The Nigeria Civil Society community commends the decision of the House of Representatives to subject the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill to a public hearing in furtherance of the right of citizens to contribute to law making. Harnessing the inputs of critical stakeholders and the Nigerian people, for whom the bill is proposed, gives it the necessary legitimacy. The decision, as announced by the Honorable Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, who is also one of the sponsors of the Bill, is an acknowledgment of the sincere concerns generated by the Bill. Soliciting public inputs therefore responds to the demands to subject the Bill to public scrutiny given its sensitivity and impact on constitutionally guaranteed rights, rule of law, institutional interdependence and national security. Public scrutiny can only be achieved through broad based engagements during public hearings and stakeholder consultations.
The CSO community notes that the purpose of a public hearing is to ensure that there is a free exchange of ideas and opinions, effective information dissemination, and consideration of expert opinions in the process of lawmaking for a more effective, responsive, and robust legislation. However, the CSO community acknowledges the imperative of strict adherence to the guidelines on physical distancing and other preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Enforcing these guidelines therefore requires a review of the format for the public hearing and all other forms of citizen engagement to enrich the Bill. It is pertinent to implore that the review of legislative process formats must adhere to the principles of transparency, accessibility, inclusivity and clarity to ensure the robust public participation of citizens.
Hence, as the House of Representatives considers new modalities for the public hearing on the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, we make the following recommendations to promote public participation:
- Provide information on the committee responsible for the coordination of public hearing: The House of Representatives should provide clarity on the committee(s) entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating the public hearing to ensure effective engagement with citizens and stakeholders. This includes the composition of the committee including the gender and geo-political zone spread and the terms of reference of the committee.
- Communicate a practical schedule for public engagement on the Bill: The House of Reps should generate and share a schedule and guidelines for public engagement on the Bill. This is to ensure that the public hearing and stakeholder consultations are held within a reasonable time frame. The timetable and guidelines should highlight the mode, structure, time, and levels of engagement to ensure effective participation of citizens and stakeholders. The Committee responsible for organizing these activities should conduct citizen outreach and share this information widely with the public through diverse media platforms. This is critical to ensure broad awareness and participation and enhance legislative transparency.
- Host a virtual and physical public hearing: The House of Reps should amend its standing rules on the procedure for lawmaking to integrate the newly proposed procedures as suggested by the Honourable Speaker. This includes integrating virtual public hearings on secured videoconferencing platforms to promote public participation. The secured videoconferencing platform selected should be published with a list of, participating organizations on the dates of the scheduled E-Public Hearing. In order to ensure massive participation, the Hearing should be scheduled to hold between 2 or 3 days with representatives of organizations given 5-10 minutes for their presentations/submissions. Alternatively, the House can host a televised physical public hearing with strict adherence to physical distancing guidelines. In hosting a physical public hearing, the House should ensure adequate notice is provided and the event venue is accessible to all invited stakeholders from diverse constituencies; including faith and culture representatives as well as women, youth, and persons living with disabilities.
- Multi-layered stakeholder consultations: In addition to the public hearing, the House of Representatives should strive to host virtual and limited physical consultative meetings with a diverse range of stakeholders. These must as a matter of due diligence include consultative meetings with federal and state Ministries of Health, the NCDC, medical professionals, labor unions, security and law enforcement agencies like the police, health organizations, civil society groups, the media and development partners. This is to provide opportunity for a thorough consideration of all the concerns raised by Nigerians and related policy and operations institutions. In strict adherence to physical distancing guidelines, the House is advised to adopt a timebound multi-layered approach by engaging specific stakeholders on different days to minimize the risks of large physical congregations; to facilitate a good management and compliance with hygiene and safety guidelines.
- Intensify publicity on the Bill: The House of Representatives should as a matter of urgency partner with civil society groups and the media to enlighten Nigerians on the provisions of the Bill. The justification and benefits of the Bill need to reach the last mile of the social strata given its scope and impact at individual collective levels. Apprehensions of risk to human rights and liberties can be raised and cleared to promote acceptance and endorsement of the Bill.
Considering the sensitivity of the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, we cannot afford a rushed or haphazard process. It is important that the National Assembly prioritize and invest in building public trust and confidence to limit the spread of disinformation or misinformation on the Bill. The legislature remains the legitimate core of democracy and must therefore represent the voices of WE the people. The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill must be comprehensive, futuristic in nature, and in conformity with; the Constitution, Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, and democratic principles. Any legislative process that does not guarantee the active and free participation of the people fails in its purpose and will not be accepted.
Girl Child Africa
Center for Liberty
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
Say No Campaign
Human and Environmental Development Agenda
International Press Centre, IPC, Lagos, Nigeria
African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
Community Life Project (CLP)
Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA)
Nigerian Women Trust Fund
Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC)
Rule of Law and Accountability (RULAAC)
Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON)
Education as a Vaccine (EVA)
Alliances for Africa
Lex Community NG
Dorothy Njemanze Foundation (DNF)
Adopt A Goal
Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution
The Art and Civic Table
Council of Ulama of Nigeria, Kano State Chapter
Amazing Grace Inspirations
Raising New Voices Initiative
Asabe Shehu Yar’Aduwa Foundation (ASYARFS)
Sesor Empowerment Foundation
Open Arms Initiative for Sustainable Development.
HEIR Women Development
Citizens Center for Integrated Development and Social Rights (CCIDESOR)
Women Law and Development Initiative (WoLDI)
Working Moms Africa
FACICP Disability Plus
Vision Spring Initiative
She Forum Africa
Centre for womens health and information (CEWHIN)
Country Associates Network
Widows Development Organization
Ovie Brume Foundation
First Future Leadership
Initiative for Research, Innovation and Advocacy in Development
Women Youths and Children Advancement Program (WOYCAP)
Centre for Impact Advocacy
Women Foundation of Nigeria
Safe Circle Foundation
Ade Grange Child Foundation
Gender Equality Peace and Development Centre
Change Managers International Network
Public Interest Coalition
Institute for Media and Society (IMS)
Centre for Nonviolence and Gender Advocacy in Nigeria
Haly Hope Foundation
Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH) Nigeria