Infectious Diseases Bill: Get Nigerians more involved in governance, Popoola tells NASS

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Digital Democracy campaigner and founder of Rate Your Leader app, Joel Popoola, has said that the outrage over the move to replace the Quarantine Act with a Control of Infectious Disease Act, was a direct pointer to the non-existence of communication between the people and the ruling class in Nigeria.

Popoola, a techpreneur, said the huge communication gap between the electorate and their elected representatives has created a democratic deficit that has assumed a level of mistrust across the different levels of governance.

The bill, ‘Control of Infectious Disease, 2020’, sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, has drawn a wide range of controversies since its introduction.

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

Adapted from a similar law in Singapore, some Nigerians have labelled it as draconian and unfit for a democratic Nigeria. The bill, which scaled the second reading before it was stood down recently, has 82 sections.

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“Only Nigeria could find itself with a government unable to pass vital health protection laws during a deadly worldwide health crisis because people thought that the government was too powerful. But that’s exactly where we find ourselves with the stalling of the Infectious Disease Act,” said Popoola.

He argued that the bill was possibly designed to make it easier for organisations like the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take rapid action to prevent the spread of infectious diseases across Nigeria, and respond effectively to emerging public health emergencies.

While stating that all efforts at curtailing the spread of the virus should be employed, he averred that, “public health officials are our frontline soldiers in this battle and it should be obvious to every Nigerian how vital it is that they have weapons they need to fight.

“The only way to stop COVID-19 is by quarantining and effective public hygiene. The only way to defeat it will be vaccination. So our health protection agencies need the right resources to enforce effective quarantining, effectual hygiene and to successfully vaccinate our people as at when a vaccine arrives.

“And not just for the fight against COVID-19; for the fight against the next outbreak, whether that’s typhoid, cholera, dengue fever or something as destructive, unknown and terrifying as the current coronavirus.

“This should not be controversial. I cannot think of anyone – whatever their politics – who would not agree that the primary purpose of any government is to keep the people safe. And yet the government stands accused by some of intending to use the law to carry out sinister medical experiments on its people or to bring back military rule through the back door.”

He stressed that “the fact we have found ourselves in this position tells us a lot about Nigerian politics – and what needs to change.”

Explaining what could possibly be the way out of the quagmire of mistrust between the leaders and the citizens, he said: “That was the thought behind Rate Your Leader, a free app which connects registered voters to the elected officials who serve them –giving them the power to get credible information from credible sources at the touch of a button.

“In times like ours, who can blame a government for trying to get public protection bills into law as rapidly as possible? But the government did itself no favours by trying to force the bill through parliament so quickly.

“Nigerian voters need to know what information they can trust, and also that they can trust their representatives. The Rate Your Leader app is designed to battle this democratic deficit by helping politicians engage with voters they serve, helping them understand what matters most to the people who elect them and build relationships of trust with the electorate. And in return, voters can even rate their responses, convincing their neighbours that this is a politician who listens.

“People are more likely to accept something if they feel like their fears have been listened to and addressed, and even more likely to support something if they have been able to help shape it. But this should not be something which only happens in times of crisis and controversy. This should be built into all our politics.

“We designed Rate Your Leader to give the people of Nigeria a direct channel to their leaders. This is something they expect. And it is something our democracy depends on,” he added.

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