Nigeria Infectious Disease Bill Seen Risking Abuse in Crackdowns

A police officer wears face mask customised from the anti-robbery Rapid Respond Squad as a preventive measure against coronavirus at a in Lagos.
A police officer wears face mask customised from the anti-robbery Rapid Respond Squad as a preventive measure against coronavirus at a in Lagos. Photographer: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

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Nigeria’s parliament is debating a law on preventing the spread of infectious diseases that critics fear could be open to abuses by officials.

If signed into law, the health minister will have the right to convert any building into an isolation area, while the police would be able to arrest any individual suffering from an infectious disease without a warrant. Africa’s most populous country was the first in sub-Saharan Africa to confirm a case of coronavirus in February, and has now more than 2,000 positive tests.

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

If the House of Representatives, the country’s lower chamber, votes for the bill next week, it will be sent to the Senate.

Chikwe Ihekweazu, the director general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, has said he hasn’t been involved in drafting the legislation and it requires further consultation. The bill would also give him the power to close down premises deemed to be too overcrowded in a country where millions live in cramped conditions, and those authorized by him to detain individuals without a warrant.

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

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Officials with a court order would be able to destroy any building where an infectious disease — including cholera, typhoid and dengue fever — has occurred.

Other countries that have introduced emergency public health legislation have “in-built institutions for checks and balances,” said Orji Uka, a Lagos-based lawyer and legal analyst. “I cannot feel confident that I trust the Nigerian judiciary to stand up to the application of such a law by the government.”



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