The Senate version of the Quarantine Bill, titled, ‘National Health Emergency Bill’, scaled first reading on Tuesday.
The bill was sponsored by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health care and Communicable Disease, Senator Chukwuka Utazi.
The House of Representatives’ version of the bill generated serious controversy.
A former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, protested the non-distribution of the bill to members before its presentation and urged the Senate to distribute the copies.
Ekweremadu said, “The introduction of a similar bill to the House of Representatives generated controversies and some people are already insinuating that the same bill is coming to the Senate with a different title.
“Getting a copy of the bill will enable us to know the content so that we could come up with informed comments.”
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, asked the management to distribute copies of the bill to members before the second reading which would be taken in another legislative day.
The sponsor of the bill, Chukwuka Utazi, however told journalists after the plenary that there was nothing controversial about his proposed legislation.
He said the bill was meant to amend the Quarantine Act of 1926 and address issues causing public health emergency around the world.
Utazi said, “I don’t see any controversy about the bill that 102 members of the Senate co-sponsored with me.
“The bill is to address the issue that is posing public health emergency around the world. In Nigeria, we are making efforts to ensure that we have a law that will guide how we handle the issue.
“There are so many things that are not covered under the Quarantine Act. These are the things that are troubling the country today.”
He added, “The bill is to amend the Quarantine Act of 1926 and to take care of all the issues that have to do with the management of pandemic.
“In doing that, we want to ensure that instead of having a fire brigade approach of solving a 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.”
On the similarity with the House of Representatives’ bill, he said, “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.
“This is to ensure that such issues, whenever they occur in the future, we would have a law to address them.
“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.”
Meanwhile, senators who spoke in separate interviews with our correspondent, expressed doubts over the desirability of such a bill at the moment.
For instance, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Senator Biodun Abiodun, noted that the time seemed not ripe for such a bill.
She said, “Let me thank the House of Representatives for coming up with the bill but like the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said, we can’t do a major work now, we need to deliberate about it.
“In times of war, we must prepare for peace and in times of peace, there will be war. What we should do, is to sit down together, craft a law that would be all encompassing, a law that we will not have to amend for a very long time. Taking laws from other climes because it works in those places does not mean that they will work here.
“We need to look at our situation and ensure that we do the proper thing.”
Senator George Sekibo said, “The bill as presented by the House of Representatives should die.
“There are periods that the stakeholders should be carried along. The bill was passed for second reading and was about being passed for third reading when no public hearing was done.
“There is agenda they are hiding. Nobody can force another person to get compulsory vaccination.”
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