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Infectious diseases bill and ‘copy and paste’ democracy – Part 2

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Continued from yesterday

No wonder it is said that the average life expectancy of the people is 80 and 84; eighty years for the men and eighty-four for women. Also worthy to note is that there is no way Singapore can afford to take care of its citizens if it does not have accurate data on the population of the country. It is the data that helps it plan effectively for the citizens. There is electricity and also water for everybody. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the people were in total lockdown for at least one month. No single soul was seen in the street, except for those on essential services relating to COVID-19. Palliatives were supplied to every citizen. No one was left out, no food was diverted.

They were able to do this because they have the accurate number of their citizens, visitors inclusive.

A country that can take care of its people’s needs can establish a Bill that no matter how draconian it may look, one can be sure that it must have factored in the people’s interest. Any health issue is the responsibility of the government. Coming back home, what system of government do we practice, Democracy with fascist undertones. Like Singapore, we have combined a bit of democracy with fascism in practice. Fascism is a system of government that advocates or exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right’. This is done through the merging of state and business leadership together with an ideology of belligerent nationalism.

What will give Nigeria the audacity to tell one what to do in my miserable corner, which I call house; in the self-medication, I resort to, since government hospitals do not take care of the people’s health? We practice capitalism to the fullest. Our capitalism has made our 5% population super-rich while 95% languishes in poverty. The middle class has been literally wiped out. With this level of disparity in governance and the lack of care of the citizens, it is untenable to adopt a bill from Singapore in Nigeria.

Now to the Bill (IDB): The Singapore Infectious Disease Bill as copied is very dictatorial in its wordings, and power given to the Director-General and the Agency for the enforcement of the law is draconian. It is going to subject the impoverished Nigerians (95%) to more tremendous hardship. As long as we still have our 1999 Constitution, the Infectious Disease Bill will open the door for legal quagmire as a lot of its provisions are in conflict with the fundamental principles as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution.

For instance, Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution states: “Right to private and family life. The Director-General, however, under S.15 of 1DB, has unfettered right to declare any premises to be an isolation area for the purpose of preventing the spread of an infectious disease.

And if a person leaves an area designated by the DG as isolation, such a person may be arrested “without a warrant” by any police officer or health officer. This act already violates the right of private life under section 37 of the constitution. Remember, the order of the DG is without any evidence that there is something wrong in the area, but by his mere suspicion that something is wrong. The rating of our police force in the world today is 127th out of 127. Is that the police to be entrusted to carry out an arrest without a warrant? Section 20 of the said Bill deals on the “prohibition or restriction of meetings, gatherings and public entertainments. The Director-General may by order prohibit or restrict, subject to such conditions as he may think fit where it appears to him, that such gathering may increase the spread of any infectious disease.

Again, note the words: “Where it appears to him.” On that single feeling, the DG can stop any gathering, whereas the Constitution under Section 40 states that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons. With this unfettered right under our 1999 constitution, the Director-General, on mere “appearance to him” that a gathering may lead to the spread of the Infectious Disease, can stop such gathering for 14 days and it is subject to renewal. Any person who holds or is present at such gathering has committed an offence, which either a health officer or a police officer may take any action that is necessary to give effect to the order. It is suicidal to give the Nigeria Police an unfettered right to take any action necessary.

We as citizens are in deep trouble.

With the attitude and training of our police officers, anybody attending such gathering should have his “Will” ready as he may not come back alive. As if this is not enough, same Section 20 of the purported bill says that an aggrieved person may appeal within seven days from the date of the order to the Director-General, whose decision “shall” be final. The word “shall” shows the ouster of the courts. So, the DG’s decision is superior to any court of law.

We know in law that any provision that tries to ouster the power of the court of law in any matter is null and void to that effect. Also note that the DG becomes a judge in his own case. In a country like ours where any contrary view by anybody is seen as a confrontation on the ruling party, we may see political gatherings being stopped on the “suspicion” of such gathering causing a spread of the Infectious Disease by the Director-General, who may be working for his appointer. Same may apply to opposition members’ residences. They could easily be declared “isolation area” and closed down or even destroyed, knowing what goes on in the so-called democracy in Nigeria.

The rights arrogated to the Director-General deciding on his mere suspicion or assumption of the issues under his control also negates the issue of fair hearing as enshrined in our 1999 Constitution, Section 36.

One could go on and on to pick the holes in the said Infections Disease Bill, but it will all go down to its contravention of the citizen’s rights as enshrined in the constitution. One, therefore, wonders if the sponsor of the Bill really intended it to stand as it is. Was there any undercurrent on the review of Chapter 4 of the Constitution? If we are to adopt Singaporean Infection Disease Bill, Nigerians must demand that we first arrange our system of governance to the standard or more to that of Singapore. We must have accurate data on the population of the country and provision of all the basic necessities for the masses – shelter, food, health and education. We must not allow the leaders to make the same mistake we made in adopting the America style of Democracy without the necessary structure that makes it function for the benefit of the people.

Or our adopting the USA democracy without consideration of our own level of development, our culture, and our over 250 tribes that make up Nigeria. This is what Singapore did before coming up with the type of government they practice.

Odife, is a legal practitioner and National Coordinator of Women’s Organisation for Gender Issues (WOGI), wrote from Abuja.

We must run a system of governance that has no tolerance for tribalism/racism, religious bigotry and with accurate data on the population of the country; a country that understands that lifting up the masses is synonymous with the development of the country is what we need.

Odife, is a legal practitioner and National Coordinator of Women’s Organisation for Gender Issues (WOGI), wrote from Abuja


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