despite the intense criticisms that trailed its introduction in the House of Representatives last week.

Tagged: ‘National Health Emergency Bill’, the Senate’s version, which passed its first reading, was sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi, who represents Enugu North and doubles as Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Disease.

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Former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu immediately opposed the bill, saying: “I rely on Order 41 of the Senate Standing Rule. As a senator, I am entitled to know the details of this bill. We want to have copies of the gazetted copies. There is controversy over the same bill in the House of Representatives. We don’t want to have the same issue here. We need to be guided to avoid any backlash. I need to read it and prepare ahead of time.”

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, however, assured that copies would be given to the members, adding that the second reading would be taken next week, as senators go through the bill.

This was as House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila dismissed concerns that foreign interests prompted the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases Bill.

In an address at the start of the emergency session of the House yesterday, the speaker said it was unfortunate that the proposed legislation was being touted as a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research or strip them of their fundamental human rights.

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The House of Representatives, in line with its legislative agenda, will never take any action that will harm Nigerians at home or abroad, he said.

He assured that the bill would be discussed at a public hearing where stakeholders’ contributions would be sought and improvements made. It will then be reviewed and debated by the Committee of the Whole.

The speaker said: “It is from the accumulation of these myriad views, suggestions and good faith critiques from within and outside that the House will arrive at final legislation that meets the present and future needs of the country.

“Suffice it to say that none of these allegations is 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.

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“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.”

He added: “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 to 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.

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“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 disease.”

Notwithstanding, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) warned the National Assembly against imposing a vaccination law on citizens.

In a statement by Secretary-General Chief Willy Ezugwu, CNPP said: “We have watched with utmost dismay the speed with which the lawmakers are working on a bill to use Nigerians as guinea pigs for the forced testing of coronavirus vaccines and endanger the lives of over 200 million citizens.

“If the lawmakers want to truly justify the bribe they have taken from foreign producers of COVID-19 vaccines, they should make a law that will provide for compulsory vaccination of all the legislators in the country as a way of proving their patriotism to the Nigerian federation. Let them volunteer to be the guinea pigs.

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“It is even more shocking that the Nigerian legislators have not thought of a law to force electricity distribution companies in the country to compulsorily install prepaid meters in households across the country but can force citizens to be vaccinated.

CNPP noted further: “We recall that the bill for unbundling the NNPC, the cash cow of the nation, and a bill to end gas flaring are there laying fallow in the archives of history, yet, because of an insatiable appetite for wealth propelled by uncommon greed for mundane things, the lawmakers want to turn Nigerian citizens into testing animals for vaccine producers now and in the future.

“Why not a bill for an Act compelling the Federal Government to fund research for the local production of drugs and vaccines for infectious diseases? Are we lacking experts in any field as a country?”

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This came as the Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN) urged federal and state governments to be cautious about easing lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus.

It expressed worry over the safety of pharmacists in government hospitals and communities, especially given the inadequate provision of personal protective equipment. It said Nigeria must avoid the experiences of countries in Europe and America,which have lost hundreds of healthcare workers including pharmacists, medical doctors, nurses and others to COVID-19.

In a statement by National Chairman Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Amibor and National Secretary Dr. Hafiz Ola Akande yesterday, the association urged the government to “borrow a leaf from the American model where the government recently gave approval for community pharmacies to serve as testing centres for the populace, to ensure that most people in the population are screened for the disease.

“Nigeria boasts of community pharmacies in every state of the federation and co-opting them into the COVID-19 testing programme will help to reach the bulk of the population within a very short time.”

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