Nigeria’s Proposed Infectious Disease Law Open To Political Abuse

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
Nigeria coronavirus testing
Nigeria’s proposed infectious disease law gives the government powers that critics believe are open to political abuse during the coronavirus pandemic. A health official takes a nasal swab from a patient to be tested for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, at a government-run testing center in Lagos, Nigeria Thursday, April 23, 2020. Image: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

Nigerian lawmakers are debating a law giving the government the authority to convert any building into a coronavirus isolation area or to destroy any building where the infectious disease is present.

Critics say political authorities could abuse the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases bill, which is meant to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, according to Nairametrics.

Police could arrest anyone suffering from any infectious disease without requiring a warrant.

Nigeria confirmed the first case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa on Feb. 28, following the outbreak in December in Wuhan, China.

The country’s first coronavirus diagnosis was an Italian citizen working in Lagos who returned to Nigeria from Milan a few days earlier, BBC reported.

More than two months later, Nigeria has 2,802 covid-19 cases and 93 deaths.

Efforts to prevent the spread have included lockdowns in major cities and restrictions on travel into the country. 

The new legislation is being proposed to protect Nigerians from the coronavirus but critics believe that it gives too much power to authorities.

“A new law is needed but the powers are too sweeping. There’s a lot of powers in the bill which could be used for political purposes,” Clement Nwankwo, the director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, told Bloomberg.

Under the proposed law, Chikwe Ihekweazu, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, would have the power to close down any premises deemed to be overcrowded, Nairametrics reports.

Ihekweazu admits, however, that he has not been involved in drafting the legislation and believes the timing is not ideal.

“I’m personally not in favor of drafting a bill in the middle of a crisis,” Ihekweazu said, according to Technext.

If the Nigerian House of Representatives votes for the bill in May, it will be sent to the Senate and then signed into law.

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Nigerians have taken to social media to protest the proposed bill using the hashtag #StoptheNCDCBill.

“Imagine even the NCDC Director thinks there should be room for good debate before the passage of this bill. That times like this should not be when there should be passage or discussion of such bills. Morale of the story: NCDC not consulted on this bill,” tweeted Nigerian Olu Okusanwo.

Another person, whose Twitter handle is Mayor of Zion, tweeted: “Lol… You better not offend the minister, lest your house be turned into an isolation center for “as long as he pleases”. The DG NCDC can also authorize the destruction of your goods.”