COVID-19: Senate introduces Emergency Health Bill


By Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

The National Health Emergency Bill, 2020, sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi has passed the first reading at the Nigerian Senate.

At its plenary on Tuesday, the former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu kicked against the bill by demanding for the draft copy before further consideration by the Senate.

Through order 14(1) of the Senate standing rules, Senator Ekweremadu said his privileges and that of the other Senators would be breached if details of the content were not made available to them before given further legislative consideration.

“In line with Order 14(1), which has to deal with privileges as one of the serving Senators, I move that draft copies of the bill should be made available before any other legislative action is taking on it.

“This is very important because it won’t augur well for the Senate to follow the same route with House of Representatives where a controversial Bill on Control of Infectious Diseases, was passed for first and second reading last week.

“Copies of the one that had just been passed for first reading in the Senate today, Tuesday must be made available to us for required responses and contributions at the appropriate time,” he explained.

Distribution of the copies
Consequently, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, directed the sergeants at arms in the Chamber to distribute copies of the bill to all Senators ahead of its consideration for second reading next week Tuesday.

In an interview with journalists after the Session, the sponsor of the bill, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, said its contents and intendment are not the same with the one before the House of Representatives.

“Although I have not read the content of the one before the House but provisions such as compulsory vaccinations for all citizens and other compulsion for that matter, are not there.

“The main purpose of the bill is to strengthen our Quarantine Act by way of required amendments and to take care of all the issues that have to do with the management of pandemic like the raging COVID-19.

“In doing that, we want to ensure that instead of having fire brigade approach of solving the problem of this nature, we have a law that can handle all that. We want to put everything under a law to address health issues,” he said.

Senator Utazi stressed that unlike the one before the House of Representatives, the National Health Emergency Bill introduced on the floor of the Senate today, Tuesday, will not generate any controversy as not less than 102 senators have written their names as co-sponsors.

According to him, “I don’t see any controversy about the bill that 102 members of the Senate sponsored. The bill is to address the issue that’s posing public health emergency around the world. 

“There are so many things that are not covered under the Quarantine Act. These are the things that are troubling the country today which must be addressed through required legislation in form of the bill.

“I have not read the House bill, but what I know is that we have a bill that will address the health issues connected with COVID-19 and beyond, so that such issues, whenever they occur in the future, we have a law to address them.”

“What we have in the Quarantine Act doesn’t cover all the protocols that we supposed to follow. If they were there, the Presidency and the Presidential Task Force will not be coming up with one guideline or the other. We want to harmonise the approach on how to face the issue.

“The bill does not make vaccination compulsory. If you have yellow fever, and  you want to travel outside the country, they will demand for yellow fever vaccination certificate at the airport. If you don’t have it, you will be vaccinated there,” Senator Utazi added.

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