By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
A Federal High Court, Abuja has rejected a bid to stop the House of Representatives from further debates on the controversial Infectious Disease Bill, sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila.
The rejection of the request was sequel to the failure of the plaintiff, Mr Dino Melaye, to serve court processes on the respondents as ordered by the court last week.
Melaye, a former Kogi West Senator had on May 4, approached the court to challenge the infectious diseases bill on the grounds that the bill, if allowed, will breach his fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
In addition, he filed a motion ex -parte dated May 13, 2020, wherein he prayed the court for an interim order, directing parties in the suit to maintain status quo ante belum pending the hearing and determination of the application for the enforcement of his fundamental rights suit.
However, the court in a short ruling last week turned the ex-parte application to motion on notice and directed the plaintiff to put the respondents on notice.
The court added that the respondents must appear in court Wednesday (May 20) to show cause on why further proceedings in the bill should not be halted.
The respondents include; Clerk of the National Assembly, Clerk of the House of Representatives, Speaker, Hon Gbajabiamila, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Inspector General of Police (IG).
When the matter came up on Wednesday, Clerks of both the National Assembly and the House of Representatives as well as the AGF were absent from court and not represented by their lawyers.
However, a lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, who announced appearance for the Speaker told the court that Gbajabiamila was yet to be served with any processes or court order in respect of the suit.
Reacting, Melaye’s lawyer, Mr. Nkemakolam Okoro, urged the court to order parties to maintain the status quo in order to protect the subject matter and prevent a situation of foisting a “fait accompli” on the court.
In refusing this request however, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, stated that her order of last week summoning the respondents to show cause on why they should not be restrained from taking further steps in the Infectious Disease Bill, was predicated on the service of all the respondents with the required court documents.
“Since the condition precedent has not been met, I would rather hold that the matter proceeds to hearing,” the judge ruled.
While ordering that the Speaker be served through his lawyer, Ajulo, Justice Ojukwu accordingly adjourned till June 1 for hearing in the main suit.
Melaye, who is currently challenging the election of Senator Smart Adeyemi at the Kogi State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, in the main suit is asking the court to intervene by striking out certain section of the proposed bill which he claimed if passed would breach his fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
According to the applicant, sections 3(8),5(3),6,8,13,15,16,17,19,23,30 and 47 of the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, are in breach and or are likely to breach his fundamental rights as provided for in sections 33, 34,35,37,38 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Articles 4, 6,7,10,11,12 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap A9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, Articles 2(3),7,8,9,12,17,21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,1976, Articles 3,5,8,9,10,12,13,17 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,1948.
“Except by the intervention of this honourable court, through this application for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the Applicant, the fundamental rights of the Applicant would be breached if the offending provisions of the Bill are not deleted before the passage of the Bill by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, he told the court.
He added that the said Bill passed the 1st and 2nd reading at the House of Representative of the National Assembly of Nigeria on Tuesday April 28, 2020, with unimaginable speed, despite the lockdown and no known emergency which its provisions are intended to cure, in view of the fact that the Federal Government is already relaxing the lockdown.
“That I know as a matter of fact, that most of the provisions of the said Bill constitute a flagrant breach of my fundamental rights and or, are likely to breach my fundamental rights.
“That I know as a matter of fact that section 3(8) of the Bill which empowers the Director-General of the National Center for Disease Control, by himself or any officer under him or a police officer on his direction, to enter into any premises or gathering of people in an area declared by the president as a public health restricted zone, without a warrant, is clearly in breach of my fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and right to liberty of my human person”, Melaye claimed in his affidavit supporting the suit.
Other alleged offensive sections of the bill include those which empowers the DG of NCDC, to upon mere suspicion, that a person is infected with an infectious disease, and or recovered from an infectious disease, to arrest the person and detain him for as long as he deems necessary without a warrant or court order at any isolation centre of his choice breaches my fundamental rights liberty and dignity of human person.
“That I know as a matter of fact that section 19(5) of the Bill which makes the decision of the Minister of health final, directly deprives me of the right of access to the court of justice, contrary to the provisions of Article 7 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap A9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“That I know as a matter of fact that section 23 of the Bill, which authorizes or empowers the DG of NCDC, or an enforcement officer of his agency or police, to seize anybody walking on the street whom he merely suspects of having an infectious disease, without any warrant is likely to infringe upon my fundamental rights to the dignity of the human person and freedom of movement as provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That I also know as a matter of fact that section 30 of the said Bill, which makes vaccination, for no known specific disease, compulsory without my consent when I am either leaving or arriving in Nigeria, is likely to infringe upon my fundamental rights to privacy and dignity of the human person as provided for in sections 34 and 37 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“That I know as a matter of fact that section 47 of the Bill, which empowers the DG of NCDC, to direct compulsory vaccination in an outbreak or a suspected outbreak is in breach of, and or likely to breach my fundamental rights to dignity of the human person and privacy”, Melaye claimed.
He therefore prayed the court for an order, “Directing the 1st -3rd Respondents to delete the provisions of sections
3(8),5(3),6,8,13,15,16,17,19,23,30 and 47 of the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, as same are inconsistent with sections 33, 34,35,37,38 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999” as well as other international laws.
“An order of injunction restraining the respondents, whether, by themselves, their agents, employees, servants, privies and or howsoever called, from further proceeding with, or continuing with further debates with respect to sections
3(8),5(3),6,8,13,15,16,17,19,23,30 and 47 of the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, which provisions breaches and or are likely to breach the fundamental rights of the Applicant as provided for sections 33, 34,35,37,38 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, and other international laws.