Justified All the Way!
We must begin by acknowledging a hard truth. We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations, acting individually or in concert, will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. ~ Barack Obama
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several lives have been lost, several businesses have gotten into insolvency and a couple of countries are heading towards or already neck-deep in recession. And while we all hope that the worst is not yet to be, a honest mind will agree that serious measures must be taken to tackle the serious endemic our world currently faces. Bringing it home, the Nigerian National Assembly has come up with the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, which is set to guide the nation in the handling of the COVID-19 emergency. As opposed to popular opinion but in consonance with logic, I appear before your Lordships today to justify the bill.
To start with, the enactment of the Bill is justified by the unprecedented emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Towards regulating the affairs of their country at such a period of emergency, the government of Nigeria, like that of any other country, is faced with two alternatives: to make a legislation governing the situation of the pandemic or to entrust the Presidency and respective state governments to rule the country by their whims and caprices. In a country like Nigeria, where even a Class Governor uses the limited powers of his office to oppress his detractors, it is much safer to have the benefits of outlining scope and limitations of power offered by legislation.
My Lords, we do not need to have an insider in Aso Rock before we come to the knowledge that the country is not making progress in the fight against the endemic. Surprisingly, though, the bulk of the hurdles faced by the Presidential Task force were instigated by the citizens themselves. Yielding to the citizens’ clamour, the federal government eased lockdown and mandated the use of nose masks, but citizens only kept on minding their businesses without minding the regulations put in place. It was therefore clear that force was necessary to compel compliance to the lockdown regulations. Otherwise, victory over the pandemic would be achieved only in the imagination of the masses. The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill allows police officers to arrest violators of the lockdown regulations, and that measure of force is justified.
One of the strongest points slammed against the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill in the Press which my opponent will be very eager to drum into the ears of your Lordships is that the enforcement of the bill will lead to human rights abuses. Truly, the Bill vests power on the Nigerian police to arrest anyone in violation of any lockdown orders and on the Nigerian Centre for Diseases Control authority to convert any landed property to an isolation centre for the purpose of testing and treatment of COVID-19 cases. However, the compulsory acquisition of property by government for any public purpose and arrest for public health purposes are constitutionally recognized limitations to the right to own property and respect for human dignity respectively; thus justified.
My opponent will be swift to interpret the conferment of powers under the Bill as a subtle enthronement of tyranny. But, while one may be inclined to agree that wide discretionary powers are vested on health authorities and the police under the Bill, it is not a departure from logic to assert that the Bill ironically offers more democratic bases for the control of the pandemic than could be without the consent of the Bill. As a matter of fact, my Lords, whether we like it or not, the emergence of the pandemic calls for the exercise of discretionary powers by the executive arm of government which are subject only to the conscience of the President. Is it not therefore democratic, rather than tyrannical, to have a written law by which everyone is bound?
My Lords, it saddens my heart that the country has been hurled into this unwholesome state. Meanwhile, the pandemic is an unprecedented development that demands the adoption of serious policies and laws to tackle head-on the six-month long global crisis. In the middle of all these, I could only wish that vocal critics like the opponent will become more honest with themselves in their criticisms of government decisions. If we are to get to the Promised Land where coronavirus infection will be contained, the Control of Infectious Diseases Act, when promulgated, will be the tablet of Ten Commandments by which we must live. I rest my case.
Many things are not as they seem: the worst things in life never are. – Jim Butcher
My lords, in all sincerity, I would love this courtroom to spare some minutes to first laud the members of the hallowed chambers if not for anything but for realizing just after ninety-four years that the Quarantine Act in Nigeria is in need of a change in order to bring its content in tune with existing realities. Truth be told, such action is not easily come by except, of course, it is the valedictory sitting of the House where forty-six Bills could be passed in ten minutes without even breaking a sweat.
The Infectious Disease Bill currently before the House of Representatives is one that has so far defied some key legislative processes. Key among these is that it has scaled through the first and second readings before the House in a blink, was not subjected to public hearing, and would have been sent for the president’s assent to immediately become law had well-meaning Nigerians not cried out about its draconian provisions. Though not out of place for a Bill to enjoy accelerated reading, the rate at which this was done in the midst of an already disruptive pandemic and the controversies surrounding who bribed what in order to have an accelerated passage of the Infectious Disease Bill make everything the more suspicious that there is an ulterior motive beyond controlling infections.
While Larry Tesler, the man who invented copy and paste, has passed on, his work remains used by the House of Representatives. The Control of Infectious Disease Bill is reported to have been a near-perfect plagiarism of the Singapore Infectious Disease Act of 1977, a law which was passed under the one-party system of the maximum ruler, Lee Kuan Yew. While I am tempted to agree with the Speaker of the House of Rep., Femi Gbajabiamila, that plagiarism is unknown in legislative drafting, I believe that though we may borrow idea from a foreign law, while enacting it we must ensure we have absolute regards for local prevailing circumstances. Nigeria operates a democratic and federalist system, it is therefore totally unwise to attempt to enforce the unedited content of a law passed under the Singapore one-party system in Nigeria as if the latter is a vassal of the former country.
My lords, I agree that the Quarantine Act needs urgent revision, but what is being put forward as a replacement of the old Act grants too much powers and discretion to different appointed officers who all answer to their political appointers who will not think twice before the powers and discretion are used to amass hurting political points. Reading through the Bill, it is seen that the health minister would have the right to convert any building to an isolation center; the Nigerian Police, without a warrant, would be able to arrest anybody suspected to be suffering from an infection; the NCDC Director would be able to close down premises deemed to be overcrowded, enter any building without warrant and with force deemed necessary, make compulsory any vaccine for Nigerians to take before travelling out, place a citizen under surveillance or even arrest or detain on mere suspicion of infection, etc.
The worst part is that when these powers are abused, section 70 of the Bill grants immunity from personal liability to an officer who does anything towards the execution of the law. My lords, we do not need anyone telling us that this Bill will put us all in jeopardy when it finally becomes law, it is therefore better to truncate its passage now, just like every conception bound to put the life of the mother in great jeopardy is aborted.
I suspect that the opposing counsel will play a tik-tok on this courtroom by switching attention from the real injustice that would be done by the Bill to the point that the Bill is only intended to advance the maintenance of infectious outbreaks and the health of Nigerians. Well, while commending his ingenuity, it is important that we do not get swayed by his “photoshopped” argument. What good, for instance, is there in a Bill that would make a slave of the people in advancing their health or how do we go to bed with both eyes closed knowing that our freedom of movement, freedom to own private property, right to privacy, freedom against discrimination and many more human rights could all be eroded in a jiffy by a power-drunk officer? Obviously, opposing counsel has still not gotten the 400 AD memo by St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all!
My lords, as I draw the curtain today, I also hope that the curtain is drawn on the onward passage of the Control of Infectious Disease Bill, if not for anything but the fact that the Bill has acquired dubious reputation before the public which it is being made for. Such a Bill, if passed, will, on one hand, be easily disregarded by the public, and on the other hand, be critically enforced by the concerned authority who will feel disrespected by the easy disregard accorded to the law. The result of this is a full-blown fracas that will ultimately lead to the spread of infections thereby defeating the aim of managing an outbreak. We obviously can do better than fetching water with baskets. Indeed, we must do better than this. I rest.