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Infectious diseases bill and ‘copy and paste’ democracy

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Now that the Court has ruled on the Infectious Disease Bill (IDB), one can safely comment on it. The Court ruling seems to indicate that the bill is still at the preliminary stage, and poses no harm to either the litigant or the society. And that stopping the process at this stage amounts to usurping the responsibility and power of the Federal House of Assembly to sponsor, deliberate and pass bills that benefit the people and the government. Our focus now should be on the merit or demerit of the Infectious Disease Bill sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Femi Gbajabiamila.

It is rather unfortunate that every issue, no matter how lofty or silly, is always reduced to the cesspool of party politics, thereby drowning the importance of the issue. It becomes a wrangling between the ruling party and the opposition and not the substance of the issue at stake, in this case, the Infectious Disease Bill.

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Come to think about it, an Infectious Disease Bill couldn’t have come into the Nigerian system at a better time than now. So what is the fuss? For me, the issue of plagiarism is not important as the country concerned, Singapore, has not raised the issue. And moreover, copying other country’s law, especially by a fellow developing country, is a common phenomenon. Most of the original laws in Nigeria were received English laws from our Colonial Master, Britain. The Democracy we are practicing today is modeled on the United States of America’s system. The Fundamental Rights provision under Chapter 4, to be precise, is a United Nation’s provision. The three arms of government, the Executive, the legislature and the Judiciary, which we practice, is copied from the USA.

That being the case, adopting the Infectious Disease Bill from Singapore should not have generated much outcry on the basis of plagiarism, but for the content of the bill and the system of government Singapore practices. To condemn the Bill outright without explaining the reason, is to ridicule the country, Singapore that never solicited for Nigeria to copy its Bill. For Singapore, the Infectious Disease Bill of 1st August 1977 could be said to be perfect and implementable. All the structures needed for its implementation were and are still in place. The question should be: What are these unique and very effective things that make such implementation possible?

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The answer lies in the system of government Singapore practices, which will be explained later but permit me to state that I would have accepted Singaporean IDB had Singapore been practicing democratic governance and still successfully implement the Infectious Disease Bill Nigeria intends to copy. I would also have accepted Singaporean IDB had Singapore had decay in health system like Nigeria. I would have accepted Singaporean IDB had Singapore neglected housing program for the masses as is the case in Nigeria. Indeed, I would have accepted Singaporean IDB had Singapore neglected its masses to the ravages of poverty and hunger as it is in Nigeria.

I can go on and on. You don’t just hear that IDB works in Singapore, and you ‘copy and paste’ on Nigeria without looking at the Singaporean fundaments, which make their IDB work seamlessly. The truth is that Singapore takes care of its people. This is made possible by the system of government that Singapore runs, plus the integrity of their leaders. The Speaker should not have gone to take a bill from such a perfect system that has built a solid foundation for its people to withstand any law, no matter how draconian it may be, without attaining such structural foundation Singapore has achieved. Singapore runs a “Social democracy government.” What this clearly shows is that it is a type of governance that has both socialist coloration as well as democracy. Its democracy is more of the British type with Parliamentary representatives whereby the President is the head of State while the Prime Minister heads the government with a multi-party system. The Singaporean Government rejects American liberalism, which is the foundation of Nigerian democracy today. Rather than adopting American liberalism, Singapore adopted as its foundation a ‘Social Democratic system’ which has weaved in the idea of socialism into ‘Communitarianism with Asian characters distilled from its multi-racial citizenry.’

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The dominant party in government, The People’s Action Party, has been in power for long, which makes it look like a one-party system with weak opposition. Far from it, this Party has been in power, not because of its authoritarianism, but because of the social/collective communitarian practices. This style of governance is institutionalized on three cardinal points such as, universal provision of public housing through a national housing program for everybody; the redistribution of gains generated by State capitalism through the supervision of the annual budget; and the governing of race through the insistence on racial harmony as a public good.

So, we can rightly say that Singapore practices socialism combined with communism and not democracy as we do, although it says that its governance is “social democracy”. Before discussing the offensive provisions in the Bill, a brief explanation of the three systems of governance mentioned is needed. This will help people understand why Nigerians must object to the Infectious Disease Bill being imported into Nigeria. In socialism, everyone in the society owns the factors of production equally. It is a collective ownership of the means of production. The most important underlining factor is that “there is no private property.” Capitalism, on the other hand, allows for private and corporate ownership of means of production, which is done by investments that are determined by private decisions on prices, production and the distribution of goods. Communism, on its part, is a political and economic system that seeks to create a classless society. This is made possible by the government control of the major means of production such as refineries, mines, factories, etc.

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Looking at the three systems of government, one is inclined to choose the Singaporean style of governance. Singapore considered its people’s culture, studied and analyzed the various systems of governance and took the best part of the three to arrive at what they practice today. Under their socialism, individuals are allowed to own property if they desire, unlike in outright communism.

The government is in control of all aspects of economic production and provides its citizens with their basic necessities like food, housing, medical care and education; and also allows those who may wish to pursue additional wealth to do so. Briefly put, Singapore practices Socialism/Communism with a little touch of Capitalism. Capitalism in the sense that individuals are allowed to own property they acquire on their own. So, one can safely say that in Singapore, every citizen’s basic need is met by the government.

To be continued tomorrow

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

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