The House of Representatives on Thursday chided the Nigerian Governors Forum over its stand on the controversial infectious disease bill.

The NGF had on Thursday criticised the bill sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, stating that they were not consulted and asked that the bill be “stepped down”

In a communiqué at the end of its virtual meeting held on Wednesday, the NGF had noted that “Following an update from the Governor of Sokoto State and Vice Chairman of the NGF, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, on the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020 introduced by the House of Representatives, Governors raised concern with the lack of consultation with state governments who are at the forefront of the epidemic.”

But the house in a statement by its spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu, dismissed the criticism.

It said the House had since last week resolved to subject the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill to a public hearing “where Nigerians from all walks of life will have the opportunity to make their inputs towards the draft legislation. The NGF’s position is coming rather belatedly.”

Mr Kalu said whilst the house legislates for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including being “the parliament for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Nigeria Governors Forum is recognised by members as leading lights in the task of nation building.”

“It is rather surprising that the NGF, in arriving at its decision, relied on an update from the Governor of Sokoto State (Aminu Tambuwal), who, apart from being a lawyer, is a former Speaker and an ex-ranking member of the House, who should know better and guide the forum accordingly.

“We assume that his position was informed by his well-known personal and partisan opposition to the emergence of the current leadership of the house considering his obvious stance in 2015 and 2019.”

The official said unlike in a constitution amendment matter, where state houses of assembly have a defined role to play, “bills such as the Control of Infectious Diseases are not by the constitution subject of concurrence of state houses of assembly or state governors.”

“We do believe that our respected Governors are aware of this lawful processes of legislation and should not be misguided by a biased position of a former speaker.

“Let it be known that the House of Representatives, and indeed the National Assembly, are independent of the control of any state governor or former Speaker, except if we want to change that now.

“Even at that, it has to be by a constitutional amendment sponsored the citizens an not by the personal view of one Governor and former speaker.

Notwithstanding, the House expressed its readiness to work with “the committee raised by the NGF to meet members of the Green Chamber on the Bill.”

“The Governors are our critical stakeholders in nation building, and we understand the importance of working with our Governors at critical moments such as this pandemic period.

“The House also wishes to state that the NGF is free to make its position on the Bill known through a memorandum during the planned public hearing or send its representative or representatives to appear in person.”

The official also said the house believes that there are better channels of communication available to the NGF to address such matters “instead of the pages of newspapers”.

“The House is also concerned that the presence of the Sokoto State Governor in the NGF’s consultative panel may not guarantee a smooth interface, since in his capacity as a former Speaker he could not guide the Forum appropriately on the matter, and he appeared to have already taken a biased position.

“Thus, the House calls on the NGF to review the membership of the consultative committee so as to achieve the desired objectives with the unbiased members during their engagement with the leadership of the House.”

Since its introduction, the infectious diseases bill has drawn controversies. The bill reeks to repeal the Quarantine Act.

It also seeks to, among others, make possession of a health card mandatory for international travellers leaving or arriving in Nigeria — just like yellow fever card.

Adapted from a similar law in Singapore, some Nigerians have labelled it as draconian and unfit for a democratic Nigeria.

Civil society groups have also questioned the unusual powers it vests in the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the health minister to make regulations on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in Nigeria.

The bill, which scaled second reading before it was stood down recently, has 82 sections.

The Speaker, in the heat of the criticism, pledged that there would be a public hearing as part of the legislative process on the bill.

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